Mar 26, 2011

Instant Gratification, Small Recompense

It's still doing this most mornings:

Just a skiff of snow, the overnight temperatures right around freezing, or a few degrees below. As soon as the sun comes up, the snow melts and the spring day proceeds as usual: sunshine ..... clouds and a breeze ..... more sun ..... corn snow..... sun with corn snow ...... rain ...... dark clouds and gusty wind ....... sun ........ snowflakes ........ and so on. This is March -- the cruelest month (except for April, also cruel, and even sometimes May, and quite often June too) in Bend's spring season.

I don't know why anyone is surprised. It's the same very year. I guess it's just that by now, we are all pretty sick of grey and brown and nothing green for months and months and months. Deciduous trees don't leaf out until late April. Spring break, usually the 3rd week in March, is particularly evil. Traditionally -- and trust me, I've kept track -- it has the worst weather in the whole month. Why? Because innocent children all over the county (and their not-so-innocent but ever-so-deserving teachers and parents) have the week off for 'vacation'. So the weather gods, with whom I am normally on quite friendly terms, give a gleeful little giggle and send rain, snow, wind, hail, and many other kinds of wet, cold dreck to pummel Bendites.

Many head for warmer regions -- Hawaii is popular this time of year. My sweetheart heads to Majorca to ride his bike amid blooming almond orchards along the Mediterranean coast. However, for those of us who once again have plans to Get The Garden Going During Spring Break Week, we stay home, with hope -- foolish foolish hope -- in our hearts. And either break out the waterproof jackets and mud boots or dress in multiple layers of wool, including hats and gloves, and spend our days going inside when the rain/snow starts, then back outside when it stops -- over and over throughout the days.

I did get my raspberries pruned. And that is probably the only time I will feel smug until sometime in the fall. After March, I am always behind. I realize every gardener is always behind, because there are just too many things to do in the spring than there is spring to do it in. But still I feel guilty and rushed.

It wears on a person. It really does. BUT!!!!

My personal salvation often comes from the annual seed catalog-a-thon which takes place anywhere from mid-February (good Ned) to early April (bad Ned).

When I started gardening in 1971, I somehow hooked right into the seed catalog gardening lifestyle. Local nurseries had only minimal options and besides, I loved mail order. It seemed so .... pro ..... so 'in the know' -- something that I, as a newbie gardener, was desperate to achieve. The first catalogs arrived right after Christmas, and I spent months happily circling things, making lists, pruning them, adding things back on, and finally, writing checks, stuffing my precious orders into the mail and waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Most of the places I ordered from were on the east coast, and it took a minimum of 2 weeks to get anything. Some companies were even slower.

In 30 -- no, 40 years (!!!) of gardening, all that has changed. Local nurseries have much better options for seeds of your average vegetables and flowers. But even now, if I want tomatoes that really will bear fruit in our short growing season, I rely on my faithful catalogs to get the seed. What has really changed is the whole catalog thing.

First one, then another, then a few more, seed companies began creating websites. At first, there were holdouts. Even some of the companies that had websites didn't offer online ordering. You could browse, you could admire, but you still had to fill out that printed order form and join the ranks of the waiters. But I am here to tell you, online ordering is the best thing to happen to mail order nuts addicts like me.

ONLINE ORDERING! Oh heavens. Forget 2 weeks. Most places now have an envelope full of seeds in the mail by the day after I order. Instant gratification -- especially good for people like me, who tend to procrastinate. Even if I don't order until the day after the Spring Equinox, I still have my tomato seeds in time to plant them in my greenhouse before the end of March. Sweet!

So while the weather does its thing, I sit at my desk during the worst stormy moments, and fondle my new seed packets. Better than gold doubloons in a pirate's chest.


  1. He, he! Good post! Although I know our weather was much milder last year here in Redmond- and usually is, according to locals. A friend of mine that lives in Bend told me that one side is much colder than the other in Bend. We see the 'weather' coming out our front window and see it dead stop just before it reaches up- often times we won't get the snow. Now this year is La Nina- so I'm just not going to count it!

    So- your greenhouse heated at all? I'm all for as low tech as I can be- even if it means more work sometimes, until I fine tune things, that is :)

    Here is to a glorious, bounteous year- without being disenchanted!

  2. Good post. Mrs Elliott is promising a trip to sunnier climes next March. We might take a long drive down to AZ or TX and camp in the sun. Or fly away to someplace closer to the tropics. Remains to be seen.

    Snowing this morning, weather service advises there might be thunderstorms and hail this afternoon.

    Our perennials slumber, narcissii have poked their fronds up in the unshaded part of the flower bed, the mature aspens have buds. Otherwise, all quiet on the plant front here at Chez Elliott.

  3. Tessa,
    When I first got my greenhouse, I had a plan to grow OW veggies in ground beds. For various reasons, that didn't prove very successful. Eventually I put down pavers and began using it more as a place to winter over tender (but not super tender) annuals and container plants -- zonal geraniums, containers with tender perennials, as well as hardy greens. It is attached to a south-facing wall of the house, so there is a lot of solar gain and less heat loss than in a freestanding GH. After accidentally leaving some containers with tuberous begonias, fuchsias and sweet potato vine up against the wall (unheated) and having them survive, I started to realize how 'warm' it would stay, even without heat.

    Currently I have a thermostat set to the lowest setting, around 40 degrees, with one of those radiant oil heaters plugged into it. I also run a small fan 24/7 all year round, and that prevents cold spots from developing in winter. So I do keep it above freezing -- just -- to protect my tender babies. It really only goes on when the outside temps hit 15 or so. My power bills go up in winter but I don't have anywhere to keep those plants, so I suck it up, at least for now.

  4. I so admire true gardeners! As with anything, there is so much more to it than just "growing plants". The wisdom of observation, and dear the experience.

    I study the seed catalogs too, and have since I was a child, but so rarely do I ever plant... sigh. I will enjoy your gardening experiences via your blog!