SPRING IS not impossible though, of course, still doubtful.
Here in mid-February there is not a single snowdrop, not a single crocus, not a single reticulated iris. The Oriental witch hazel is not in bloom, the buds of the red maple are not nearly as swollen as I think they ought to be.
The early daffodils are not even up and most of the garden is covered with snow.
I don't mind the snow, not even in March. Even a flurry in April is nothing to fall into a snippet over.
But the gardener is entitled to complain loudly at the general absence of thaws. As I understand winter, it is a period of three cold days, followed by three or four warmish ones - not tropical, but in the mid-40s, and then every two weeks or so we should have one of 53.
This business of 32 degrees day after day is not wholesome, and while it is splendid for bulbous plants and many well-love creatures including irises, peonies, lilacs and so forth, it is not at all nice for young camellias, crinums, figs, pomegranates and tender subjects.
As all gardeners know, thesky is never quite so blue as on certain winter days, and the sun can be glorious.We must make do with the extremely little that Nature has given us this winter.
Perhaps by the time this sees print, a few days from now, the earliest flowers will all be in bloom. One of the good moments of the year, usually, is the discovery of Crocus seiberii blooming under the snow in late January, and I missed that this year. There comes a time when the January snow turns crystalline and glassy, and you can see right through to a lavender radiance, and if you poke about you can uncover the flowers, so that the very early honey bees can find pollen.
If some year that does not happen, you miss it.
But I think all gardeners know how few days it takes, once the continual freezes stop, for snowdrops to pop out. On a Monday you see nothing, and on Friday they are in full bloom.
I like to think that this year we will be spared temperatures of 95 degrees in April. These blazing April days, the past two years, have done great mischief, stewing the daffodils as nicely as an asparagus cooker, and severely overstimulating such things as newly planted roses.
It may also be hoped that we shall escape regular hurricanes in May, just as the bearded irises reach their climax.
But while there is nothing to be done about the weather, and while outrages will be with us always, still perfect days are certain.
Readiness is all, as one of our wits used to say. We can do nothing about Januaries and Februaries just cold enough (a matter of very few degrees) to prevent flowers. But we can over the years tuck in swee oddments like the early booming bulbs, so that when three perfects days come later in February we have flowers. The air will feel warm, the sun will luxuriate with what seems to us premature abandon, and we will poke all over the garden not for signs of spring to come, but to see it at our feet. Crocus ancyrensis, in sultry orange-gold, is especially consoling, I may say. (Or always has been in the past, at least.)
Perversely enough, the vast pin oak that dominates half the front yard is holding its leaves even longer than usual this year. I do not mind their brownness - brown leaves on trees seem to me fairly cheerful - but I do object to the amount of sun they cut off from the crocuses, now that the sun is really strengthening.
Very likely we shall have a tornado to carry off not only those leaves but half the branches as well. Nothing is more dangerous than complaining of such a thing, since such complaints are usually followed within a week by hurricanes, parching winds, unparalleled droughts or floods hitherto unknown in violence.
Some of the false-cypresses and arbor vitaes turn bronze-brown in winter, and I am grateful I like their appearance then. It is not necessary for conifers all to be dark glossy green.
But how grea the yews look now. Laden with snow for days and then buffeted by winds 50 miles an hour, so that as they bent it seemed certain they would snap, they have shed all that nonsense of tribulation and now stand the way a plant or an animal ought to; that it, contemptuous of rough days. My yews are only young ones six feet tall, and I will like them better when they are 15 feet or so, but when I think of them as they were in this winter's storms, and see them today straight and secure, I am pleased with the world and pleased even with the barbaric ways of Nature.
A thing I always wish I knew how to convey to beginning gardeners is that plants are far from being merely elements in a picture. The gardener gets to know them as the seasons pass, in ice and in dry wind and all the rest, so that an intense sort of symbiosis develops.
Some perfect day, when that yew is crowned with a mocking bird singing fortissimo and the meadow rues are fresh and the irises are unreasonably pure in yellow and coral and blue and the mop-head peonies are (for a change) not bowed over with rain water, and the coral bells are starting into bloom and the place is alive with 56 shades and tints of green each one exciting, and the sky is right and the dirt smells dandy - on such a day the gardener sees not merely his yew as part of the general goings on, but with an old affection and echoeing resonance that the nongardener knows nothing about.
The whole art - or at least the whole commencement of it - consists of variety and contrast and harmony. If the first years are full of anxiety, because the yews (for example) are not yet mature enough to county heavily in the design (as they will some day), and if the gardener thinks thing are absurdly slow, at least there are changes to see, each season, and growth every year. And all this while, as the gardener hollers and fidgets and swears he will chop everything down and plant maples, the bonds are being forged between the gardener and his dumb bushes. It is not time wasted.
Taking no thought for ultimate beauty (what the yews will some day be) is the true time wasted. Shifts of fancy, undoing one year what was started the year before, that is true time wasted. Failing to see, failing to find out what is really marvelous in a garden, that is time wasted. Settling for fussy fidgets of color (though I am a great friend of opulence in the garden, and some seasons cannot be too gaudy) and caring too little for dignity and calmness and harmony, that is all a true waste of time.
Waiting for the oaks and yews, waiting for the stone to age, waiting for the bricks to mellow, waiting for the painful adjustments (a well-loved rose will have to go, a treasured viburnum will have to be sawed down), these are never a waste of the gardener's time, even though some anxiety and discomfort are involved.
Nothing is going to speed up the rounds of the sun or the wheel of the seasons or the growth of the yew (a light mulch of manure applied in December once the yew is waist high does no harm) but the young gardener must be told the waiting is far less painful and far less interminable than he at first supposes.
I have now preached myself into patience, waiting for the witch hazel to bloom. That blasted bush is already a month late. Those scrawny yews, why I ever planted them along that walk where they show, and that fool lilac ('Maud Notcutt') has just sat there for three years. I could have had a Persian lilac the size of the house by now, but no, I had to have Maud. And the years are racing by and nothing looks liek a damn.
Peace. If the gardener will just be patient for 93 years or so, everything will be fine. Honest.