One great spring in Northern Ireland the daffodils bloomed under cloudless skies, the sun warm on the back and the temperature in the high 50s. And this so excited and pleased the great daffodil breeder, the late Guy L. Wilson, that he made a great point of it in the Daffodil Yearbook (now, alas, no longer issued).
Here in Washington it is far otherwise. We love our daffodils as much as Wilson loved his, but with us sometimes instead of the high 50s, we have high 80s early in the season, as we did this past March. It is beyond doubt fairly heavenly to wander about in the hot sun under blue skies, to see such an old and wonderful daffodil as 'Troussea' in great perfection, along with the early 'Falstaff,' 'Ivy League,' and great quantities of 'Ceylon' in unblemished splendor.
It is a luxury -- the blue skies and warm or even hot days -- unknown in Britain, but of course we pay for it. This year 'Peeping Tom, 'February Gold' and 'Tete a Tete' were faded and wilted by the end of March. Opening March 15, they should have looked presentable until April 10 at least, and maybe April 15. But in the heat, they were cut short. So are all the others.
By the last day of March such late daffodils as 'Thalia' and 'Geranium' were in flower, along with the early 'Jack Snipe' and 'Charity May.' Many varieties that ordinarily are separated by three or four weeks, this year are blooming together, some of them on short stems, for the spring has been too dry, and all of them are withering prematurely.
So daffodil lovers are not as enchanted with the 80-degree days as picnickers. What we call a perfect season is one in which the temperature reaches 55, with plenty of rain having fallen in February, and the March skies sunny and without heavy wind, and no great frost at night. Such seasons occur fairly often, and when they do we complain it is not as warm as we'd like.
Some of my early tulips are in bloom, while others (new bulbs, planted late) are just emerging, and still others are three or four inches high, still with leaves furled. The warm days have much inspired the old basset hound, whose paws like weighty pancakes descend on the sprouting tulips. She is rather careful not to step on them once the leaves open wide, but I spent a harrowing morning listening to a sickening sound of paw upon tulip. I used to think the most awful sound in the garden (apart from some imbecile's radio) was the squirch made by a spading fork going through a lily bulb. But now I think the quite similar noise made as a hound nonchalantly hannibalizes a patch of tulips is almost as dreadful.
Several weeks ago I explored the spot where there are six fine crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) since they were not coming up as soon as I thought they should. Found no trace of them. And now one quite vigorous tuft has appeared. Where was it when I gently sifted the earth four inches deep with my hands, trying to find it, and where are the other five now?
Every gardener knows he should leave things alone most of the time. But sometimes one simply has to know how things are getting on down there. I cannot believe my gentle explorations discouraged the crown imperials, but five of them are nowhere to be seen. Sometimes when we know a thing (do not go poking about to see how bulbs are coming along beneath the earth) it is worthwhile to act on it.
Two experienced gardeners assure me that the wild Mexican waterlily is quite hardy in this latitude, never mind what the books say, so I left mine in the pool over winter. And now, when it should be in heavy young leaf, there is not a leaf to be seen. I have poked about in the water and the tubers feel hard as a rock, so perhaps it will sprout later. On the other hand, I may well have lost this plant, the parent of some of the best yellow hardy nymphaeas. Surely my squeezing the tubers did no harm.
Before railing at people (or dogs), the gardener should be quite sure his memory is accurate. This year I raged a trifle when a rat (if you will excuse the term) dug a hole right through a very rare sky-blue variation of one of our native violets. It was growing in a whisky barrel. At what I regarded grave risk, I reached down the hole to try to retrieve the violet root, but there was nothing. I assumed the rat ate it, and cursed heaven and rat alike.
Happily, but embarrassingly, the violet has now sprouted in great vigor in the barrel. It was just to the right of a dwarf iris (not damaged), but I could have sworn it was just to the left. It is hard to believe one's memory fails, when it comes to a treasured plant, but it does. This phenomenon explains, by the way, many cases of plants reportedly changing color.
It is wonderful what a slight change of exposure can do for, or to, a plant. I have a clump of Siberian squills facing south (thus they should be early), but they were covered this year with a natural accumulation of oak leaves that I should have removed by Valentine's Day but of course did not. This past week, indignant at their failure to bloom with the other early squills, I pawed through the leaves and found them. Uncovered, they were terribly pale in the leaf, but greened up nicely and now are coming into bloom. But it is odd to see them coming into bloom as certain late daffodils are passing their prime. The squills should bloom a good month before the daffodils.
In another case, the big forget-me-not is blooming in one spot, somewhat choked by periwinkle and grass, while the main plant in light woodland is only beginning to sprout leaves. It, too, had a fall of oak leaves that were not removed. Only a few feet separate the two forget-me-nots, and it does seem to me a plant with such large leaves should be able to shoot right up through a few little oak leaves. But there you are. Seemingly slight differences can make tremendous differences in the way a plant behaves and when it blooms.