Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
The idea of having four seasons may make sense to some people, but we gardeners know that’s a woefully inadequate framework for what actually goes on outdoors. Dividing each of those seasons into early, mid-, and late helps somewhat, but something’s still lacking, particularly at this time of year, when spells of mild days alternate with freezing, snowy conditions. It’s not winter, and it’s not spring. It’s not even late winter or early spring. It’s unlocking.
I first learned about the seasons of locking and unlocking as a teenager, while reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I won’t even try to explain the plot, because it’s been over 20 years since I read it last. (Gee, I thought I was getting old when I started reckoning time in decades. Now it’s in 20-year increments. Sigh.)
Even though I wasn’t then obsessed by gardening, his concept of six seasons (winter, unlocking, spring, summer, fall, locking, and winter) made perfect sense. And now, there seem no better words to describe the periods of gradually freezing and gradually warming conditions.
Just a few days ago, I’d have said it was definitely still winter here. But after two mild days, spring seems to be springing everywhere. I’d swear that these snowdrops weren’t up last weekend, yet they must have been, since it appears that one flower is already finished.
At the farm, ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), shown above, is tentatively unfurling its yellow streamers. Even ‘Golden Starlet’ heath (Erica carnea) – who is not looking very golden at the moment – is sprinkled with a few tiny flowers.
I took advantage of the milder weather and later sunset to cut the leaves off of all my hellebore clumps last evening. Most are still in bud, but this white one always opens a week or two before the others, during unlocking. As a result, it’s the one most likely to get damaged by the inevitable freezing that follows these blissfully springy days. Still, I like it for its dark nectaries (the ring of small structures around the base of the stamens).
I also wandered down to the corner of the garden I call The Orchard, where I haven’t been since locking. I’d apparently forgotten to finish harvesting the late crop of kohlrabi, and I was surprised to see that many seem to have survived, even though they’re well above ground. I wonder if they’re still worth harvesting.
Unfortunately, not all of the surprises were happy ones. I picked up the blue glass cloche to move it over by the snowdrops, and I found that the voles enjoy ‘Angelina’ sedum as much as I do.
Well, it wont hurt her to be thinned out a bit, so the damage could have been much worse. I’m not inclined to be upset about it – unless I find that the little buggers have caused more serious damage elsewhere. I guess I’d better get busy on cleaning up to see what I find, but maybe not just yet. I think we still have another two or three weeks of unlocking to go.