Durham News

Wise: Spring springs surprises

So far, this has been a season of surprises. Like, this winter wasn’t so bad after all.

Let us hasten to explain. Yes, the weather was just as dreary and muddy and overstaying of its welcome as you remember, but its incessant teasing with warm days between wintry-mix weeks didn’t do as much damage as you might have figured on.

What brings that to mind is that our inner gardener keeps discovering that growing things long given up for dead are resurrecting after all. Like Mother Nature’s trying to make up for being such a rhymes-with-rich so long.

Latest surprise is five little hostas, planted too late in some unforgiving ground as an experiment last year. Between ravenous bugs, summer’s untimely droughts and repeated baptisms from the dog, they never looked better than stunted and sickly and vanished with the fall.

But lo and behold, the other day, there they were – two up and spreading in multiple hues of green and all the others poking up as if to check whether the coast was clear.

A dozen or so annual begonias, planted two years ago, came back stronger for a second summer and they’re apparently on the way up for a third – some just red leaflets not much bigger than the head of a ten-penny nail, but they’re alive. Elephant ears that may or may not make it through a mild winter are sprouting even after this year’s Sturm-und-Drang.

Not to mention the potato volunteering itself from some nub left undug last summer. And the weeds! Glorious weeds! Onion grass and bindweed and a host of other unmentionables rising strong and lush! Not that that’s any surprise.

Spring does have its way of making things right again. There’s a massive camellia japonica out back, of indeterminable age. It blooms profusely every year, reliably a month or so later than the next-door neighbor’s of the same variety.

It looked a sure goner back in ’85, the year one January morning opened at 16 below, and when the days had thawed enough they were fit to go outside it was a dismal duty to go cut it down and dig it up – only to find that there were new buds rising from the base of all the dead, dry branches.

Surprise, surprise. They do always come along this time of year, sometimes more and less than others, but reliable as surprises can be. If nothing else, the landscape’s transformation, from stark grays to soft greens and bursts of white and pink and yellow, comes so sudden and abrupt it’s like someone said Let there be light and flipped the proverbial switch.

Of course, more switches are on the way. It’s also reliable that, when you go off to the beach for a week or so and get back your beans and greens and marigolds will be sharing your formerly tidy beds with hosts of invading aliens, the Japanese beetles will have had their way with the roses and it probably won’t have rained since the temperature hit 98 and stayed there.

The birds will get after your tomatoes, the squirrels at your corn, the weather at your fescue and the humidity will have you balking at going outdoors to do anything about it. Such is the way of the world, for Nature is a fickle mother and nothing if not a tease.

But spring surprises are still delights, enough so to let you forget that they aren’t forever and enough to hold back the recognition that every spring you’re another year older and there’s one less for you to go. You feel the sun and smell the air and dig fingers into fresh, moist earth, and mortality can seem impertinent, irrelevant and immaterial, as Hamilton Burger used to say when Perry Mason was about to get the better of him. (If you get that, you know what older means.)

Or, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, I’ll think about it tomorrow. Maybe. After all, there are the peas to plant.