The SAD Pursuit of Inner Happiness

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Dwarf peach ‘Theodore Klein’

Current politics notwithstanding, I again deal in late winter with a mild case of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – that sluggish, depressed feeling that winter has already lasted 15 months, why should anyone have to get out of bed before noon and why is it I can’t even win a $10 million Powerball?

Best I can tell, SAD’s effect on avid gardeners is tenfold – and looking out the window at a brown, barren and forlorn landscape is no cure. So, on a recent day when the snow was gone, the ice had melted, and my wife was ready to trade me in for a used picnic table, I headed outside to face my monster.

The sky was gray on gray. Rain was forecast, with splatters of it already at hand and foot. A few steps out the side door waited my winter-whipped helleborus foetidus, a stringy, weird-looking creature with cheerful common names such as “stinking hellebore” and “dungwort.”

And let’s not forget – and I have absolutely no remembrance of the why and when of that plant being just out my door – all parts of that ragged beauty are considered poisonous.

I was beginning to feel better already.

I pushed on past matching rows of prickly-greenish boxwood and our antique garden pump, once painted bright red and now dimmed to a pleasant sangria – hold that thought.

My mission, of course, was to find a little cheerful color in our landscape; real or imagined. My arums – the green soldiers of winter – were a great help. They were still recovering from an assault of near zero temperatures; a few still splayed out on the ground but others rising to the bugle call.

As temperatures have repeatedly dropped to near zero this winter, I have worried for weeks about my mimosa ‘Summer Chocolate,’ that drooping, purple-leafed beauty supposedly hardy in zones 6 to 10. I have already lost two of them in previous cold winters here in zone 6A-ish, but why garden if you can’t fail?

About once a winter week I go out and test my Summer Chocolate’s 2018 availability with that Old Farmer’s Trick: Scratching its bark with my thumbnail looking for that tell-tale green of life.

So far so green.

My spiritual advisor on such SAD journeys is always witchhazel, in my case the gold fragrances of ‘Wisley Supreme’ and ‘Arnold Promise.’ Both are along our driveway; the classic “Welcome Home” plants. Both are absurdly diligent in their duty, with Wisley Supreme always a little ahead of the pack

A 10-foot-flare of color, they come across as something of a miracle; bright bursts of bold rising above a landscape of dead brown leaves, fallen limbs and defeated NFL favorites.

I always tell our customers you are not really gardening unless you have witchhazels. The problem being they have to buy them in spring, summer and fall as an act of faith for that late winter color.  In the winter time, all most nurseries are selling are Christmas trees and hope.

Somewhat buoyed by the witchhazel experience, I headed back to our fish pond where my goldfish are hiding deep in 38-degree water like comatose convicts. I know they are down there. It’s where I left them. I did so after reading all the information about how their metabolisms shut down. They just hang there near the bottom, mercifully unaware of the world above. Kinda sad when you think about it.

Past the pond,  I peek into our plastic-covered greenhouse, the warmer winter home of neatly clipped roses, dull-brown ferns and climbing hydrangeas in three-gallon pots, including a favorite, ‘Skyland Giant,’ a less sluggish petiolaris type. Indeed, I investigated and found its history and praises were sung perhaps a little too loudly in a write-up on the online nursery site Plant Lust.

 This sterling cultivar’s lustrous, toothed greenery is dappled with choice cream-colored lacy blooms. A luminous standout amid eastward shadows, ‘Skylands Giant’ was selected at the New Jersey Botanical Garden in Skylands for its exceptionally large showy lacecaps, which feature soft looking centers of tiny fertile flowers ringed by loosely arranged, larger white sterile florets.

 Talk about a little too much sangria amid eastward shadows.

My get-over-it tour then included a look at our tulips plantings, all of them tightly tucked in some large containers with chicken wire on top to keep the rodents at bay, especially amid eastern shadows. Nothing doing there yet.

Circling toward the back of the house, I had hopes my Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (OK, Corylus avellane ‘Contorta’) had already climbed from its spring bed and had begun showing its dangling greenish-yellow catkins. It’s stationed right outside our kitchen window, a complete burst of twisted nonsense, “A thrilling specimen for winter landscapes” as the Monrovia propaganda puts it.

Nothing doing there yet, either.

From left: Lilac ‘Betsy Ross’ and Magnolia ‘Daybreak’

Joy was finally found in the front yard as I headed ’round the corner toward home. My ‘Daybreak’ magnolia was in full bud, almost edging toward bloom. I didn’t need the real rose-pink blooms. I could see them in my mind’s eye.

The Big Finish was provided by the glowing buds of our ‘Betsy Ross’ lilac, fat and ready, the parade of white blooms somehow all stuffed in there waiting for more sunshine, but knowing it‘s coming.

Indeed.

11 COMMENTS

  1. A similar walk yesterday that left me in a similar place. I think I finally accepted yesterday that, despite what the USDA says – I live in Zone 6. The rotting cardoon crowns were a bit of a body blow. I had such high hopes. Further tortured myself with thoughts of ‘how will I ever clean all this mess up?’ to really ram home the utter despair. Great post – sadly its always good to hear that other gardeners are struggling with a good mental attitude this time of year.

  2. This time of year always brings to mind lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song, “I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face.”

    My walk around the yard was to also see what the rabbits have eaten – English ivy, shrub roses, lower branches of globe arborvitae.

    The tips of my snowdrops are poking through, so that cheered me up.

  3. I, too, would not have a garden without witch hazels. They are the first indicator that I will once again make it through….on a comical note, I knew my witch hazels seeded out, but hadn’t been bright enough to completely figure it out. This fall, on a warm sunny day I stood by front door listening to what sounded like rain hitting all around me. Then I figured out I was being pelted by witch hazel seeds which were being ejected from the pods like it was a bazooka!

  4. I have a sure-fire cure/preventive for gardener’s SAD: 1) warm clothing head to foot, and 2) a dog. Dressed in a mid-calf down coat, a warm hat, insulated boots, and ski gloves, I venture out with my 2 dogs for extended morning and afternoon walks. Well, they’re less extended but more frequent when it’s really cold. We walk 5 miles a day in fair weather, somewhat less in extreme cold. In the morning, we walk the neighborhood. I enjoy the American hollies, sometimes with a flock of robins stripping the berries, or, when I’m really lucky, cedar waxwings. The southern Magnolias, American beeches, bald cypresses, and dawn redwoods are other winter favorites. In the afternoon, we hike in nature, where I admire the varied bark of our woodland trees, particularly shagbark hickory, honeylocust, hackberry, tulip poplar, and American beech. Growing up the trunks is crossvine, with its evergreen leaves showing their purple winter coloration. On the ground I see patches of moss, on rocks and fallen branches, ranging in color from emerald to jade green, little spleenworts, and christmas ferns (looking a little peaked), plus the emerging basal rosettes of many soon-to-appear spring wildflowers. Add to all this the beauty of the winter sky, the ice covering the banks of the creek, the gradually swelling buds on the maples, and the therapeutic effect of sunshine, and I manage to love winter despite the cold and the snow (don’t get me started about the beauty of the snow…)

  5. I gave a daybreak mag also!! Every year I hope we don’t have a late frost so all my magnolias can bloom. I especially like Lyles Legacy.

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