Wednesday, March 30, 2011

3.24 Lenten Rose

The flowers are sort of yellow. Maybe a yellowish green. But mostly sort of white. They come so early in the season you forget to look for them. I think I probably forgot about the Lenten Rose after planting one a couple of years ago.
When I discovered the blooms, low to the ground, disguising themselves among the foliage, last spring they had probably been open for a week or more. They hug the ground among the stems and leaves of their own and other plants which emerge in early spring and hide them. The cup-shaped “rose” flowers do not necessarily turn their face up to the sun. So you have to get down to their level.
Getting down to their level, I pick out the dry leaves by hand. It’s a sensitive time of year to look for surprises from the garden. My job this month is removing the dried, brown leaves of last autumn from the flower beds and groundcovers where we leave them all winter to provide a mulch cover which, we hope, is appreciated by the recipients of this effort.
A lot of snow sat on top of those leaf-covered beds last winter, especially during the coldest period. But when the snow melted away and the weather slowly got warm enough for me to stand outdoors, though that’s still a work in progress, the perennial groundcovers were already showing their green – as if a New England winter, snow or no snow, had not made an enormous difference one way or another. As for my leaf mulch, I’m not smart enough to figure out whether that makes a difference either.
But the leaf mulch does take time and labor to remove. You’d like to rake it off, which is easier to do in beds where only the roots of the perennials or a strong skeletal branch-frame remains. Among groundcover like vinca it’s trickier. Rake with vigor and you inevitably pull up some vines. The tangled small leafed and delicately-vined low thymes and other stoppable, groundcover plants are even harder to clean out. You either rake and accept your losses, or hand-fork; or simply pull out the dull brown leaves with bare (or gloved) fingers… one or two at a time.
So you spend hours down low, interviewing patches of foliage on a one-to-one basis. How are you this year? How was your winter? What are your goals and aspirations?
With some of these fellows, it’s hard to read the body language. You look pretty good – or don’t you? Is this where I left you last year? Where are your friends?
It’s still too early to know what to expect from most of these families of plants. The hardy survivors – pachysandra, day lilies, stand up and bow – are present and accounted for, lining up for attention. But I have a long mental list of marginal performers, which make me fret. They may be slow getting out of bed, or they may not get up at all. Time, the answer to most of these question, will tell me something. But it won’t necessarily tell me why.
In this delicate and sometimes uneasy transitional stage, it’s heartening to be rewarded by something you don’t see every day. You get down to the ground, pull away some fallen twigs and old leaves and there are the happy bells of the Lenten Rose.
The color is very, very pale – modest and thin, like, I suppose, the Lenten diet of late winter.
But it feeds some very deep hunger inside.