Monday, April 30, 2012

Lettuces, tulips and party dresses

The first long cool Wisconsin spring since I started gardening has been a sort of a trip down memory lane, to the long cool springs of my childhood in Europe and on the US east coast. The lettuces and tulips of a cool gray German or Dutch spring, shining with drizzle, these are the plants which came to my mind's eye in this weather. Astonishing to see them growing just that same way, here in the continental interior of the US, which is such a remarkably different climate, usually.

Spring here in Wisconsin is a three-day affair, with summer heat coming on while the last snow melts from where it was piled high in the corner of the parking lot out at the Target store.  Sometimes, the last tulips catch the first roses.  And, this year SEEMED as if it would follow that same pattern, only more so--in March, we got some 80 degree days.  However, the freak heat retreated, followed by the inevitable frost (which just blasted the tips of the Catalpa trees) and thereafter, the weather stabilized into wet and cool, a pattern which has held for nearly 6 weeks or so.

I bought some ranunculuses at a big box store (they looked so sad in their tiny pots) and thought them a great extravagance, because they will die back in the heat, but they have repaid all.  They are blooming beautifully in some pots near my office window, looking fiery and bold against the muted gray sky, almost like early poppies with their papery petals.  Every last bud opened, which I did not expect.

I was up in Minnesota over the last weekend, and on the way back to Madison, the mixed forests of Wisconsin's northwestern tier were shining in every color in which a leaf can shine.  It looked more like autumn than spring, except that the trunks shone out clearly because the leaves are too small to hide them, a particularly striking effect for the white white trunks of the paper birches.  A leaf-haze one might say, rather than true leaves, and these tiny leaves were red, purple, all kinds of greens, with here and there a softwood in dull green needle, and the white flowers of the little ironwoods everywhere along the hedgerows. It was a remarkable display, and as soon as the sun finally comes out for the season, it will all fade to a sameness of green, the more usual clothes of a tree which has to take off its party dress and settle down to making a sober living. The party dresses will be back after work, this fall, but it was remarkable to see every tree all dressed up together in the AM of the year, which pretty much has never happened since I moved to Wisconsin in the early 1980's.

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