Small Mercies


Look, I love my part of the world–upstate New York–for about seven months of the year.  I'm grateful that I get to live in a sophisticated college town with good restaurants and a thoroughbred track, within a stone's throw of heartbreaking natural beauty in the form of–take your pick–pines and lakes in the Adirondacks or red barns and cows and purple hills in Washington County.

The other five months of the year, however, you'd either better love your husband, kids, job and house–or be an avid skier–because nature is not sending out any signals whatsoever that life is worth living.  It's Samuel Beckett country here in Saratoga Springs, as in, "I can't go on. I'll go on."  It is unremittingly gray and cold and snowy from November 1 until the day the dirty glaciers retreat, whenever that happens to be.  In a freakish greenhouse-gas-inspired winter a few years ago, that was January.  Last year, it was mid-April. This year, it's a more reasonable mid-March.

The amazing thing is that the minute the snow starts crawling backwards into the shadows, whatever month it happens to be, the earliest green things instantly start popping out of the ground, sending depressed moods and libidos and stocks soaring.  These may be the most valuable plants in all of plantdom.

Last weekend in my vegetable garden, there was already some mache there completely salad-ready. This is an irritatingly small green with an annoyingly French name that I never pay any attention to–it just flings itself around the garden with no help from me–but it's certainly nice to shove a leaf or two in your mouth at this time of year.  The chives are a few inches tall already and I dug out some over-wintered parsnips.  The big ones are woody now, though they were wonderful in the fall, but the little ones are sweet and perfect. And there were even some Brussels sprouts intact under the snow, just as good as they were in early December.

On the ornamental front, I love snowdrops for the early spring rally, though I planted mine in the wrong spot, on the north side of my house, where the snow barely disappears in June.  Plus, snowdrops are not really a city bulb.  Some friends of mine used to own an old house in the country on the Battenkill, and in a patch of woods that stretched from the road to the river, there were a million snowdrops in giant clumps. They looked perfect there.

But there are urban alternatives! Just look at this….


Meet iris histrioides 'George'.  I bought him last fall on Brent & Becky's recommendation. I only wish I were a better photographer, so I could convey how sophisticated his shape and colors are.


A random guy walked past on the street today and said, "Are those real?"

I don't know.  Am I dreaming? Or is spring here?


  1. You have said it so eloquently here. I think winter is holding on so the inside painting jobs can be completed before the gardens call. Love ‘George’ and have marked that page in the B&BB catalog which arrived at the same time as the WFF catalog. Keep the porn coming!

  2. Spring is definitely arriving, slowly…I brought in some forsythia to get a jump start and the first flowers greeted me this morning as I made my way to coffee.

    Here in Minneapolis, I don’t think I’ll see blooms of anything outside for a good 2 weeks, though.

  3. I’ve been visiting my daughter and her broken ankle for a week and can’t wait to get home and see if my chives are up. Last week I did see red nubbins of rhubarb poking through the winter litter. And snowdrops.

  4. I here you sister. Here in the Seattle area is raining cats and dogs AGAIN. I am talking 39 degrees and dumping. Yuck. Hard to even see what is out there to get excited about. I take every chance I get this time of year. Like yesterday when I took the garbage out, I saw some hosta buds emerging – yipee! Gardening is my drug and it only takes a couple of green shoots and I am hooked for another season. Check out my blog to see what grows in zone 7.

  5. I also planted my snowdrops on the north side. Duh?!! Now that I’ve moved them to the south side they are up, I can see them and they are actually increasing. But there is still a little glacier out by the curb. Actually a black, pitted disgusting glacier!

  6. My snowdrops – in mostly shade on the north side of a fence- have been up for a few weeks here in Toronto, and my species crocus started to bloom last weekend. It’s the most magical time of the year – when, from the brown bare earth sprout small and large living things. Every year I find it just incredible.

  7. I remember the feeling of being reborn each spring when I lived in Seattle. The feeling runs deep. Well, glad that spring has arrived up north!

  8. I love the early iris and crocus, but I haven’t figured out yet how to photograph them so they look as good in still life as they do to winter-starved eyes.

    Craig’s photos are fantastic, which proves it can be done.

    I might just take a piece of cardboard outdoors to brave the mud and try it.

  9. i moved to saratoga last summer. i am in town with a small garden 70 x100. i would love talk climate, soil, very different from what i am used to. anyway i ramble nice to of found you. sarah

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