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Midwest Gardening: Let Your Garden Determine the Season

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Let your garden, the birds and the weather be your guide to the seasons: Midwestern gardeners know very well that the calendar doesn’t always get it right.

Midwesterners rejoice in the reappearance of striped crocuses.
When blue flowers bloom, spring is here—maybe.

By Marty Ross

It is said that gardeners should watch the weather, not the calendar, and in the Midwest it’s perfectly true: Every year is different, and every season has its surprises. Just because the vernal equinox arrives on March 21 or so, it still is too soon to set out tomato transplants in the vegetable garden!

Tulips and muscari herald the progression of spring blooms.

Midwestern gardeners love the changing seasons. We look forward to the first crocus and snowdrops, soon followed by the grand and glorious progression of blooms, from daffodils to tulips, irises, and then voluptuous peonies, after which comes the great flush of roses. Somewhere along the way spring becomes summer.

I’ll soon use basil in salads eaten on the deck or patio.

I stay in touch with the seasons by watching my own garden and the gardens in my neighborhood. When the daffodils bloom I start to look for warblers and scan the skies for snow geese: The birds are on the move; winter is passing. I keep an eye out for dangling red-and-yellow columbines in my woodland bed under an old oak tree, and hang up a hummingbird feeder against the arrival of the first ruby-throated scout. They’re on their way, and so is summer.

Lilacs seem to me to mark a profound shift in the seasons. When they come into bloom, garden bouquets become richly fragrant, and I no longer have to button my jacket. My neighbor mows her lawn regularly now. It’s time to plant my herbs in the planters on the front porch, and I can bring out the grill to its corner of the patio.

Strawberries are a favorite seasonal marker.

Ripe local strawberries are one of my favorite seasonal markers. Suddenly one day it’s time to make strawberry jam—and it won’t wait—and summer is all there is: Snow and ice are completely forgotten, gone from the earth, until the autumn leaves begin to drift from the trees.