Actually, this is a clematis vine after snow. We had a long, slow snowfall a couple days ago, which for the first six hours melted on contact, accumulating only as dusk settled. Morning revealed the previously spring-greened landscape under several inches of heavy, wet snow, remarkably beautiful lit by the mid-April sunrise.
Aesthetic appeal was not enough to conceal the threat to early-blooming plants, and even more troublesome was the coming forecast: clearing skies and a deeply cold night to follow. I spent part of the day in a preliminary survey of what emerging plants were most at risk. If the snow would just agree not to melt, it might help insulate the delicate new growth at ground level, but that would mean little to the long shoots of the clematis that were already well on their way to entwining with the trellis. When the sun came out the melt began and everything was fully exposed just in time for the hard frost to settle in at night, so all the spring greenery was in the same situation.
Every gardener understands humility, if they understand gardening at all. At some point, it's a shared experience: surrendering to the reality that cycles this grand are far beyond our poor efforts to control, and even our attempts to mitigate damage are inadequate. So as the cold came down, I went inside my warm house and tried not to think about it, and failed.
This morning I walked out to see what had survived. One bright spot was the Elberta Peach, now in its third year and well established. In recent, warmer days I took great pleasure to see the vigorous new growth of branches from the previous year sprouting a thick crops of leaves, and magenta-on-pink buds swelling all over. This was the first place I turned to gauge the effect of the freeze and I had expected the worst. As it turns out, only a few buds were lost and most of the leaves looked healthy, not at all frost-damaged. This variety peach tree is well known for its ability to withstand severe cold, and that's proving true in this case.
As much as I want peaches this summer, even more important is the clematis, for reasons that are sentimental. When I moved my family into this home 24 years ago, a large jackmani clematis was established near our back door, huge purple blooms thick on a high trellis. It was a fine plant, but some necessary exterior work ultimately meant this plant was lost. I had made a couple of previous efforts to plant a new clematis elsewhere on the property, only to find the microclimate of the sites I chose were was not precisely right for establishing a new vine. But two years ago I found a particularly robust vine at the local nursery and thought to give it one more try.
How to explain my joy that this vine is alive? I worried through the night that the frost would burn the vigorous growth I'd seen coming off the clematis in recent days, but morning sun showed no damage at all. In fact, the plant seemed to have thrived through the cold.
Gesture may be too metaphoric, but something is expressed here by the clematis. It's booming at the west entrance to my garden and I look forward to training it over an arbor (which I had better get started on constructing). This is the payoff for my investment in the clematis—first for appreciating the old vine, for regretting its demise, for persisting through failed attempts, and for ultimately finding the right location. It's what I call a long satisfaction, the alternative to instant gratification sought so compulsively in contemporary life. Long satisfaction is not so much about lasting as it is about the payoff of regeneration and return. While I don't claim to have a fully functioning permaculture garden, I am slowly approaching that concept and this marks another notch in the progress.
The salad garden, planted ten days ago, also looks to have weathered the snowfall and subsequent low-20s freeze. The golden-podded peas—from recently discovered seed several years old—have emerged as a thick row of green shoots breaching the soil. Three kinds of lettuce—Lolla Rossa, Red Iceberg, and Forellenschluss—are poking up, along with spinach, Helios radishes, and Ruby Red Mustard Greens. Just behind is the row of scallions, and I expect them to emerge any time. Awesome salads are just a couple weeks away, and will be available for another 60 days, at which point I may actually have my first early tomatoes ready for harvest.
But back to the present, where more cold weather is forecast for gardeners on the Front Range of Colorado. Another rain/snow mix will fall this evening, then the clearing afterwards that pulls heat off the earth's surface and threatens to plunge us again into a killing frost. I expect there's more in store through the end of April, and I'll play the same game as we go forward—that particular mix of hope and acceptance that borders a night's sleep.
Climate change is a hard thing to fully grasp but it appears from my very limited perspective to be expressed in this zone as an intensifying of effect. What I mean is that the warm days of spring seem warmer to the point of intense heat, and the intervening dips in spring weather bring a deeper frost, and all this instability sets in sooner in the season. Last year, we had intense heat in March, followed by intense cold, and then more cycles of fluctuation between the two than has been typical. The most sensitive plants were stunted by these swings. The symbol was the single peach that grew on the tree—one blossom low on the lowest branch that somehow managed to survive and fruit.
It was delicious to eat, but honestly, I'd like a basket of peaches this year. I counted more than twenty blossoms on the tree this morning, and I'll be watching and hoping they all make it through.