Written by Art Petrosemolo
T. S. Eliot, in the first stanza of The Waste Land (1922), a poem many consider one of the most important of the 20th century, wrote: “April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land……” Considering our recent weather, maybe Eliot was onto something.
It has been a horrible cold spring. I am ready to play in the community garden behind our homes here in Sycamore Springs but the garden isn’t ready yet and if the sun doesn’t come out soon, it won’t be ready until May.
I got so disgusted last week, I asked my editor of I could do a story on cold, spring gardening for the Lititz Record and she said yes…this is what I learned.
You don’t have to be a meteorologist to know spring weather is late arriving in Lancaster County this year. Just ask members of the Lititz Garden Club (like all of us) who are all “champing at the bit” for the ground to warm so they can get their hands dirty planting flowers and vegetables.
Well, I was told, be patient, the weather will change. So, unless you are Old Order Amish, who are known to prepare their gardens in any weather and have cold weather crops in the ground as early as possible, just hold on for another week or two.
Lancaster County, formerly a Zone 5 for planting is now classified—believe it or not—as Zone 6 (warmer for earlier planting but not this year). Traditionally here, I learned, you really aren’t safe to put plants into the ground until Mother’s Day. Garden stores love cool spring weather as they get to sell plants and flowers twice to those of us who get too anxious and plant too early so a late frost or “onion snow” just freezes the roots.
Despite the chilly weather the past few weeks, many Lititz Garden Club members toured a Hellebore garden April 7. Hellebore’s are a perennial that also is known as the Winter or Lenten Rose, despite not being closely related to the rose family. They have an early spring flowering period which gave garden club visitors hope their own perennials would soon be showing some color.
I’ve learned that gardening isn’t just a spring, summer hobby. Experienced gardeners—as you may know—tend their gardens year-round, preparing for planting, planting, careful managing in-season and then fall clean-up and maintenance for the winter. Gardeners also visit flower shows in late winter and early spring, garden centers and greenhouses in-season and read about gardening the rest of the time. It can be all-consuming.
The Lititz Garden Club’s Head Cultivator and fellow club members echo what you read and Google, that the soil temperature is really the key for planting. They say, God meant for us to plant in the soil and if it is not the right temperature, it’s like putting the immature plants into a refrigerator.
Lancaster County is blessed with some of the largest and best wholesale and retail greenhouses and garden centers in the East including, locally, Esbenshade’s and Stauffers of Kissel Hill. And family owned greenhouses also bring their plants to the public either through roadside stands, florists or as wholesaler John Lapp at Choice Flowers, New Holland, does, through a retail greenhouse behind Shady Maple in East Earl. And you probably drive by dozens of small roadside stands selling plants and flowers each week at this time of year.
If you have guests from out of the area who are gardeners, and you take them to your favorite stand or garden center for plants, they will be surprised at our lower costs compared to what they are used to paying. It isn’t unusual to hear that popular flowers like geraniums—with 500 species grown around the world in temperate climates—cost under $3 a plant here, while they cost two to two-and-a-half times as much in urban and suburban garden centers around Philadelphia or in New Jersey.
Regardless of the weather, members of the Plain community already are tilling their large, family gardens. You’ll notice that most times the women (who are the family gardeners) are turning the earth with just a spade, going down about 12-inches. In addition, Plain Community farmers may already have spring onions and potatoes in the ground with sugar peas, peas and spinach ready to be planted as soon as the weather warms slightly and stays consistent.
And unfortunately, experienced gardeners say, in any garden you have to deal with always-hungry animal friends—chipmunks and rabbits. Garden Spot Village planters know all too well about rabbits.
From experienced gardeners who are just as anxious as you to be planting, here is some advice.
• Take a breath
• Be patient
• Take some time to plan your garden
• Visit garden centers and local greenhouses for hearty early spring flowers like calendula, pansy, petunia, dusty miller and cold weather crops like spinach, onions and potatoes if you want to be the first with your hands in the soil.
• Be ready for the soil to be warm enough to plant and not kill your immature plants.
• Don’t rush it. You won’t be late if you wait until Mother’s Day.