|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.