Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dearth and Plenty

or Relativity

C. chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty'

A number of years ago I found myself in Paris at the end of January and was delighted to see pansies blooming everywhere—in window boxes, public parks, tucked into private courtyards—cheerful splashes of color wherever you looked.  I commented on all the flowers to a French acquaintance, who looked at me in perplexity and said, "There are no flowers.  There are only winter flowers."  She never did quite believe me, that across huge stretches of North America "winter" and "flowers" don't go in the same sentence together.  And she never did seem particularly impressed with the pansies.

Vermont, of course, is one of those places where winter is not a flowering season.*  The snow generally arrives mid-December and doesn't melt again until mid-March.  On clear nights temperatures can drop to 25 below Fahrenheit, and some winters they don't warm above 0°F (or C, for that matter) for weeks on end.  Even the most reckless crocuses wait until spring is well advanced (in calendar terms) to make their appearance, and then only in protected spots against west- or south-facing walls.  They are truly spring flowers, blooming in early April, and mighty welcome they are.  They are loved not only for their beauty, but also because they Mean something:  winter may still have some fight left in it, but it's fading fast.  Soon the spring peepers will start calling from every pond and puddle, and from then on you're off and running.

C. chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl'

The little snow crocuses that I love are early bloomers.  In my garden they usually open at the end of February, but this year they started blooming on Groundhog Day, more than six weeks before the equinox, right smack dab in the middle of winter.  I'm wondering whether they can even properly be called spring flowers here in Albuquerque, or if they're really winter ones—not a herald of change on the horizon at all.

Thinking about the mental divide between winter and spring has set me to thinking about dearth and plenty, and how relative they can be.  In places where flowers bloom year-round, I suppose it's easy to think that even a park full of pansies makes a meager show.  Compared to the abundance of summer, winter leanness might be enough to leave you unsatisfied, wanting more.  Where flowers don't bloom for six months of the year, though, and the landscape is a blanket of white for three, any flower is a treasure.  The pinpoint of color from one little crocus can fill you with joy enough to share with the neighborhood.  Dearth—if there's hope at the end of it—teaches you the knack of turning a morsel into plenty.


Whether crocuses here belong to spring or winter is really pretty moot—they will bloom in February one way or the other.  I suppose the question is more one of attitude.  Are they "only winter flowers," not yet the real deal, or are they spring flowers that Mean something?  Do they belong to an attitude of dearth, or do they get to be the plenty at its end?

Today the weather came down on the side of winter, with snow this morning and again late this afternoon— large, sleepy flakes that kissed the flowers lightly before melting away.  The crocuses, with their colors of cream and pearl, were just as gentle with winter in their turn.  They accepted its kiss kindly, on the cheek, as between old friends.

And when the sun came out, they turned their faces toward the spring.


_______________________
* My entry for Understatement of the Year.

31 comments:

  1. We talk about 'spring' flowers but they can start towards the end of July, which is really still in our winter. But really, winter flowers doesn't, even in South Africa, have the same exuberance as Spring in Namaqualand!

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    1. Diana, I was recently reading a book by...someone who'd been gardener at The Garden House in Devon? I can't remember now, but he showed many breathtaking photos of spring in Namaqualand--what an amazing sight that must be. If you ever take a little journey there and want to blog about it...

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  2. 2 down 11 to go ? I think crocuses are in a class of their own because they are the only bulbs that I plant in the lawn, so they are highlights in winter and spring.

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    1. 2 down, maybe a few to go... The idea of crocus in the lawn sounds beautiful in an almost elven way--I'm cheering yours on this year, b-a-g! Hope your recent blast of winter just riled the crocuses up and got them rarin' to go.

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  3. Ah, such beautiful photos! The crocuses are coming up in my yard here in Brooklyn too, not nearly as far along as the ones you photographed though. I've been astonished at how ahead of schedule all my bulbs are this year, although with the bizarre winter (or lack thereof) we've had, it's no wonder.

    "only winter flowers" or not, they are lovely, little heralds of warmer times to come, and tiny bursts of much-needed color in an otherwise colorless garden landscape. (love your entry for Understatement of the Year!)

    By the way, I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award, details in my latest post. I'm sure you've already been nominated, but I just wanted to point people toward your site as I have been enjoying it so. Please don't feel any obligation, really just wanted to share the love and encourage visitors to your wonderful blog. :)

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    1. Aimee, I can't believe the kind of "winter" you all haven't been having back there this year. Ours has worked out to be almost exactly normal, once the too-warm and too-cool spells are averaged together, and everything is still early. Go figure.

      Yes! It's those bursts of color that are so important! Winter is sooooo monochrome--brown, brown, and more brown. The next batch of crocuses that should bloom are deep purple tommies--I'm looking forward to them.

      Thank you so much for the nomination, and for the vote of confidence for Microcosm. I'm really touched and pleased that you enjoy the blog.

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  4. Yes, these little flowers are smart. They would be lost if they bloomed in the abundance of May. But because they bloom in February - February!!! - they are revered, cherished, and treasured.

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    1. It's funny how many garden treasures we wouldn't appreciate in May--evergreens, tree trunks, crocuses--all these real joys that get overlooked in the glitz and glam of flowering season.

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  5. Lovely photos! I agree that the flowers that signal spring have a special meaning and give joy well beyond their beauty. Trout lilies with their tiny yellow blooms are the true signs of spring in NC.

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    1. Sheila, those "signal" flowers come in phases, too, I think--the heralds of spring, when spring isn't really here, and then the flowers like your trout lilies that have you saying, now it's really spring. Trillium were always the "true signs" for me when I lived in NY.

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  6. Wow, I can't believe you have delightful little crocuses already. What a difference 60 miles makes.

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    1. GirlSprout, I wonder sometimes whether all the walls around my garden hold enough heat to give spring flowers a head start. But yes, those 60 miles (and 2,000 feet in elevation) make quite a difference.

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  7. You describe my winter but not as cold anymore..the crocuses won't show usually until mid March but many bulbs are growing and have been since late January...no blooms except a few snowdrops...I rejoice when the snow crocuses are up...if the wet snow doesn't kill them, the voles eat them quickly so i have to snap pics fast...

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    1. Donna, you all had such a long, relentless winter last year--I'm glad you're getting a bit of a reprieve this time around. A reprieve from the weather, that is. Apparently there is no reprieve to be had from voles...

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  8. Beautiful shots of crocuses in snow - one of my favourite flowers, they look so delicate and yet, if the birds allow, and tough little beauties. For me it is current a little patch of snowdrops that give me a boost every time I glimpse them. Most of the rest of the garden is dull, beige, the new green shoots too insubstantial to show to anything other than the closest of looks. I could look at my little patch of snowdrops and moan about the fact that we don't have the carpet of them we dream about. Instead I like to let them thrill me a little, even when I feel too tired to care.

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    1. Thank you, Janet. Crocuses really do look fragile, don't they? And yet they can handle just about anything winter throws at them. Your snowdrops sound lovely--they need a little more moisture than we have here, so I haven't tried growing them. They must be so welcome in the last, dreary stretch of winter, especially on those too-tired days. I'm sorry you have that kind of day... Those little bits of magic make a gigantic difference--even if they're little bits and not whole carpets!

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  9. Mother Nature has gifts (for the garden) throughout the year! Cheers.

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    1. Sometimes Mother Nature is an amazingly generous soul! Cheers, Asha, and welcome!

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  10. Beautiful Stacy.

    My crocus are in bud just waiting for the sun to filter through the rain clouds!

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    1. Thanks, Karen. Those pesky rain clouds--don't they know there are crocuses at stake now??? Hope they let you have some sunshine soon!

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  11. I don't have any crocuses but see them flowering in the local parks in the grass and in arcs under the trees. Saw a photo in the paper several days ago of a man holding up a groundhog. Interesting custom. And then there's a film...

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    1. Janet, I just do not get the whole Groundhog Day thing. Even as a child growing up in Colorado, I could not see the point of expecting some animal (ANY animal, even if it were an interesting one to start with, which it isn't) 1,500 miles away in a climate where it rains or snows every other day tell us, in the semi-arid west, what our weather was going to be for the next six weeks. And the whole bit about seeing its shadow? Of COURSE it's going to see its shadow, unless they yank it out of the ground at night, poor thing. Not that I have strong feelings about it or anything. I quite liked the film...

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    2. And how do they know whether the groundhog is even looking at its shadow?

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  12. Another beautiful post, Stacy. I particularly love this sentence: "Dearth—if there's hope at the end of it—teaches you the knack of turning a morsel into plenty." There's a whole philosophy of life lurking in that sentence.

    Your description of the Vermont winter reminded me of a joke I heard a number of years ago that claimed Vermont only has two seasons -- 9 months of winter and 3 months of "damn poor sledding." :-) -Jean

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    1. Jean, thank you. I was thinking especially about my sister with that sentence--she's one of those people who can turn eating a bowl of oatmeal into a party somehow.

      Ah, yes--3 months of poor sledding about sums it up... A Vermont winter probably isn't much different than a Maine winter, though! I actually spent a winter in Maine once (and summer in Florida--something very backward there) and was stunned that the daffodils were just blooming when I moved out on Memorial Day weekend...

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  13. They are sure pretty, but fleeting.

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    1. In a way their here-and-gone-ness is part of their appeal, I think.

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  14. A gem of a beautiful soul, as always. R.

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    1. That's very sweet of you, R--thank you.

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  15. Stacy - Dianthus is happier in our summer than the indigenous Tulbaghia, which is whimpering. Will be redistributing the Dianthus in autumn, it not only survives, it spreads!

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    1. That's good to know, Diana--thank you!

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