If Winter Comes…

At the end of the first season of the garden, when the frost hit and everything died, I felt such a sense of loss. Browns replaced greens, indigos, pinks, yellows, and lavenders. Gray skies joined the brown and muted the landscape. Sunny days only made the loss more noticeable. But spring came, and the colors returned. 

It wasn’t until the third year that I learned to appreciate the brown and gray season. That year, winter was mild to the point of being warm—there was a black-eyed Susan blossom on January 1st! Coneflowers lost their flowers, but the leaves remained deeply green and full.  

The next two years, 2018 and 2019, were even worse. One of those years, a frost came in mid-November, then it warmed up again. Some things died, but by January, they started growing back only to be killed again, followed by another rewarming. The worst year was 2019. It was warm most of January—in the 70s—although there had been frost in December. Many plants were stunned by the December cold but not enough to kill most of them completely. As a result, January saw everything growing as if it were March. Coneflowers, which should bloom in late-May, were four inches tall with misshapen buds in February. Cannas, which cannot abide any cold, came up, only to be burned by frost a little later. However, the hardier plants that require temps in the mid-20s to kill them, kept growing.  

When spring arrived officially, the plants had never had a proper rest. The gardenia had few flowers; everything bloomed three weeks too soon; bloom season was shorter; there were fewer flowers and a lot more bugs. It was then that I realized that the frost, the gray, and the brown were necessary. The dead plants enriched the soil, birds ate the seeds, and the pests died in sufficient numbers to make them manageable the next year. 

Now, in the midst of winter, I look out over my yard on a cold, damp February day. Everything is brown, and I’m good with that. This winter, everything died. I welcomed every frost and rejoiced that my petitions for a few hard freezes were answered.  

During this quiet time, I will plan my clean-up day—it’s supposed to be in the 60s next week with a few dry days. Until then, I’ll consider colors and take a rest along with my plants with the comfort of knowing what comes next. Or as Shelly would say:

“Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelly, 1819


    1. This is the coldest winter we’ve had here in a while. It’s supposed to be in the 60s starting next week—looking forward to planting woodland phlox!

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