It's important for gardeners to notice how beautiful the sun and sky are in winter here. We may have some terrible cold ahead of us, but we of all people should be keenly conscious of the magnificent blue skies we have had since the end of November.
When we sigh in relief at the end of winter -- mid-March -- we will notice the skies are not so beautiful in spring, there is more gray and rainy weather, and of course the worst storms are carefully planned for the height of the iris-peony bloom season, just as the most terrible sudden heat is always scheduled for the daffodil season, bringing the blooms to sudden stew.
Even so, this is one of the world's really favorable gardening climates, and we do not want to get so carried away with our silly disappointments (such as everything being frozen, burned or hurricaned to death) that we may temporarily lose sight of our blessings.
At the moment all the ice has thawed, but I have five pools or water troughs at my place, and one day I had the joy of noticing the horse trough against the south wall of the garage (the wall and trough both painted black) was completely ice-free, while a similar trough near the back door, on the north wall of the house, had ice at least eight inches thick. The distance between the two is 100 feet. Which shows how much difference sun and shelter make. Gardeners might be surprised if they filled a dozen buckets with water and set them at various places in the garden, to see the startling difference in when things freeze and thaw.
Another example I notice is in the leaf-drop of the rose 'Mermaid.' I have only a young plant that is supposed to grow up a pole four feet out from a south-facing wall. In the middle of January the part of the plant that leans back towards the wall is in full leaf, glossy and full as in summer, while another branch that leans out away from the wall has dropped every leaf. The temperature is the same, of course, but the additional shelter of the wall means half the plant has leaves and the other half is bare.
Also the old climbing rose, 'Felicite et Perpetue,' which is supposed to be evergreen (a seedling of Rosa sempervirens), never carries its leaves even into mid-January at my place. That is because it grows up a post in the center of the open garden where every wind that blows may assault it. In a more sheltered place, it would be evergreen.
In the case of these roses it makes no difference whether the leaves fall in the winter, since they are not grown for their leaves but their flowers, and the loss of winter foliage has no effect on spring blooming. But in some cases -- bulbs from South Africa, for example -- it can be the difference between life and death whether they grow near a south wall or out in the open.
A man who is not a terribly experienced gardener told me he planted his dahlias 18 inches deep. I was shocked. He said he didn't want to lift them every winter and bring them in. He did not know 18 inches is far too deep, and his gross ignorance was rewarded by reportedly fine results year after year.
I have never had luck with tuberoses outdoors, after the first summer, because I hate lifting them to winter in the basement, and they do not survive well (or even at all) at my place. Perhaps if I planted them deep they might do. I wonder if anybody has tried this and had success with them as perennials.
Sometimes gardeners are carried away this time of year, starting seeds and other things in the house to get a good jump on the spring; hoping that by spring the seedlings will be large and strong.
This is almost always a great error. Unless one has a greenhouse and supplemental lighting, and a nice slave or two to tend to the ventilation and watering, it is almost impossible to produce good seedlings more than a month before setting them out.
If tomatoes, say, are to go outdoors on May 10, I would not start them indoors before April 10. In the average house of the average gardener, there are not enough south windows, unobstructed by trees, to provide the intense sun required to keep the seedlings sturdy. Also, many houses (not mine, God knows) are too warm to encourage tough hard (but not too hard) growth. So unless the gardener is very skilled, he should not plant things in pots or flats indoors more than a month before planting outdoors -- that is my own experience, at least.
Someone sent some cabbage seeds, with directions to start them indoors two months before the freezes end outdoors. What a laugh. I shall plant them, in the sure and certain hope they will attract the white cabbage butterfly, one of the nicest signs of spring, even in daffodil season in March. I do not expect to get any cabbages, merely to provide food for the butterflies; just as I plant parsley to provide food for the black swallowtails. As far as I am concerned, cabbages are one of the things you get reasonably priced at the grocery, chop them up and boil or saute' them lightly, only enough to make them tender. This way they are delicious. And I am to futz about for two months in the house with cabbage seedlings, and carry on all summer with weeds and things, just to get a few dishes of cabbage next winter? Ha. I would not, of course, plant fodder for the cabbage butterfly if my neighbors seriously grew cabbages for food, but since they don't, I see no harm in deliberately attracting the splendid insects. Which, in my experience, are going to eat the cabbages anyway.