Mother's Day weather - paradise every year

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2001

I was at the nursery Monday evening, the wind was whipping through at about 50 knots, plastic flapping and big trees wavering as if about to take off. I wondered if I was in the right place, or even on the right planet.

Then I looked at the huge pink buds on the Hopa crabapples and saw that they were ready to open. I looked at the opening flower trusses on the hardiest rhododendron varieties and saw the bright red tips of the peonies emerging from their winter's rest. I was so relieved.

These plants are realistic; they don't care that we are cold or windblown. These plants are survivors. They have been through much tougher situations than this and been perfectly happy. Wind, rain, freezing sleet or whatever these hardy visitors are very content.

It's like this most years: We are ready and our Mother's Day plants are in and hardened off for the temperature. (When a plant like a fuchsia or African daisy arrives here, coming from a warm greenhouse, it has to be gradually accustomed to the lower temperatures, and then it will be hardy here.) We are ready for the season.

Then early May storms blow in. Year after year weather sweeps in and temperatures drop. Wind, rain, freezing nights and, often, snow come raging out of the ocean. Here we are all dressed up, ready for a good time, and the party gets changed due to the weather. It doesn't get cancelled; we just wear different clothes.

When one lives in an area that experiences rapid weather shifts, one collects appropriate clothing. Our brightly colored sport shirts are traded for fleece and Gore-Tex, and we continue the event. Mother's Day is still on the schedule; we have only changed the wardrobe. (I wonder why not Hawaiian print raingear?)

We all have the gear; everybody knows how to get along in weather, and the sense of adventure that even a shopping trip acquires when the wind is really blowing is exhilarating. Don't feel intimidated. It's a beautiful day out there if you are buttoned up and can stay dry.

Look at the surrounding countryside as you go about. Spring really is here: Salmonberries are blooming, hummingbirds are zipping about, and the perennially emerging vegetation is filling in the open spaces with green.

The windswept reaches of the open beach feel like whole-body massages as we stroll along wrapped, capped and bundled, but right next to us are middle-school-age kids in shorts and T-shirts. The parallel between these happy kids and the birds and small mammals is impossible to miss. They are so happy to be outside and feel the flow of the season that their internal warmth overcomes all sense of wind chill.

Experienced gardeners in Southeast Alaska are outside with the same sense of bravado. Raingear, rubber boots, warm hats and insulated rubber gloves make us as invulnerable as astronauts. Opera turned up louder than the wind, thermoses of steaming tea, and our trusty short-handled spading forks at hand, we pull up and divide the emerging perennials and turn over planting areas incorporating compost, sand and manure.

The bare-root perennials are here this week: We can fill our flowerbeds with the masses of bleeding hearts, astilbes and irises that we have been waiting for. The veterans of our gardens' ranks are filled by these new recruits and the goal of "No Bare Earth!" is one season closer.

Set pieces are created; bright combinations of spring-blooming perennials like primroses and rock cress are organized over roots of these later-emerging species. The bloom sequence will have astilbes and peonies rising above these earlier flowers as their colors fade, and the same three-by-three space will have another, completely different population next month - and then yet another in July.

Many local gardens have color constantly from March to October in the same spaces, and the key is getting the roots in early.

This season - wild with weather fronts and filled with promise and false starts - is key to these summer-long displays. Those raingear-clad cultivators are preparing the banquet that will satisfy the guests and party-goers that will fill their yards this summer. Mother's Day week is always the start of the serious gardening season. Plant sales abound, spring color is everywhere and flowering trees are bursting forth.

Zip up your jacket, shrug on your raincoat, slip on your rubber boots and get started.

It's paradise.



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