07 April 2011

"April is the Cruelest Month..."

It shouldn't be at all surprising that TS Eliot is one of this English major's favourite authors, and The Waste Land one of my favourite poems. Yes, it's complex, and most people don't know more than the first few lines, which sum up the current situation in my garden:
April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.

April has certainly been meteorologically capricious, starting off with a late-April 1 snowstorm, which continued into April 2, then moderating for a day or so, then more snow...then serious mildness, then cold and grey...and now cold and sunny. Out of the wind, it's pleasant outdoors, and you can feel heat in the sun, til you encounter what my longsuffering spouse calls "a lazy wind." That's the kind that goes right through you, rather than around you. The hill here in Scotts Bay is highly skilled at such lazy winds.

What's a gardener to do with such weather? It's confusing for us, and for our plants, too. Many things are still soundly sleeping, being later at breaking dormancy so they run no risk of damage from the fluctuating weather. I have a pile of evergreen boughs which I've been keeping over things like the hellebores and epimedium, but I have begun some garden cleanup on warm, not so windy days.

I've been cutting the dried stalks of perennials and piling them here and there for moving later to my disposal site. I've pulled some weeds, too, mostly couchgrass and some of the biennials like willow herb,  plus the ever-creeping ground ivy. I've done the winter-damage pruning, which is to remove damaged limbs from shrubs, and given the rugosa roses all a vigourous cutting back.
When you plant bulbs in pretty much every bed in your garden, you need to be careful if you're raking away protective mulch or garden detritus. You don't want to damage the charming little spring bulbs like this puschkinia (striped squill).

Despite the weather fluctuations, there are very obvious signs of spring being here in earnest, even if it's a little on the cool side. My horse is shedding in earnest, and I just watched him and the ancient donkey playing a game of Silly-Buggers, in which they chased each other around with a lot of snorting, bucking, galloping and head shaking.
I missed getting photos of horse-and-donkey silly games, but was able to catch Mr. Pheasant in all his handsome, Pheasant-came-acourtin' glory. We have a number of pheasants that regularly come to the back yard to feed on seed dropped from the bird feeders.

The goldfinches have begun to change to their courting colours too, and the fox sparrows, grackles, robins and redwings are back in great numbers. I must say that although I love and feed birds, I'm not what you'd call a birding expert. I kept wondering where the female redwinged blackbirds were, til I realized I was mistaking them for fox sparrows. We have both, and now that I've studied up I see the difference, but...oh well. I suppose a decree asking all birds to wear nametags wouldn't work awfully well.
Someone was complaining about coltsfoot the other day, but I'm of a different mindset about that early bloomer. Coltsfoot and dandelions are very important to pollinators such as early awakening bees, some of which have been seen (on calmer days) in the heath and the crocuses. So at this time of year, I gently urge gardeners to be a little patient with the coltsfoot, and with the dandelions when they start, as until we get a lot of plants blooming, our native bees and any wandering honeybees, as well as other beneficial pollinators, rely on these plants to help them survive these chilly days.

Take heart, fellow gardeners. I was just talking to a nurseryman who agrees that spring is cool and slow, but that it is definitely coming. Before we know it, it will be tulip time, magnolia time, and lilacs will be intoxicating us all.

I do wonder why it is that goutweed (ground elder, bishops weed, Aegopodium) is not phased by cold weather, frost, salt, or deer. That just seems so unfair, don't you think?


  1. As rough as the weather has been, I keep telling myself I will enjoy the true spring weather that much more! You hit on it all perfectly and it was a warming read on this cold afternoon. Thank you.

  2. I totally agree, dear Jodi, the best is yet to come. Spring is indeed an intoxicating time of year and, yes, unfair about ruthless goutweed.

  3. Jodi:

    And yet those beautiful darling Iris... takes the edge off Mother Nature's sense of humor. Truth is we were all spoiled last year. It is actually warmer here today that it has been all year thus far. I hope you are getting some good weather as well.

  4. Jodi, I was just outside this evening in that wind and oh my goodness! Although the sun was out I was still freezing. So much for working outside. I'll try again this weekend. By the way, that pheasant is spectacular. I don't know that I've ever seen one wild before.

  5. If April is the cruelest of the months in your part of the world, it might be the same as well in these parts, but due to opposite reasons. It is the peak of our dry season with high temps and high humidity. However, this year it is a bit kinder due to La NiƱa, which gives us at least cloudy skies to soften the heat. We also have great colors this time. But your purple iris is definitely beautiful.

  6. The weather fluctuations are so tough on us humans, but the plants, for the most part, seem to weather them well. I've been meaning to stop over at your blog as I've seen your comments on friends' blogs. Glad I found you--I love your blog!

  7. When the weather isn't cooperating it's hard to remember that the best really is to come. I think I just get so impatient waiting for it all. We had snow and hailstorms here yesterday, very unusual for this time of year here. But I know that eventually spring weather will arrive with the flowers.
    (I did just see the Bishops weed popping up yesterday :( )

  8. Lovely photos. We're having a different kind ofo spring in Ontario as well. You seem further ahead of us than I would have expected. What garden zone are you? (We're 4a and my first crocus will likely bloom today.)

    Happy Gardening. And your cats are adorable.

  9. I feel just like your horse and donkey. I am aching for a warm spring day when I can run around (at least in my mind) like a silly bugger.

    Love your informative blog.


  10. Hi Jodi. It is a fickle month for certain. I think the irises look so pretty blooming in the snow. I know great for pictures but everyone is sick of the white stuff. What a beautiful picture of the pheasant.

  11. Jodi, Even in my south central Pennsylvania garden, spring weather has been fickle. My plants spend days in a state of suspended animation and then surge when we have a warm, sunny day. I'll be home in Maine in a couple of weeks, and I had expected that mud season would be over and that I'd be able to do serious spring cleanup in the garden. Now I'm not so sure. -Jean

  12. How true is that ! .. this winter has been dragging itself out for ever it seems .. a few days ago we had snowflakes, but at least they had the grace NOT to settle and stay .. phew ! and I can see my crocus and iris in the bulb circle being very brave and blooming for me .. we have to smile when we can Jodi, right ? we need a ton of smiles by NOW !! hehehe
    Joy : )

  13. I love a long, cool spring and hope that it continues. It is much easier to work in the garden without the bugs and heat. I know it is frustrated anticipation for gardeners but the flowers do love it and last longer when it is cool.

  14. We couldn't stop its arrival if we tried!
    love your photos

  15. Jodi, I think it atrocious and unfair that weedy plants and invasives never get knocked out by the weather or deer. Lovely photos. gail

  16. I can't complain too much about the April we have had, though yesterday we had temps in the 80's--much too warm for this time of year. But it did wake up the tulips, and I found two of them blooming this morning.

    I don't have goutweed (I think), but once again I have a bumper crop of creeping Charlie. Maybe I should just give up pulling it out and call it my groundcover:)

    I'm impressed that "The Wasteland" is your favorite poem--not an easy one to read!

  17. Jodi,

    I'm thrilled to bestow upon you a Versatile Blogger Award and have recommended to my readers that they check out your blog.

    You can learn more about this award and the onerous requirements prior to its acceptance here...


    Best wishes, Sybil

  18. Jodi, your images are really nice today and the pheasant is my favorite, yet I look forward to the bees and butterflies again. We had snow too in early April and I am hoping it is gone, yet frozen mix is predicted. I feel bad for those pansies I planted, but they may be fine anyway.


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