FULFILLING A BOLD prediction some weeks ago, May has come and brought along her usual manic pomp, so that gardeners for some days now have been even less balanced than usual.
Sometimes we have those springs in which irises, roses, daffodils, peonies, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips, clematis and the Lord only knows what else, are all in bloom at the same time.
Not at their peaks of bloom together, of course. The last daffodils (not the main crop) and only the very first peonies (not the main crop) and only the late tulips and only the early irises. Still, it is very exciting, and gardeners usually write other gardeners elsewhere when such an overlapping spring occurs, in order to make them jealous in Spartanburg or distraught in Buffalo.
The gardener's greed subsides a little in May, or at least mine does, and I am content with just one plant of this and that, and think the 26 peonies are ample to get by one, and five ostrich ferns are really five more than I deserve, smack dab in the middle of a crowded town.
What is more magical than the sudden spurf of growth in plants that one has hovered for some time, alarmed at their smallness and doubtful they were getting enough milk and apples and lean meat to make the team, as it were.
This month, if ever, the clematis, so fragile with their one or two stems not much thicker than thread, suddenly surge up, and a young plant may triple its size in a matter of a few days. (It may also die outright, but my point is that not everything does).
My weedy treasures - the akebia, plume poppy, miscanthus, honey-suckle, rapes - I would not like to be without. Gardens composed only of rare little zipzaps are not for me, and I like to see a plant take the ball and run with it, as you might say, and all of these do.
It is true that 'Steuben,' a grape I grow in catenary swags (the way a chain falls between two tall poles) is leafless. I do not say it is dead.
How can it be dead? My neighbor's 'Steuben' is not dead. All my other grapes are flourishing. Like Lear, I keep seeing signs of life. If I do not go mad, no doubt I shall eventually get used to the absence of leaves on the grape garlands.
Nobody needs to imagine that outrageous tragedy will pass him by in a garden; with no warning and for no reason things happen. Nature is highly perverse.
If anything should have died, the little cunninghammia or China fir should have. It is none too hardy to begin with, and since mine is only a foot high, there was every reason to suppose the severe winter, so much worse than usual, would kill it. Yet not one needle was even damaged, let alone killed.
Also the creeping fig, a vine that is inclined to give up in even mild winters, let alone severes ones, is full of new leaves. It bore the winter outdoor without trouble. So did the tender old red Bengal rose, which entered the winter outdoors without protection, and it was only a rooted cutting. But there it is growing nicely.
The Carolina jasmine lost its flowers from the cold, but the stems were not cut back. The two hardiest azaleas that I grow, 'Treasure' and 'Stewartstonian' refused to bloom at all, but all the more tender ones bloomed well. The hardiest of my camellias, 'Berenice Boddy' was either killed or almost killed, but a couple of more tender ones did fine.
The seasons are much like an earthquake after which you discover the Pyramids have collapsed but some giddy folly - the Brighton Pavilion, say - has not lost a single tile. One of the poets used to say of tender things "whose action is no stronger than a flower" that they were fragile indeed, though of course they outlast steel.
Once I bought three orange-apricot-red azaleas in a fit of covetousness, though I knew would not look good with the Kurumes and other evergreen sorts.
I did not, however, expect them to look worse than I foresaw. They looked much worse. It was not that the riot of color was vulgar - I am far past such conventional threats - but that the two types of color managed to cancel each other out in a dull discord.
There was nothing for it but to move the orange Exburys to a side out of view of the Kurumes. They are now starting to grow a bit, and the great five-pedaled, blood-colored climbing rose, 'Dortmund' has leaned into an orange azalea, and a few bronze-mahogany and yellow irises and some big fat spiraeas are blooming with them. It is less delicate than gray wormword and mauve pansies, but it looks all right.Far better than with pink and crimson.
The hostas or plantain lilies look better than usual, for some reason. No doubt it is a temporary phenomenon, though it is possible that the slugs, which used to feast on them, have been somewhat devoured by the toads. Apart from their ornamental qualities (it is sheer unthinking and unexamined babble that toads are ugly) toads eat many pests, it is said, and like to believe it.
Hail got the irises. Not outrageously, but just enough to shred the outer petals of those buds that were farthest along. I have known years when hail in conglomerations larger than golf balls snapped all the stems off at the ground, so I am not complaining.
Speaking of irises, let me add that when I say the gardener's greed subsides this time of year, I do not, of course, include greed for irises.
When I had 500 varieties of irises all blooming in great perfection, I was as greedy for more irises as I was later, when I only had one clump in a new garden. This proves, at least to my satisfaction, that all the irises in the world are few irises.
But one goes bravely on.