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Spring at Last

April 14, 2011

Christina writes: We have had the snowiest winter on record here: snow on the ground from mid-December until mid-March, about three feet (almost a metre) high at its peak, partly because the usual January thaw never appeared to clear away the old snow before the next storm arrived. Roads were kept cleared, if not immediately, but the snow was piled high on all sides, sometimes reaching nearly six feet and obscuring visibility when trying to drive out of a side street – or even out of our driveway. The snow was still quite thick at the beginning of March, but a slow thaw set in and by mid-March it had mostly disappeared, though the piles of heaped snow took longer to melt. By the second week in March, I noticed snowdrops in some south-facing areas, and soon after that, crocus and the first shoots of daffodils. A week later, I was happy to see in our garden that the clumps of snowdrops a neighbour gave me last year had survived the winter and were in flower. Our crocus and daffodils also survived, the former now beginning to fade and the first few of the latter in flower. As soon as the snow had disappeared from the back extension of our garden to the north, I began to keep a careful eye on our six hellebore plants (also known as the Lenten Lily). They have all survived and are just beginning to  come out.

Hellebore almost in flower

Soon after Wayne knocked icicles off our back roof (see Sword of Damocles, 31 January), huge chunks of ice about 12 inches (30 cm) thick, and some almost twice as long, crashed down from our back roof. We knew these had damaged the back steps and railings, but only when the snow melted were we able to see that both railings had come loose, one is badly bent, and chunks of concrete were broken away. Since we feared that the ice dam on the lower front roof might rip out the gutter or break windows or damage new plants when it fell, we paid to have the ice removed professionally. The gutter still needs some attention, but is not irreparable. It would not be easy to do a similar job of de-icing on the back roof, which is two storeys high.

Excessive cold cracked several of the bluestone pavers on our front path, and the town snowplough pushed over one of our two lilac bushes and damaged the periwinkle bed around them. Well, we had debated before the winter whether to replace the two lilacs, which were quite old, but our landscaper persuaded us to see if he could rejuvenate them by heavy pruning. We are not the only ones to have suffered this winter: two of our neighbours have had fences pushed down or damaged by the plough, but if the roads were to be kept clear the snow had to go somewhere. Some lost several bushes to hungry deer. At least our new plantings were protected by wire fencing our landscaper erected. And most important of all, we didn’t get any leaks from the ice on the roof.

I took advantage a few sunny days in the second half of March to pick up some of the branches, twigs, and fir cones littering our lawns. We are handing over most of the spring clean-up to our landscaper, since our greatly expanded garden area would be very difficult to deal with by ourselves, even if we did not have other calls on our time. I will continue to do what I can, and during the second week of April have spent time clearing the large perennial bed beside the drive and re-establishing the edges between it and the front lawn. Gradually the different plants in it and in the newer beds have been sending up shoots and buds, and leaves have been appearing on deciduous bushes. It is still too early to be sure about everything, but the only known casualty (apart from the lilac) is one andromeda which was already in poor health last autumn.  On 10 April our landscaper walked around the garden with us and we arranged this year’s campaign: remove the winter fencing, spring clean-up, trim trees, prune, mulch, take various steps to improve the lawns, purchase replacement lilacs and andromeda, and install additional rhododendrons which we were unable to get last year.

On 9 April Wayne and I decided to take advantage of a lovely sunny day to drive to the southern part of the county and make various visits. We left mid-morning and had an early lunch at the Café Adam in Great Barrington, where we shared a salad (baby lettuce, prosciutto bits, Spanish blue cheese, and roasted pears in a honey-mustard vinaigrette) and an  unusual organic flour pizza with crispy duck leg, parsnips, Gruyère, and a drizzle of fig balsamic dressing. After that we visited Ward’s Nursery, the first of three garden centres. As we expected, it was still very early for plants and shrubs, but garden supplies were fully stocked. On our first visit to Ward’s in 2010 I had noticed an unusual plant prop which I later realized might be very useful, but failed to buy and never saw there or anywhere else during the year. I hoped I might find them again on this early visit, but was told they had not yet arrived. However, I found them well supplied at another nursery, and was able to buy other props and supports required by many of last year’s new plantings. We also bought more deer repellent and even five new plants, three more Heuchera and two Hens and Chicks (Supervivum).

After Ward’s we visited the Windy Hill nursery, and then Berkshire Record Outlet, where we bought several discounted CDs and DVDs. We stayed rather longer at Brooks Brothers at the Lee Outlet shops, where we bought two blouses and a sweater (me), and three shirts, a sweater, socks, and two ties (Wayne). The assistants had to raid the models in the window for a sweater and bow tie. We then visited a Home Depot (more plant props, lights for the basement, paint brushes) and Price Chopper, a supermarket which we prefer to any of those more locally but too distant for our weekly shop. After that we went to the Berkshire Mall where I needed some unmentionables. While I was thus occupied, Wayne browsed on my behalf the nearby racks of handbags (US purses) and found exactly what I wanted to replace my old summer bag. By then we thought it would be too late for Whitney’s, the third garden centre, but we found it stayed open later and that it had the special plant props I wanted.

We have not yet planted the new Heuchera and Hens and Chicks, or some summer-flowering bulbs I bought, but hope that the weather this weekend will permit and that the ground has now thawed enough to be workable.

Image: A hellebore almost in flower, brought out from under its winter carpet of leaves.

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