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Gardening from the West Coast

...Missing – One Spring
by Val Adolph


Val Adolph is a humorist and garden writer who tries not to write about 'how to design gardens and grow plants'. This means looking at the lighter side of both, but also looking at plant history - who discovered them and how people of other times and places used them. She invites you to visit her new blog as well as her website at

May 20, 2007

Well, all right, it wasn’t totally missing. We had daffodils, tulips, crocuses and cherry blossom. I think.

The wonderful thing about spring flowers is the way the sun reveals them. After the winter darkness the strengthening sun powers our spring blooms. It not only motivates the bulbs to put forth their spring finery, it reflects and magnifies the glowing colours of the flowers.


Think of a patch of purple crocuses opening to the sun, their colours so intense you have to stare and file the picture away in your memory. Think of the gold of a daffodil trumpet, reflecting the intensity of the golden sunshine. Think of the magnificent arched ceiling of cherry blossom contrasted against a vivid blue sky.

And now think of them all struggling through the rain and the wind to put on a show; slightly battered, drooping just a little, their colours lacking the sun’s energy.

And this after a winter that saw many of us losing plants that been stalwarts for years. An early hard frost came before plants had become fully dormant for winter, a heavy wet snowfall lasted too long and bore down the branches of trees and shrubs. And the steady procession of wind and rainstorms took out thousands of trees. The result is that our parks, public gardens and street trees took a hit that was demoralizing to those who cared for them.

My own losses were not huge, but they were surprising. Many plants I would have called tender survived and prospered. Some that have always been a safe bet for over-wintering are gone. I’m missing a couple of favourite roses, while others are sprouting famously. I’m sad to have lost a once-thriving rosemary. I can’t believe that one rhododendron - in a sheltered spot - had all its leaves down one side burnt. A strong and over-eager butterfly bush – gone. It just wasn’t all that cold, but it was cold at the wrong time.

The lack of sunlight produced flowers with over-long stems and small blooms. We noticed this not just in the garden but in the wild too. The dandelions had narrow leaves and sharp-toothed indentations, like miniature green saw blades. Their flower stems were up to a foot tall and in (yet another) hard rain all the stems bowed their pale arcs in the same direction

But all has not been lost. A camellia, with one of its main branches broken by the snow, still produced a record number of flowers, even from the broken branch. The heathers have been blooming for months. The lilies of the valley and bluebells fill vases to overflowing.

The roses have started to bud.

Once the sun did start to shine – oh, how good it felt. For the first time I could go outside without wearing two fleece jackets. For the first time the garden beckoned attractively, and not like a sodden mass that needed to be cleaned up. For the first time I could sit outside and read for a while. This has to be the most longed for spring in years.

I don’t envy those who have no definite spring season. Spring has always been my favourite season, and this year, when we almost missed it, we appreciated it all the more.

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