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Green Acre #183: Nature’s Nasty Trick

It’s not frosty out there now, but who knows what’s to come? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

MILD PANIC is setting in. 

(Cue ominous music)

Last week was the 10th anniversary of Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, or Snowzilla: However you wish to remember it, that blizzard piled 35 inches or so on the Northeast, burying cars and small dogs, and stopping trains, planes and the less stable of foot. Washington DC had a potato crisis, which I’ve discussed before and won’t again.  

It was pushing 70 on the same date last week in DC and I said to My Prince that we might want to be more conservative with our firewood consumption. “Why?” he asked. “The flowers are coming out already.”

I gathered myself up into full preachy mode (a stunning thing to see, I say) and reminded him that the last frost date in our area is April 21. Usually this lecture takes place sometime in March, when the air grows mild for a day or six and he is nudging to move the jasmines and such from the greenhouse to the garden.

We took a perambulation around Capitol Hill on Sunday, light jackets flapping open, taking pictures of the absurd signs of spring. Some were the usual February suspects, the witch hazels, daffodils, and camellias. All were particularly perky. 

And the forsythia? The iris? The hellebores? Busting out a month early—at least. Our kumquat, basking in the warmth of a brick wall, appeared positively thrilled, stupid thing.

And I saw an actual blooming rose. A very tiny rose, but! And while that may be the only one I saw in bloom, every bush or climber we passed has sprouted new growth, such tender green leaves. The hydrangeas are sprouting; even the kwanzan cherry trees, which flower weeks after the Tidal Basin display, are showing buds. 

It’s supposed to be rainy and mild this week, furthering this unseasonable show. But a powerful cold blast is due Friday. The temperature is to plunge to the low 20s, even in the city, where building density keeps the air degrees warmer than in the suburbs. This could be a disaster. While some plants will revive after an arctic night blasts fresh buds, others could be devastated. We’ll be lucky to see a flower this year. 

We’re getting covers ready. One thing to be thankful about, with a tiny yard such as ours, you can lay out a few blankets and muffle the borders into sleeping bags. Saturday it will be 50 degrees again. 

And so, we consult the Earthman, Henry Mitchell. The late, great Washington Post gardening columnist brings perennial solace in troubling times:

“One thinks, ‘Well, at least the lilacs are always on time and always good’ but then there are years they all freeze. There are years when irises do not bloom at all, There are years when roses are blown right off their stems, and years the chrysanthemums are frozen dead just as they come into bloom. . . .  Within a few years, however the gardener begins to realize there has never yet been a single year in which everything did well. And usually (after 40 years or so) he notices that no year is without some special splendor.”

Unfortunately, Mitchell was describing April. 

Keep your dread up! 

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” …



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