ITS A MIRACLE that all gardeners are not severe manic-depressive cases, and much of the general imbalance you may easily observe among garderners is the result of normal weather.
On this very day, for example, we have had temperatures (in past years) ranging from 23 to 89 degrees. If today we drop to freezing, it will be no more than has often happened in the past. If today we swelter with our shirts off, it will be no more than gardeners have commonly experienced the first days of April.
Our "forescasters" say it should be 75 today, and it is, at the moment, 49. Now that 26-degree gap is the difference between grim melancholy and buoyant joy, and gardeners are used to it.
With this prologue, let us now contemplate the daffodil:
On March 18, the pretty 'February Gold' opened its first flowers on a good-size clump that I have, a clump usually producing about 65 blooms.
In good years-good for this daffodil-I can enjoy color in that planting for 28 to 30 days. Not every flower lasts that long, but between this first open flower and the last one to fade, four weeks will have passed.
This spring the temperatures warmed up to the high 80s the last week of March. At my place the outside thermometer registered slightly over 90 degrees on March 30. The great patch of 'February Gold' was withered brown by March 30-and indeed was looking sad on March 29-and I realized this year I would have 11 days, not 30, to enjoy those flowers.
In a sense, this is awful.
In another sense, it is glorious.
Now no gardener really loves those winters that drag on with temperatures just chilly enough to keep flowers from blooming.
The snowdrops here did not open until March. Only the most trifling adjustments of the winter weather would have resulted in their blooming in February or, in sheltered and favored spots, in January.
But we did not have those trifling little mildnesses, and they stayed shut till March.
Very well. Spring will be late, maybe.
Not at all. Winter was late and summer was early.
Within a week we went from fresh snowdrops to withered daffodils. And yet in other years it might have taken six or even eight weeks to make that progress.
And yet-you will notice, by the way, that phrase "and yet" is one of the commonest among gardeners-and yet this is a normal enough spring. I can remember plenty others like it.
We gardeners do not know, when we face a new spring, whether it will be slow and gradual, unfolding week after week, or whether it will come on us like a thunderbolt.
Some of my daffodils, thanks to the prolonged chill of winter, have not even sent their first leaves up. Others of my daffodils (so sudden were the heats of this spring) have flowered and died.
I remember one year in which the great Irish breeder of daffodils, George Wilson, wrote that the flowering season was flawless heaven. The skies were blue and the temperatures in the high 50s. The daffodils had come on slowly, gaining daily in size and substance, and here they were under blue skies and the thermometer right at 60. What paradise.
At the time I reflected I did not think that was paradise at all.
I expect blue skies with my daffodils as a matter of course. I also expect it to be warmer than 58, which I consider chilly and uncomfortable for the gardener to be abroad in.
And I loathe those springs that are so fine for daffodils, with gray skies and lots of rain and temperatures in the high 30s at night and high 40s in the day.
When our skies were turquoise and our temperatures tropical last week I thought that was paradise.
Flowers were rushed into bloom-plums and peaches all but exploded into flower, the Asian magnolias rushed from black bud sheath into expanded pink goblet in a matter of hours.
Clematis shoots stretched four inches in two days. Pool fish that had been cautious and slow-moving began to leap about and breeding displays (mad chases in the water) began.
In two days my flowering plum changed from wet black to solid rose-twigs two inches long, even, were solid with full-open flower.
New paint on wooden posts was dry in two hours instead of two days. Mockingbirds reved into full mania, attacking poor old setters trying to nap on the warm bricks.
Jackets came off, all over this capital, then shirts. How many joyful gardeners joyfully cursed as they lugged backets of water to hard-pressed new roses, stressed by sudden heat before the roots were well established.
I don't know how many buckets I lugged about under duress. Damn sun baking old 'Madame Issac Pereire' before she was even settled in good. Damn sun racing the engine (so to speak) of the 'Azure Pearl' (a clematis I have fidgeted with for a year or so to get it established) when what it needs is gentle sustenance and a slow coming-on.
But of course there is nothing on earth so dandy as lugging buckets of water against the sun in full splendor before we expected it.
Only a few days ago my most mournful personal hound was traipsing gloomily across the pool ice. And now is gazing mournfully at the goldfish. The water drools from her jowls as she languidly drinks (not the sharp neat laps of winter) and floats her spectacular ears (until they promptly sink) above the fast-sprouting water-lily pads.
When I saw that 'Sir Trevor Lawrence' had made it (a clematis that has given me much concern and pain) despite a large tree trunk falling square on him in August, in full growth, I said:
"There is 'Sir Trevor,' after all. Bleeding and dead and ruined in August and largely mourned. And here it is, after all, completely resurrected."
So great was my happiness at that, that I said I would never again ask the gods for any other favour so long as I lived. It was too wonderful a surprise to endure without jumping up and down somewhat.
Today, needless to say, is gray and bleak. The promised 75 has finally got up to 52. Big deal.
That wretched faithless sun. This lousy garden. Those jibbery-jabbery birds. The foul slugs sneaking about under the leaves, doubtless devouring what's left of the poor chrysanthemums and the emerging alstroemerias. And it seems to me several treasures are missing.
Well. From Eden on and from Eden downwards, the gardener has suffered the ups and downs of the blood. Tomorrow, no doubt, we shall have a typhoon. Or an ice storm. Or the sun will catch the oaks on fire. Will nothing ever grow and develop at a steady pace? Must there always be the collisions of January and July?
Look at the London charts. Like many gardeners, I read the London and Paris weather every day without fail. See how steady their seasons are. How little shock. How gradually their April pomps come on.
For us, the stewed daffodil at the end of March. For us, the black plum tree, bare and grim, changed in one 40-hour trump to a solid mantle of rose, fit for the goddess.
And they wonderwhy we're crazy. CAPTION: Illustrations 1 And 2, no caption, Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art