“Come, gentle Spring! ethereal Mildness!  come” 
–James Thomson 

Blue sky with clouds

Typical spring skies in the Pacific Northwest

Funny, I always remember the above quote as “ethereal madness” … and am surprised to look it up and find that Mr. Thomson, a florid-tongued 18th Century Scottish poet, regards spring, however gentle, as a season of mildness. I’m guessing he had staff. 

More commonly spring finds your average passionate garden enthusiast—you and me—possessed of something more akin to madness. Armed with horticultural resolutions and big plans for the coming growing season, we fizz with as much vigor and energy as the awakening garden outside our windows. Even normal people—you know, the ones whose manicures are intact, and the treads of their soles aren’t caked in mud—participate in this spiritual snowmelt and register the rising sap of spring.

Since childhood we’ve been told that April showers bring May flowers, but as any experienced Pacific Northwest gardener will tell you, the floral show begins far earlier than that cruelest of months as surely as the rains continue far beyond its close.

Weather watching

I am, as I’m sure many of you are too, a bit of a wonk when it comes to weather, at least in the spring when stakes seem especially high. My eyes, when not on the ground at my feet watching for each emerging sprout, is trained on the sky. Wind direction, cloud formation, temperature, rainfall, or lack thereof is never far from my mind. Reveling in the luxury of sufficient moisture of a dewy, dripping—some would say sodden—spring, the dusty, parched days of the coming dry season seem a long way off.

moss and viola

Signs of spring — mossy pavement and crevice volunteers

We may complain, as all gardeners do, but in our heart, we know we are blessed with a benign, you might even say “mild” climate here in the Pacific Northwest. Nevertheless, hail, a late freeze, sapping wind, even the sudden unexpected warmth of a sunny day can mean the capricious difference between weeks of lingering vernal romance and the abrupt end to a season that is defined more by barometric conditions than a calendar construct.

Just as the turning earth brings us the dawn and lunar cycles fix our months, the constant orbit of our planet brings us the promise of another gardening season as we enter the cycle of wakening, warming and growth, that leads to ripening, mellowness, and dormancy. (Now who’s being florid?) This familiar rhythm is a gardener’s contract with the natural world. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Today is busy, and yes, sometimes frantic. An “ethereal madness” if you like. I wouldn’t have it any other way.