Out of season — but not out of mind

Out of season — but not out of mind

The season’s first snow, fleeting and superficial at best, and then the second storm, more substantial but a long time coming, nevertheless kindled thoughts of the coming spring, and that’s a welcome development.

The intrusion of globally warmed weather imposing 50-degree days instead of normally chilly ones left this gardener anxious about when the shrubs, flowers, bulbs, bushes, and seedlings would get their first white dusting as part of the delicate overwintering process.

Lately, seasonal distinctions seem even more blurred, lacking the sharp contours we remember from decades past, when planting, mowing, mulching, weeding, raking, and shoveling rhythmically meshed with subtle but unmistakable changes in weather and temperature. The maddening gyrations of the pandemic and the generally fragile state of domestic and global affairs only add to the sense of imbalance and disjunction affecting everyone.

Maybe that’s why I feel deeper anticipation about the coming gardening season. Control and predictability are never guaranteed when turning the soil or hoping for precipitation or coaxing a flower into bloom. But within the confines of my suburban plot, at least the feeling of calmness prevails, even when the deer are overgrazing, the weeds thickening, or songbirds fail to appear. For those too occupied by 2021’s exigencies to notice, the winter solstice occurred on December 21, that celestial moment when the earth divvies up the day into equal parts relative to the equator and rotates on its axis accordingly. It means we are moving, inexorably, toward the sunnier side of things, with spring and the vernal equinox arriving on March 20.

The Hebrew calendar diverges from its Gregorian cousin in many respects, based as it is on lunar and far more historic benchmarks than its solar, more precise counterpart. But both put a centrality on the seasons, the celebrations therein, the planting and harvest cycles, the circadian rhythms of our lives.

These musings invariably lead me back to my own landscape. Am I rushing matters? Perhaps. But when glimpsing the coming months, I invariably begin to calculate gardening goals. This year’s focus will be on the humble and ubiquitous forsythia, which for two weeks in the spring dazzles with a vibrant golden foliage before retreating to a pedestrian green. Forsythia was generally unavailable last year, whether due to the pandemic’s effect on nursery operations or just a poor propagation cycle. I need at least a pair to shore up the backyard’s north hedge line, and possibly more if my new neighbor to the south builds a fence to protect his youngsters and I opt to screen it naturally.

Actually, I’ve got my sights set on bigger quarry, and it’s located right across our mountaintop street at a massive home undergoing complete reconstruction. Mature mountain laurels occupy a berm that will be virtually eliminated when a semicircular driveway is carved out of the front landscape. My hope is to persuade the crew chief to spare a few of the laurels and let his heavy-equipment operator excavate them as gently as possible. I’ll wrangle them to my property, wrap the root balls, and plant them in the spring. The scheme depends on luck, timing, the vagaries of the weather, and, I hope, the favorable disposition of the construction workers. At the moment, I’m squinting into the backyard as the sun overtops the First Mountain in West Orange in a burst of tangerine and scarlet, calculating exactly where those mountain laurels will nestle.

There. I’ve put myself in a springtime frame of mind while the depths of winter still await. And now I’ll even go one better. During the spring, my wife and I will definitely revisit Presby Iris Memorial Gardens in Upper Montclair. This world-class 6.5-acre oasis, owned by Essex County and nurtured through a foundation of volunteers, boasts 10,000 bloomin’ beauties terraced on gently sloping terrain. Although vandalized in 2003, the county and the foundation painstakingly restored the grounds and replenished the notoriously delicate and demanding irises. Contemplating this visit will help me burrow deeper into a well-grounded vision of what awaits in spring. Perhaps a walkabout on the High Line in Manhattan can be added to the agenda.

So for now: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Jonathan E. Lazarus of West Orange is a former editor at the Star-Ledger and a copy editor for the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News.