I heard an interview, more than 25 years ago, with writer Reynolds Price, who was asked what his most important life lesson was while growing up in rural North Carolina. Price’s grandmother revealed simple wisdom. “Reynolds,” she said, “Life is like a traffic light. The light stays green for a long time but eventually it turns yellow, and you need to slow down. And then the light turns red, and you must stop. And wait…The light will turn green again.”

Molly Bush celebrates at the green light in 2000. Story May Lowe photo.

I shared the parable with my teenaged daughter Molly in 1999. She thought about it for a while.

Following high school graduation a year later, Molly gifted me three photos— her celebration at the green light.

The skills for weathering life, or a garden’s uncertain fate, include the resiliency to absorb endless frustration.

The green light will shine again

Paul McKinney in the early days. 

Paul McKinney, a former neighbor and mentor, liked to say he “traded a bed for a lantern.” He persevered. I never heard Paul utter a negative thought. He and his wife Mary were neighbors who lived and farmed, up the road from my former Holbrook Farm and Nursery near Fletcher, North Carolina. He trusted the grace of God in the face of hardship, but was certain good days were ahead. I watched Paul plow a field one Christmas Day, bundled up in thermal underwear, coveralls, and an overcoat, with snow beginning to fall. On another day, with blue skies in mid-January, he said prophetically: “Trust me. Today is one less day of winter. Spring is coming.”

I am stuck now at the red light under gray skies

Early-flowering, Christmas snowdrops at Swampview. Bruce Eveslage photo.

Bruce Eveslage, across the Ohio River from Louisville, at Swampview in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, posted a Christmas Instagram photo of snowdrops in bloom that appeared to be the common Galanthus nivalis. An unusual, early flowering form. I am covetous. Maybe a Galanthophile can put an ID on it?

Fresh, pristine white blooms of Tay Breene’s Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) arrived in Salvisa before Santa. I’m still waiting on mine—just a mile down the road.

Christmas roses at Millwood Farm. Tay Breene photo.

Plants and seeds don’t always behave

Three years ago, I collected a half pint of hard, dark brown basswood seeds the size of BBs, on the ground below a large tree in Louisville. I sowed them in an outdoor, 8”-deep sand bed. The critters haven’t gotten them, but they are not germinating.  You, may be thinking: You are losing sleep over basswood seeds? I sow a wide range of seeds from basswoods to bush beans, but seeds can treat me unfairly.

When they do, I seek counsel from expert propagator, Bill Barnes. He set me straight on basswoods (Tilia americana): “They won’t germinate.” Bill has run the gamut of basswood germination possibilities from warm-cold stratification to scarification (scraping the seed’s hard exterior) and has come up empty handed after four years. Nature must have a way, but in the meantime, Bill is left scratching his head. So am I. Maybe luck will shine this spring. I am the embodiment of Pumpkin Boy.  Seeds for brains. Positively alive. Generally.

Seeds from Jelitto arrived last week. And others from the seed exchange of the North American Rock Garden Society should be here any day. I’ve got even more seed catalogs piled up to sort through.

Wish me luck

The fat, silver satiny buds of Edgeworthia that resemble the pads on a cat’s paw

A ten-year-old paperbark (Edgeworthia chrysantha) with fat, silver satiny buds that resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, are swelling up. I’m hoping the garden will be filled soon with its sweet fragrance, barring another “flash freeze” as on Christmas Eve, 2022, that sent the temperature plummeting from 54 F (12 C) to –9 F (-23 C) in twelve hours and then freeze-dried the buds.

This won’t happen again, will it?