Home & Design

Green Acre #179: Seasonal Whiplash

So much to contemplate in winter, even for the granddog of “Stephanie Gardens,” Tallula. / Photo by Monica Cavanaugh Weddle.

I’M SITTING on the back porch, toes wriggling in my flip-flops, staring at the wood pile, stacked here for easy access to the living-room fireplace. For the wood we’ll have no use, this week at least.

It’s January 12th

While the rest of the country reels from blizzards and tornadoes, here the buds on the cherry tree in my backyard are already beginning to swell, the daffs in the beds are poking up to taste the air. Washington DC is suffering with another ridiculously early spring, or maybe it’s an extended fall. 

On the one hand this is pleasant, I think, wriggling my toes again in the warmth. On the other hand I fear for my hydrangeas: Margot, Phyllis, Alice, and the trio named Monica. The girls depend on a steady descent of winter chill that lasts until the return of sustained warmth for their flowering. Schizophrenic weather with dizzying swoops between cold and warm can mean blossoms nipped and no flowering at all. This has happened.


For various reasons, I was glad to leave New York for Washington. Not the least were the frigid winters. I suppose temperatures in Minnesota are far worse, and they probably don’t call Chicago the windy city for nothing. I’d rather not find out. New York was bad enough, the wind whipping around 20-, 30-, 100-story buildings, barreling down narrow side streets, piercing the warmest of cold-weather gear—which one really didn’t want to wear, it’s so hideously unfashionable, instead one walked about with knees as red as a baboon’s rump.

Sometimes I’d stop dead on the sidewalk, tears flooding my eyes and freezing on my cheeks, and silently scream, GOD, TAKE ME NOW. 

It was that painful. What a relief to move even these few hours south, despite the absence of bagels and having to drive, which I’ve yet to do well (this was 40 years ago). For me this has always been the perfect climate. 

In normal times the temperature usually plunges to the 30s for three or four weeks, most often at night when I’m at home, nose to book, anyway. Sometimes there’s snow. Sometimes that snow piles upon pile and the kids can sled on the Capitol grounds (if the Capitol police are feeling kindly). People mob the markets, buying milk, toilet paper and potatoes. (I never understand the potatoes, but this is an actual fact. At the first hint of snow, the potato bins are emptied.) As quickly as it comes, the snow melts, which is handy if you don’t like shoveling. 

The perfect winter. Shiver for a brief bit, drink Irish coffee, take steaming baths, light fires, and then it is all over. 

You’ve had just enough chill to appreciate spring, which comes suddenly and lavishly, sometimes with everything in bloom at once, roses and wisteria, honeysuckle and tulips. 

And the hydrangeas. Oh, please!  

Update: They say winter will arrive this weekend. But then, they’ve said this before. 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” gardens, except when she has her nose in a book.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.