THE GREAT point of festivals in late December is to give the gardener strength to get to the daffodil season of March in one piece.
A gardener knows better than anybody that snow and ice are "normal" and that by next Sunday the sun will be out and the willow buds will swell, etc., etc.
Calendars and records convince us the days are much longer than they were two months ago, and for many years we have resigned ourselves to the grim fact that as the days lengthen the cold strengthens.
And yet it is increasingly clear to me that the origin of all human neurosis and madness is as simple and as awful as a February blizzard in Climatic Zone No. 7, which is where all the civilized gardens are, including Washington.
In January the gardener is quite pleased to find an occasional pansy blooming, and contemplates each day of brilliant blue sky as a bonus. In January you have to expect the very worst, so the gardener is much pleased with every day there is no ice.
On the whole we comported ourselves well in January, but most of us long ago set Feb. 14 as the beginning of spring. Apart from Valentine's, it is the "bird's wedding day" and you can count on the mockingbirds starting to sing then.
There should be crocnses here and there and snowdrops and blooms on Iris danfordiae, and there should be a nice day about 46 degrees with no wind, in which the gardener can leisurely prune his clematis and grape vines.
How pleased we will be when those days come in which the afternoon high is 64 degrees and the gardener trots about looking efficient, doing many good works, even if he knows there will be at least two minor ice storms before the primrose pomp is unarguably established.
One year I well remember a January in this same Zone 7 in which the Chinese magnolias all flowered, and the red berries of the tall photinias were brightened with masses of bloom among them, and the daffodils were out and the camellias in bloom, and people who did not garden said:
"Aren't you delighted with this balmy January?"
And of course all gardeners were wretched beyond belief.
Sure enough, there were terrible ice storms in March that year, and many irises were frozen in their bloom stalks, just as they emerged from the ground, and the daffodils had no substance and very little color and short stems and, all things considered, it was one of the ghastliest seasons anybody ever lived through.
So it's not that the gardener is whining about, crying for a Barbados February or anything like that. Gardeners detest the unseasonable prolonged warm spells of winter even more than skiers.
All we have ever asked is that mid-February have a high of 47 and a low of 29. To which we are certainly entitled.
Those are our "normal" highs and lows. And it is expecting a good bit of the gardener to be composed when the high is 21 instead of 47. After two abysmal winters, surely we could expect a mild, or at least a normal, third week in February?
I hope some day to get to heaven and to find Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelley there, whom I shall approach stoutly with a baseball bat and give him a smart rap on the head with all my celestial strength. His comment, "If winter comes can spring be far behind?" was written, needless to say, by one who lolled about in soft Italian lagoons. Which is just as well. In England, or here, it is sufficient provocation to gardeners to justify mayhem.