In the Garden with Felder

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Never know how to dress these days, much less what is safe to plant. 

This time of year, it’s ups and downs, temperatures jerking from 70 one day to 30s the next. It’s the season weather forecasters can only shrug sheepishly.

Some places have regular, predictable seasons. When I lived in San Diego, the weather guys could have just run the same loop over and over because it was always sunny and mild as soon as the morning fog burned off. My red-suspendered friend Roger Swain, longtime host of The Victory Garden, described his New Hampshire weather as “ten months of alternating sun, rain, and cold, with two months of bad skiing.”

Winters in my other home in Lancashire, England, which is on the same latitude as Nova Scotia but is surrounded by the warm Gulf Stream waters, rarely hits the teens or gets ice, but when it gets cold and chilly its stays that way until spring. Whenever summer temps bump to Fahrenheit 85-90, the newspapers splash “Killer Heat Wave” on the front pages. Really. However, unlike here, it always cools down at night.

We all know how torrid our summers are. Coupled with suffocating humidity so thick you can lick it, it’s a wonder how we coped before fans and AC, yet we somehow muddled through. But perhaps the best word for Mississippi’s winter weather is fickle. No predicting when it will be T-shirt or sweater, or for how long, we just know it ain’t gonna last.

Last month, after a disastrous drop from the 70s down to single digits, then back up to the 70s, I opened my little cabin’s windows to air it out, and when I opened the door to sweep stuff out, a sudden gust of wind sent a garbage can of leaves flurrying all the way into my bedroom. So I had to deal with spring, fall, and winter all in one week. That day’s breezes were strong and steady enough that, keeping my back to it, I used it to help corral the leaves I was blowing into my compost area. 

But as you know, the weather will change soon. In fact, after decades of observing how flowers come and go with the seasons, I decided that, unlike the traditional four seasons we were taught in school, in the South we actually have seven seasons that slowly segue and overlap a bit.

Follow me here: Midwinter’s cold-hardy camellias and paperwhites, to late winter’s daffodils and flowering quince, to early spring redbuds and azaleas, to late spring avalanche of iris and new canna foliage and so. much. more. Then early summer’s magnolias and roses, full summer’s crape myrtles and zinnias, and finally fall’s goldenrod and slow splash of colorful tree foliage. That’s seven, right?

Well, last week my inbox brought a humorous new internet meme with identifiable names for the South’s real seasons: Winter, Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, Spring of Deception (when we plant tomatoes too early), Third Winter, The Pollening (which I think could also be called Antihistamine), Actual Spring, Summer, Hell’s Front Porch, False Fall, Second Summer, and Actual Fall. 

By the way, just as country folk used to call that last warm spell around Thanksgiving “Indian Summer” there is an old folk term for the late frost we always get but always act like it never happened before: Blackberry Winter; usually happens around when blackberries flower.

Anyway, it’s legal to gamble in the garden. I just sow seed for a late crop of green peas; reckon they’ll make it? No matter, another month and I’ll bet on ‘maters and peppers.

Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to rushingfelder@yahoo.com.


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