Friday, March 18, 2011


No March winds blew us back to Sewanee. Last year when we returned to Sewanee during March, the wind roared around our cottage and snow fell several times before Spring arrived. This year, the Mountain endured a severe winter, but daffodils and forsythia already fill the woods. The beautiful white pear trees that a friend of ours calls “lollipop trees” have begun to blossom, and yesterday when we drove to Cowan, Tennessee, we glimpsed stands of them along the highway. The mild temperatures have surprised us the most – this morning, our front porch thermometer registered 68 degrees, and “Grayville,” as I sometimes call Sewanee, is radiant with sunshine.

My backyard garden shows the drabbest scenery. Two beds that flowered with yellow and orange lantana last summer contained dry, tan sticks that I pulled up yesterday. However, a small bed of dianthus hung on during the winter and boasts a struggling patch of green. So I go out on the porch and keep my eyes fixed on the leafless woods in the front yard where “stalwart spears of daffodil [are] uncovered,” as the poet Marge Piercy says.

Yesterday, I found a packet of chives seeds lying on the buffet in the dining area of our cottage. Armed with a small trowel, I went out to test this early Spring by planting the seeds, daring a last frost to descend and kill them off. Chives thrive in warm soil and strong light, and the light is abundant but who can predict the temperature of soil in my back yard beds?

Garden experts tout that “knowing how to grow chives is as easy as knowing how to chew bubble gum,” but they don’t take into account black thumbs like my own that kill off rose and gardenia plantings (I also had to pull up a dead rose bush yesterday). Another gardener says that learning how to grow chives is easy enough for a child, so I’m encouraged about my early gardening and feel as though I’ve helped accelerate Spring on The Mountain by planting the expected clump of chives.

However…this morning, when I looked out the kitchen window, I surprised a fat squirrel digging in the bed where I planted the chives seeds, and my botanist friend informed me that squirrels love to dig up varieties of seeds. Here we go, I thought. The deer are next, and the moles have already arrived to pockmark the lawn again. Our front yard at Sewanee borders the woods, and we have left the lawn a mossy expanse, but we fight valiantly for space in which to cultivate flowers in the back yard; each act of gardening and yard grooming overshadowed by wildlife foraging.

Perhaps the squirrel missed a few seeds, and I’ll be able to harvest the chives. I’m waiting for them to achieve a foot in height so I can cut them back to half their size. Maybe the plants will actually flower, and I’ll be able to decorate soups and salads with the blooms.

The dogwood trees haven’t begun to leaf, mornings are nippy, and if we can get past Good Friday without a frost, I’ll revise my thoughts about the former half-heartedness of Spring on The Mountain. Meanwhile, I find tiny orange and black ladybugs on the window sills throughout the house -- a certain sign of the metamorphosis of Spring.

We received word that air conditioners have already begun to churn back in Louisiana and that we left bayou country just in the nick…Here, the woods are waiting in silence for the dogwoods, and the mild Spring is a glad surprise.

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