Funny, I always remember this quote as “ethereal madness”… and am surprised to look it up and find that Mr. Thomson, a florid-tongued 18th Century Scottish poet, regards spring, however gentle, as a season of mildness; perhaps he had staff. More commonly spring finds your average passionate garden enthusiast - you and I - possessed of something more akin to madness, filled with hope and dreams, armed with our horticultural resolutions, and possessing as much vigor and energy as the awakening garden outside our windows. Even “normal” people - you know, the ones whose manicures are intact and the treads of their soles aren’t caked in mud – participate in this spiritual snowmelt and register the rising sap of spring. The result all of this equinoctial arousal can be seen in the increased frequency of early morning garden strolls of focused scrutiny followed by a sudden surge in nursery sales, the throwing open of windows and the utter collapse of discipline for indoor responsibilities, but maybe that’s just me.
The season sneaks up on us with an escalating stealth. We’ve gone from fawning over the first flush of precocious snowdrops and celebrating the whiff of a common violet’s old fashioned fragrance as it wafts through the still chilly air to whirling and twirling through our demanding round of spring chores whose number outlasts daylight hours. At our feet plump primroses, gentian blue corydalis, bleeding hearts, trillium and waves of lively daffodils lap our ankles as we go about cleaning and tidying up winter’s debris. Blowsy Oriental Poppies, slender foxgloves and the blood red herbaceous stems of stout peonies supporting fat sticky spherical buds rapidly approach their spring climax. Meanwhile, we rush to complete thinning volunteer seedlings and the division of late season perennials while we can still make our way into quickly filling garden beds. Spring vines weave and tangle to create a bower of bloom seemingly overnight while blossoming trees shower our heads with delicate petals as we finish spring pruning, deftly filching a few promising branches for our bedside table.
In the vegetable garden an emerald carpet of chickweed sprouts in the blink of an eye, a beacon of rising soil temperatures and a tasty addition to spring salads as well. We revel in the luxury of sufficient moisture; the dusty, dry, parched days of late summer seem a long ways off from dewy, dripping, showery - some would say sodden - spring. It is time to lay the literal nourishing groundwork, to feed and build the soil so it will support the burgeoning biomass accumulating at an alarming rate as the days lengthen and the sun warms. We mix and concoct fertilizers, mulches and composts all in pursuit of the elusive “fertile well-drained loam” that is every backyard soil scientist’s dream. Such chores waken our winter dulled senses and stretch muscles knotted with months of inactivity. Who but a gardener finds the sweet stench of ripened manure bracing and hopeful? We detect an increase in earthworm activity and celebrate the fact.
“April showers bring May flowers”, so goes the childhood rhyme but as experienced Northwest gardeners we recognize that the floral show begins far earlier than that cruelest of months as surely as the rains continue far beyond it's close. I am, and I know many of you are too, a geeky weather wonk. My eye, when not on the ground at my feet watching for each emerging bulb and seasonal marker, is trained on the sky. Wind direction, cloud formation, temperature, rainfall or lack thereof is never far from the mind of a garden zealot. We may complain, all gardeners do, but we know we are blessed with a supremely benign climate. Nevertheless, here in our Pacific paradise hail, late freezes, sapping winds, even the sudden unexpected warm sunny day can mean the difference between weeks of lingering sweet vernal romance and the abrupt end to this most ephemeral of seasons that is defined more by barometric conditions than a calendar construct. Spring’s capricious weather is most often a mix of tonic rain, wan sun and a constant nippy breeze that keeps us in layers.
Just as the turning earth brings us the dawn and lunar cycles fix our months, the constant orbit of our planet brings us the promise of another gardening season as we enter into the familiar cycle of wakening, gaining warmth, growth, ripening mellowness followed dormancy and back to warmth and growth. Right now all is heady, busy, bustling, and yes, sometimes frantic – “Ethereal Madness” as it were. Summer’s languor and repose, shade and rest are right around the corner, hopefully culminating in a fruitful harvest only to be followed by another dark and fallow winter, at which point we’ll do it all over again next year. I love it!