The Homecoming Dance For Spring

Who knows where you will discover the tid-bits of information that ease you through life from season to season?  Long ago, a neighbor – a guy who studies entomology (bugs) and engages in long treks in foreign places – told me he never pulls up all his spent plants in the fall, leaving instead a ‘winter garden‘.  So I pass by flower beds where the owners have meticulously cleaned up every last bit of perennial foliage, undertaking a clean sweep of orderly beds, so only stubble remains in the black earth, readying them for the coming seasons – and I’m so tempted to follow their methodical inclinations.

Somehow I resist, instead I carve out a place for small heaps of snow to pile around a stand of stiff delphinium stocks. I leave a nest of black eyed susans stems to sparkle with crystal hoarfrost .  In the back garden the morning sun reaches a small bed of gangly flocks and shines through the tired golden leafs.  This year I even left the most stately eight foot hollyhocks, rising out of a bed of  snow.Image

I’m grateful to my neighbor who led me to the winter garden inspiration, but now it is late February.  The snow is crusty and hard, the dry crisp leaves rattle in the breeze, clinging to the stems like winter clings to the landscape.  On the February long weekend we made the drive through the mountains to our cottage seven hours west.  Home in Calgary, Alberta is a gardening zone three. A hardiness zone  is a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone. [1]The cottage, in the interior of B.C., is in a place called the Shuswaps and is a more encouraging zone 6.

ImageDuring a short break from the wet weather we were having that weekend, the sun slanted through the slate blue clouds and searching hard, I found the smallest promises of spring’s revival. These weren’t tulips or even wee purple and yellow crocuses.  There wasn’t even a brave pale snowdrop blossom in sight.  But on the far side of the cottage, against the warmest wall I found teeny weeny hollyhock seedlings, dotting the damp earth.  I had shaken the small flat seeds from spent buds and stamped them into the ground on a fall day months previous, and now here were the beginnings of hollyhocks that would grow to reach the kitchen window high above them, and by August the long stems with a multitude of  ruffled pink and white blooms, encouraged by the sun and warm nights, will stretch even higher.  Image

In that zone six it is exhilarating to reap the abundant beauty of nature’s kindness, but my heart swells with admiration for the determined and faithful green thumbs working the soil in Calgary’s much cooler zone three designation.  Gardening in our foothill’s city is an exercise in patience, optimism and hope.  It might be long weeks before I find the hollyhock seedlings here where crusty snow is still the tired background for my now unappreciated winter garden. But alas, when I do see the itty bitty pale green seedlings peeping through the earth, displaying their own determination, they will beckon my faith in the homecoming of our sweet, though perhaps, too short, summer.Image


8 thoughts on “The Homecoming Dance For Spring

  1. Picking our first pussy willows already and the robins are back.ox


  2. Zone 3 is intimidating to me, native Texan that I am, and I am cheering for your little hollyhock seedlings. In the suburbs north of NYC where we live the weeping willows are beginning to show some signs of spring life and the daffodils are up about an inch. I love getting warm, sunny days where gardens begin to wake up. Yes, it is a “homecoming dance” – love this title.


  3. “Winter garden”, brilliant! I need no longer pretend the gardener abandoned me, nor that I simply ran out of time for tedium of autumnal chores…I love it! Winter garden, thou art my friend.


  4. Calgary is only a Zone 3? Here in Ottawa, we’re Zone 5a…and I thought that was limiting! Then again, I’m from Victoria, which is a Zone 8. Practically tropical! I do the “winter garden” thing here, but I didn’t actually know it had a name, other than “I didn’t have time to fix things up right in November, and now I have a really cool-looking bunch of snow-covered stalks out there.”


  5. You make me want spring. Every time we move, I try growing hollyhocks…and finally, at the calgary house I had a bit if success. Now, I will have to try again. Ahhh…and who knows what mysteries lie beneath the snow here in Olds.


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