Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Leap of Faith

Last month I took some lettuce seeds and put them in a big container of soil and placed it in the sun on my back porch. Lettuce is a cold-weather crop, but the cold was expected to be very bad for late March.

So I kept it sheltered and last week it got warm enough to allow me to put the container outside where it would get more sun and rain. For good measure I took out a pot in which I had placed a runner bean that I hope will grow and twine itself around the pole where I hang a feeder for hummingbirds. That vine, I have found, cuts down on ants that climb the pole and drown when they try to get to the sugar water.

Growing seeds is a leap of faith. You hope they come up in spring. Last October, before Hurricane Sandy, I found this small sunflower seedling coming out from under a roof underhang. A bird, likely a titmouse, had cached it and it had germinated. But it did not survive the winter. It would've been nice had it lasted but I wasn't surprised at its passing.

However, when it comes to my garden, every spring I wonder if last year's plants are going to bloom or flower. Did winter kill them? Did I in my ineptitude? Should I have dug up the cannas rather than leave them? Did I cut back the Jupiter's beard too much?

Hardy plants such as the daffodils and the crocuses come back year after year, sometimes in places where I don't remember planting them, and I am always amazed when the irises come back.

Other plants don't make it. The Glory of the Snow disappeared. So far there's been no sign of the butterfly weed or the salvias. The purple coneflower I potted to save it from a bad location didn't respond.

But some years I get an unexpected gift. One year a lovely Siberian iris sprang up in one of my garden beds. I grow German irises that are brownish and yellow. The Siberian was blue. It was there one year and then gone.

I have a hellebore, also known as lenten rose, and I kept it in a pot in a shady part of the garden. Hellebores have a long taproot and I wanted the flexibility to be able to move it around if necessary. But chipmunks had been digging into the pot and the plant wasn't looking very happy after weeks of snow, ice and rain this winter. So I dug a hole and moved it out of its pot.

Just yesterday I was looking at it and realized it had provided a drooping, purple, rose-like flower, the first since I'd bought it several years ago. Today I looked closer and found a second flower starting to grow. These are my reward for hoping it would grow with room to spread out. My faith in myself as a gardener has been restored.

Birds don't have faith, as far as I know. When their instinct says it is time to fly north in spring, they fly. They show up and eat. They are not expecting to be provided with food.

If they fly to my backyard and don't find berries or worms or insects to eat on my plants, they go someplace else. That's why I have feeders offering different types of seed. That is also why I try to promote a bird-friendly habitat by growing plants with berries, letting a weedy area go to seed and let some leaves pile up in the corners of my yard for birds to pick over for the insects hiding beneathe.

House wren nest box
Today, a mild day that made me think winter might finally be over, I put up the wren box. This is a nest box with an opening just big enough for a house wren. The carolina wren may have a lot of interesting songs but the house wren's bubbling call is pretty in its own way. I enjoy watching the wrens use the box and create a generation (or two) of young. But so far there have been no reports of house wrens arriving in New Jersey. It's too early.

So why did I put out the nest box weeks earlier than necessary?

After an autumn when my part of New Jersey was devastated when acres of trees were pushed down by Hurricane Sandy (resulting in power outages and property damage) and a winter of short periods of intense snow and cold that never wanted to end, I want my world to return to something resembling normal.

I am trusting that with the return of the warm winds out of the south, the house wrens will find their way up to New Jersey, find the box in my yard and stay another season until it is time for them to head south in the fall.

It is my leap of faith.