Too-Early Spring

BROOKLYN’S BUSTING OUT ALL OVER. This is not what St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to look like. The unseasonably warm winter has turned into an unnaturally early spring, and I find it unsettling.

I could take the forsythia being a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, but they’ve been quickly followed by daffodils, hyacinth, magnolias, redbud, and all the other flowers and trees that should by rights belong to April.

When I caught sight yesterday of some purple irises already in bloom — I’m pretty sure those usually bloom in May — I let out an involuntary shriek. “No! Not you too, irises!

I’m trying to be here now and enjoy it, but I can’t help wondering… what will be left for the rest of the season?

Brooklyn in Bloom


I CAME BACK TO BROOKLYN after a few days in East Hampton to find the place exploding — florally speaking, that is. Whereas the East End of Long Island is still brown and bleak, except for the relief of roadside forsythia, Brooklyn’s daffs and other bulbs are popping, and the street trees — white Bradford pears, magnolia, and redbud, are in full force, an immensely cheering sight against dark brownstones and rainy skies.







In Just-Spring


THE POET e.e. cummings (1894-1962) said it way better than I could:

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame baloonman 

whistles far and wee 

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful 

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing 

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 




baloonMan whistles

from Tulips and Chimneys (1923)


I don’t know how luscious the mud is, or how wonderful the puddles, and the little lame balloon man has been replaced in my mind by the Felco-wielding flower man at the corner deli (the one who combines your tulips, roses, and pussy willows into a bouquet with such finesse) as a harbinger of spring.


But I sure appreciate the glow of yellow forsythia and the pale pre-emergent pink of the magnolias against the wet brownstones. They are hope, and reassurance that all is unfolding as it is supposed to. How do they know it’s time?


It’s enough to make you a believer.

Anomalous April


View of the Hudson River and Catskills from Montgomery Place

THIS APRIL IS A STRANGE ONE in the Hudson Valley. The forsythia is not quite finished, which is normal for the time of year, but the lilacs are already in full bloom; ordinarily that doesn’t happen until mid-May. Forsythia and lilacs simultaneously? Weird.

Things are generally much greener than they ought to be. Loomis Creek Nursery’s e-mail newsletter says  the growing season is at least two weeks ahead, due to unseasonably warm weather early in the month, and yesterday at Montgomery Place, the romantic Hudson River estate whose gardens I popped over to see, I overheard the woman who runs their farm stand saying this is the earliest spring since 1945. I believe it.


Montgomery Place, designed by A.J. Davis in the mid-19th century, is actually rather unpretentious, of modest size, with a grand open-air verandah


I just wonder what will happen from here on. Will the lilacs stay in bloom longer than usual while the calendar catches up, or fade and be gone by Mother’s Day? Will the peonies be out in May instead of June, and the day lilies in June rather than July? Remains to be seen, I guess.


Above and below, the gardens at Montgomery Place were designed in the 1920s and ’30s. The brick pathways between beds have delightful scalloped edges.


For my purposes, the season being a bit ahead is not a bad thing. I’m up here to divide perennials from the Dutchess County property where I gardened for several years. Dividing perennials has never been my favorite thing, but this year it’s imperative, both because I have lots of bare dirt to fill at my new place on Long Island, and because certain things, like threadleaf coreopsis and rudbeckia (black-eyed susans to lay folks) have been getting out of control and taking over the central island bed, below (as it looked last September).


I spent most of Saturday digging, and amassed a huge number of pots filled with catmint, lamb’s ear, coreopsis, astilbe, cimicifuga, mint, epimedium, and more. In the end, I took only a small amount of rudbeckia because it is very late to show, even this year, and I wasn’t sure what was what.

Add to that a bunch of stuff from a local couple who sell fresh eggs and potted-up plants from their own garden, for a relative pittance: a kerria japonica bush, a viburnum, bee balm, obedient plant, iris tubers, more astilbes.


Now the big question is, how much can I get in my car?

The Barely Bearable Fleetingness of Spring


Magnolia in East Hampton village

THE ONSET OF SPRING, I’ve realized, is kind of like an LSD trip (or so I remember – this goes back a few years). You take the pill, you wait and wait, you’re convinced nothing’s ever gonna happen, and then all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose.

Or as my wasband put it, “Is there a switch somewhere that says, ‘Garden ON’?”


Sheared forsythia

Nothing much was happening around here, flower-wise, until the past week of warm weather. Now it’s going so fast I’m already mourning the turning green of the forsythia, the lavender Exbury azalea in my neighbor’s yard past its peak, the mature magnolias in the village (that would be East Hampton, N.Y.), already dropping their pearlescent petals.


The exbury azalea next door

Spring is the season for exercising the gratitude muscle, for not clinging, not grasping. For appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it, and letting go when it’s time.


My best daff

Maybe spring has extra meaning for me this year. I’ve just had a major birthday. I’m now officially a senior, if not according to the Federal government, at least according to the East Hampton Cinema. I can see a movie for $7.50, and save $12/month on my gym membership. All to the good. As my friend Diana said, “You chafe against it at first, but then you want all the discounts you can get.”


Vinca minor (periwinkle)

I had a memorable birthday celebration, below, drinking Prosecco with good friends in the garden on Sunday; then lunch at the Maidstone on Tuesday, and a walk along the beach at Sagaponack in unseasonable warmth.

IMG_2171 email

Senior in pink

Tomorrow I’m off to Mexico for a week, where I’ll meet my daughter at Rancho La Puerta, the fabulous fitness resort in Baja where I’ve been many times before. One of the chief pleasures of the place is the magnificent landscaping, and I’ll be blogging about that in days to come.


Beach at Sagaponack

But today, I walked around my own modest property, observing. I saw a bleeding heart and some epimedium poking through the soil. The little blue flowers of vinca minor are everywhere, and I see May apples and lily of the valley pushing up. They are gifts – I didn’t put them there. I’ve put very little here so far, in fact, but that will change upon my return from Mexico.


Birthday lunch at the Maidstone

My goal for the next six months is to spend every possible day working in the garden, weather permitting, or even weather not permitting. And to stay in the moment and enjoy it all while it, and I, last.


Sunset over Three Mile Harbor