February 20, 2012

The Writes of Spring


At one time, long before there were blogs, there were newspapers, and in those newspapers, at least in the great ones, there was often a weekly gardening column. Behind most every fine gardening column, was a garden writer, and many of these garden writers, were indeed fine gardeners. Names like Thalassa Cruso, who wrote for the Boston Globe as well as McCall's Magazine, and perhaps even greater, if not the greatest garden writers of all Vita Sackville-West and her weekly notes in the London Sunday Observer blazed a path few take today. Like so many things today, the idea of a weekly column seems more quaint than practical, if only for the fact that it arrives on ones doorstep in a newspaper. The Sunday Times or Washington Post? Absolutely. I look forward to it. My daily local newspaper? Not so much.

 However, there is a news-like quality to garden writing, and for garden news, for that matter. So where does one go to find the daily or weekly gardening task lists? I suppose the answer is blogs. Briefer, and not as eloquent as week columns in newspapers, at least, they capture a moment, personal share of the tasks are a constant, events happen daily, and often there is enough news for both the morning paper and the evening gazette, at least in my garden. But sometimes the news becomes less than newsworthy; and more about ritual. Garden writing reminds me of the Weather Channel, or better yet, it's the offspring of both the Weather Channel and the Cooking Channel. When things are bad, (really, really bad, like 9/11 bad), the safest place to turn the channel on the television is to either the Weather Channel or the Cooking Channel. Both provide a comforting tone, a mix of seasonal pace,( autumn apple pies or brisk Canadian cold fronts), a ritualistic repetition (the cycles of the moon, crank up the grill for summer fun), a touch of nostalgia ( the blizzard of 77, or Monkey Bread) and no news.

It's no surprise that gardening itself relates so closely to both the weather and food, after all, one can't live without the other. Weather is as immediate as anything can get, as is gardening, and garden column writers, if any good, must write in-the-moment, (for if one sees a flock of robins bathing in the koi pond as I did this morning, it is indeed newsworthy -- and not the sort of robins who spend the winter, I am convinced that these were genuine Florida robins - they were far too delighted). Garden column writers announce the first snowdrop, the first crocus, the proper time to plant asparagus root, as well as share their favorite recipe for something with Zuchinni in it.  Today, garden blogs are filling that gap - from Groundhogs to Hellebores, to Heirloom Tomatoes to the first frog in the pond - our favorite gardening blog provides us with a brief moment of mindless gardening (which sometimes is even better than actually doing it yourself), just the 'idea' of planting a 50 foot row of coral peonies is enough - and yes, occasionally, an "Oh, OK, I can do that" or, "mine is blooming too!"Like 'cooks' watching the Cooking Channel, not all gardeners garden.

This weekend in late February, across North America, garden writers are tapping away at their laptops articulating the sublime benefits of the overlooked Hamamellis, or Witch Hazels, which are in bloom weeks earlier this year than in the past five years. Many are re-crafting profound statements about the 'unseasonably warm'  winter, its record-breakingness, (or not). Month-by-month the titles are similar. February - First Eranthis, early crocus, Snowdrops and the errant robin. March: Providing sollice to those without their clivia in bloom, celebrating slate colored and double Hellebores, a few reports from the local spring flower show, and stern advice on how to restrain the need to start ones tomato plants too early. Annually these subjects inevitably repeat, but with subtle changes. "Why last year, these Hellebores bloomed a full six weeks later than this year!, and we? Well, we concur, we disagree, we relate, we rejoice, and the result is that we the audience find comfort in the rhythms and cycles that Mother Nature gifts us with so mysteriously and obviously at the same time.

I am no garden writer, I will say that.  I can share my knowledge and passion as best I can with words and pictures. I can't even say that "I'll do my best.", for I can write far better than time allows me, but I am time poor and far too lazy to worry about it. Yes, blogs are a fast medium, most are  quickly typed out in-the-moment, on mobile phones and laptops before work or while in bed, with photos downloaded and added while one is often still in the greenhouse or sipping coffee before work. "Must share that perfect camellia", or that special moment with the mouse trap and the peanut butter ( I'll save you from that! - but I see sweet peas in our future!!) -- But as newspapers wane and blogs start to take a place somewhere in our lives, at least we know that the gardeners voice ( be it far less articulate than Ms. Sackville-West's); continue to comfort us with that Weather Channel-ness of white noise, that at one time says nothing at all, while at the very same time, provides a reassuring beat to our daily lives.


  1. A beautifully written post, garden writers are a indeed bridging the gap. What started as a hobby for recording my experiments turned into a full blown exchange of information with a community of people I didn't even know existed. A year and a half in and I'm all to impressed. I visit my favorites almost everyday. It's better than any newspaper.

  2. The 1st signs of spring are always good. I know in Todmorden (near me) Daffodils were out in December (in the local newspaper!)


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