The weather forecast this week is sobering: high of 34 today, 32 tomorrow…high of 23 next Tuesday!
These are the hardest weeks for me as a gardener and human being. I planted my bulbs (‘Cynthia’ tulips and ‘Ruby Giant’ crocus) in mid November under a smiling fall sun. As recently as last week, I was still picking up fall leaves and dumping them in the compost and around some tender plants. Just a few days ago I was pulling out some ivy from the cool but not-yet-frozen soil. On Christmas day I peeked down into my hellebore patch. Little baby hellebores were emerging! I really enjoy working in my winter garden when the jet stream stays up by the Great Lakes where it’s supposed to be.
But when temps max out in the 20s and dip into the single digits at night, a sense of despair settles upon me. Even trips out to the compost pile with my kitchen scraps fill me with anxiety. The euonymus and privet leaves — ordinarily so robust — look brittle and defeated. The cyclamen that was so handsome just the other day now looks like it’s trying to burrow into the ground to keep warm. And god help those camellia buds. The buds on my little Camellia ‘Scentsation’ — just planted last summer — had actually begun to open a teeny bit in the recent mild spell. Poor things. Like newborn babies opening their eyes for the first time and then ZAPPED by the polar vortex. What was supposed to be a “sweetly-fragrant, silvery pink, peony-formed” blossom will be reduced to something more like a decomposing cigar-stub. This is life in zone 7a.
I know some places have it way worse. The meteorologist on the news today projected his map of the U.S. to reveal the full horror of the “Arctic Blast” afflicting the country this week. Usually the coldest areas are represented by shades of blue, maybe light purple up in places like Duluth and the wilds of Canada. Well, the temperatures are so extreme this week they ran out of cool colors for their map and had to wrap back around to pink and red up in Fargo and beyond. Canada looks like an inferno. It’s -40 degrees up there. Can it be so cold it actually feels hot? I wouldn’t be surprised. If any Minnesotans or Canadians are reading this, leave a comment about what -40 feels like (if your internet signal doesn’t freeze immediately upon contact with the air, that is).
Compared to the northern plains and Canada, I know that Virginia winters are child’s play. Highs in the 20s is about as bad as it gets and those spells don’t last long. Soon enough, there will be a glorious reprieve of sunshine and 55 or even 60 degrees. I’ll go out there in my shirt sleeves and start pulling purple deadnettle out of the thawing soil. I will revel in the mild air and feel glad to be alive. (I will try not to think about the cigar-stub camellia buds.) I will work outside while I can and say a prayer for my comrades in Duluth.