The Spiritual Gardener: Intimations of Spring

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The flowers will bloom again and there may or may not be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, but there are bluebirds in our reading room, because we found some beautiful and realistic bluebird candles, of all things, at a local store and have them on a windowsill near a pot of paperwhite narcissus.

Paperwhite narcissus are for us a must-have accessory for winter, preferably on a sunny windowsill where they can look out on the winter scene. The bluebirds of happiness are optional, but desirable.

But flowers do bloom again, in real life and eventually, no matter how harsh the winter, and my eagle eyes were finally rewarded yesterday when, driving home with my daughter from the farm where her horse boards, I saw a large patch, about the size of our dining room table, of snowdrops blooming on the side of the road out in the country.

My heart leapt up, and I guess there is hope in the world after all. My daughter had wanted Cosimo and me to come to her barn and play with Chico, the new horse she is leasing, so we did and I sat in the strong sunshine on the deck outside the barn, burning my face in the delicious sun while she got him tacked up. Then she and a friend rode their horses, while Cosimo and I walked to the cross-country field, and Cosimo was deliriously happy to be on a walk and off his leash.

He chased geese and jumped some of the low jumps, and his eyes were bright with joy, as indeed mine were. South Jersey is going fairly nuts with the sun and warmth, literally our first really mild days since October, I believe.

The Assistant Gardener, resting on top of a jump at the horse park, on a delightful sunny day in mid-March.

I spent most of Saturday in the yard, and what a treat it was to be out doing things in the garden again.  First I picked up quite a lot of storm debris and branches knocked down by our four heavy snowfalls, then I minutely weeded the porch bed, using imaginary tweezers in fact, where some crafty winter weeds were already flowering. The wicked things. Then I quickly pruned some more grapes and roses, and also the cherry, forsythia and peach, bringing two large bunches of cut branches indoors to force them.

How great it is, when you are starved for the sight and smell of blooms, to have a giant spray of forsythia in one room and another giant spray of fragrant peach and cherry blossom in another. The simple joys of the garden, as is true of most things in life, are the best – a lesson we have to learn over and over again in life, until one day, after about five hundred repetitions, it occurs to us that perhaps that is significant. Well duh, as the young people say. The Christmas red camellia I note has two flower buds, its first after having been in the ground two years now and I hope, no doubt unreasonably, to have a camellia bloom for me before I die.

Is that too much to ask?  Quite likely it is.

One day last week, I showered, shaved and dressed and was ready to go to work, but then realized that my computer was being switched out and I had no appointments at the office, so I stayed home instead.

Impromptu vacation!  I went to the hardware store and picked up the split, six-paneled door I ordered for the linen closet and spent most of the day knocking out four of the panels and replacing them carefully with six leaded glass panels I found inexpensively online.  I completed one door Friday and the other Saturday, and then painted them Sunday, and they turned out very well.

I am not a very brilliant carpenter, but I find I can do pretty good work if I go slowly and think carefully about what I am doing. Which is hard for me, as I am usually in a great hurry; this is another simple lesson I have to learn over and over again, in my general obtuseness.

While I was working at this carpentry in the garage, I had to chuckle remembering ruefully a time many years ago when I was doing a similar woodworking job with my son, then only five or so.  He was helping me with some interest and I let him carefully measure out some of the boards we were cutting.  He wanted to handle the saw, but I told him I had better do that, as it was a bit dangerous.  He was pensive for a while as I continued to work, then he said: “Dad, when I am a man, I hope I will have a son.”

“I hope so too, honey, it is a great thing for a man to have a son.”

“And when I do, I hope he will do jobs like this with me, just like we are.”

“Yes, I hope so too; that would be very nice.  Fathers and sons should work together; it’s important.”

Then came the devastating kicker: “And I will let my son measure and cut.”

Well, I had to stop a moment there, and think.  This was a mild but deserved rebuke.  Of course, I let him use the saw from then on and he did fine. We think we are teaching our children, but sometimes our children teach us, as every parent knows.

Back to the quickening garden, I started re-painting the wooden growing frames that give much structure to the crescent bed, and generally I enjoyed pottering about musingly in the freshening garden.  Around town I notice snowdrops everywhere, and now quite a few crocuses as well.  At a friend’s house this weekend I saw winter-blooming jasmine and a witch hazel in bloom for the first time.  The glories of spring are nearly here, and the hungry heart is so ready.

On Saturday night at 10 p.m., we sat out in the crook of the house between the porch and the patio, having a glass of wine under a nearly full moon, and imagining what our new patio area there will be like. On a walk this weekend, we saw a neighbor with a dinner plate-sized patch of purple crocuses open. In the house, we have a huge vase of black-green yew branches and red twig dogwood that has just sprouted its tender, bright green leaves. There is not much going on in the yard yet, though tiny tips are poking up everywhere.  I planted fourteen lilies in the side yard.

That ought to give me enough lilies around the place to keep me from mooing about them so piteously. There’s lots of cutting down and weeding left to do, and only the crescent bed and porch bed look really tidy, but oh well.

Life is long, I find.


David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.