ONCE I URGED a fellow to attend the Washington Daffodil Society's annual show (this year it's 2:30 to 6 p.m. next Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the National Arboretum administration building, 24th and R Streets NE) so he could get used to the beautiful kinds.
There he fell in love with the wrong kinds. So much for education.
He has now planted, as I understand it, a good part of rural Virginia with daffodils that look like poached eggs that broke.
And yet, the show was useful. He had not known there were daffodils like that. He was made happy, and that is increasingly something in this world.
The show is free. Anyone may enter. Flowers should be taken to the hall either on Friday, between 1 and 10:30 p.m., or on Saturday between 8 and 10:30 a.m. There will be tags and the standard containers with water. All the exhibitor does is show up with his flowers, ready to fill in the correct name when he gets his tags.
Needless to say, there will be a great bustle, and the exhibitor should look at the show schedule forms when he gets there and enter his flower in the right division.
If he does not know the name of the variety, he should admire it at home and not take it to the show.
The main thing is the weather. It evens out many in injustice. (And of course creates many.) If the flower is not fresh it will not and should not win anything, no matter how fine is was two days ago.
The old "Red Goblet" at its best will certainly beat an indifferent "Falstaff," though "Falstaff" is the better variety. In a show, judges go by what they know the possibilities are. And daffodil judging has been brought to a high pitch of excellence nowadays.
When we complain of weather we are always on firm ground. It is not imagination or idle dreaming; there is excellent reason for complaint. This time of year of day may bring temperatures of 90 or 25. You never know.
The gardener knows those early April days when the air is soft, the sun not too bright, and the thermometer at 63. There have been soft rains, there is little wind. The gardener thinks such weather is his right, this time of year.
If a wind of 72 miles an hour follows a cold snap and the temperature shoots to 83, followed by hail, he is fit for the madhouse and really should be safely stashed away there for a few days.
And yet such weather is not only normal but inevitable - if not this year, then the next. Nothing in the natural world is "always reliable."
One thinks, "Well at least the lilacs are always on time and always good," but there are years they all freeze. There are years the irises do not bloom at all. There are years the roses are blown right off their stems, and years the chrysanthemums are frozen dead just as they come into bloom.
If you think of it, most of us garden on land where things have been planted pretty steadily for a couple of centuries, and would be a paradise by now except for disasters along the way.
The first time a storm rips all the peonies to pieces - the gardener has waited two years and done a good bit of scratching about with wood ashes and has chopped out tree roots and has set up stakes - the pain is severe.
Within a few years, however, the gardener begins to realize there has never yet been a single year in which everything did well. And (usually after 40 years or so) he notices that no year is without some special spendor. Most of us can remember years when the irises were unearthly in their perfection, day after day after day of flawless flowers. I have seen two such years myself the past 43.
I remember one year the daffodils reached such splendors that almost any one in the garden would win a blue ribbon. One year. Once the trout lilies outdid themselves. Several times the azaleas has no blemish anywhere. The gardener, natuarally, remembers those years and is in a snit for decades afterward if the insolent wind presumes to blow.
He remembers the year it didn't.
It is amazing to me that nurseries without any exception I can recall send dormant blueberry plants at the end of two weeks of perfect planting weather. The plants arrive (nurseries are especially clever at timing deliveries when one is in Philadelphia) just before the temperature soars to 80, with plenty of wind.
Or, sometimes, just before the sleet storm.
The truth is, of course, that there is no day of the early spring that is safe. Usually, after the gardener has carried on a good bit and made life miserable for a number of people, the weather settles back and the gardener stops hollering everything is going to die.
Already I dread those terrible days in May when torrents will fall and it will get cold and raw. How gross and clumsy Nature is. How ill-planned are slip-shod.
On the other hand, who could stand a really revolting climate, like Southern California or the South Sea islands? Lucky is the gardener who has learned first-hand and early that Nature is outrageous everywhere and, as the schoolteacher said in one of Eudora Welty's novels, when the tornado headed for the schoolhouse and she had to think of something quiick, "We're in the best place right here."
Rumor, as we know, is almost the only home of truth.