May Snow

Heavy, wet snowflakes mix with apple blossoms on the first day of May in Saint Paul, MN.

It was a good rain, light-to-steady over several hours, the kind that soaks deeply into the soil and awakens late-sleeping perennials in the spring. Mid-afternoon, though the calendar showed May 1st, big, heavy snowflakes fell like icy polka dots. The blend of apple blossoms and sloppy, wet snow was a sly reminder that, in spite of increasing warmth and longer days, winter is never truly far away from those who live in the north!

The snow didn’t injure the blossoms of this more than 70-year-old Beacon apple tree, a hardy tree bred for Minnesota springs.

Ready for Spring

The sun rides higher in the sky and daylight lasts almost 11 hours, but those are just about the only signs of spring — and most of us long for a warm-up that stretches beyond a meager two days.  Last week brought “bookend” snowstorms:  6.4 inches of new snow on Monday and 9.9 inches on Thursday/Thursday night, for a total of 16.3 inches measured at nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

As we awaited the city plows, and dug out our sidewalks, driveways and garage aprons, the meteorologists promised an end to the snow and another plunge to below-zero temperatures for at least the next week.  (In St. Paul, the average daytime high is +31°F and the nighttime low is +15°F for late February.  Today’s predicted high is +8°F with a low of -13°F.)
Fresh snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Heavy snow blankets white cedars in our backyard.

Ice and snow cover black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

Ice and snow cover a black spruce and a red maple in our front yard.

How I pine for the first crocus to poke through the soil and open its delicate cup-shaped flower to the early spring sun!  But, with at least two feet of snow, plus the snow from sidewalk shoveling heaped on top of the garden, it’s likely to be several weeks before the snow melts and sunlight warms the soil.  As soon as I spy the first patch of dirt, I’ll be out every afternoon peering at the muddy earth for the first tiny, reddish-green tip of a crocus to push through to the light and signal the reawakening of life.  What signals spring to you?

In 2013, our first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden).  It is

In 2013, the first crocus bloomed on April 20th in our north-facing garden. (iPhone 4)

© Beth and Nature, Garden, Life, 2013-2014.  All photographs and text are created by Beth unless specifically noted otherwise.  Excerpts and links may be used as long as full and clear credit is given to Beth and Nature, Garden, Life with specific direction to the original content.  Please do not use or duplicate material from Nature, Garden, Life without written permission from Beth.

December Thaw

I walked a mile or so around our city neighborhood at noon today.  The sun was gently warm in a powder-blue sky and a mild breeze blew from the south.  Melting snow plunked and gurgled in metal downspouts, and chunks of ice on roof shingles loosened and crashed to the ground.  Plants lost their winter snow caps.  Squirrels snoozed on tree branches in the sun.  Blue jays, black-capped chickadees and a white-breasted nuthatch chattered in the trees.  Walkers smiled, called greetings and shed hats and mittens in the warmth.

Snow melts on the still-green stems and hips of Rosa 'Henry Kelsey".

Snow melts on the still-green stems and hips of Rosa ‘Henry Kelsey’.

Six weeks ago, a high of 47 degrees (F) would have felt very chilly and worthy of complaint.   Today, it feels balmy — a glorious day to be outside.   And though the next Arctic air mass will arrive tonight with subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills, I’ll cherish this tiny foretaste of spring while I wait for the January thaw.

First “Sticking” Snow

It started out as rain, then many hours of mist. Later, heavy wet snow changed to sleet and back again, weighing down and soaking seed heads, decorative grass and the few leaves that haven’t fallen from the trees.  This snow is likely to stay for the rest of the winter, given the subzero temperatures and the prediction of more snow to arrive on Sunday.

I’m not a winter person, I’m a summer gal.  I miss the melodious birdsong, the activity of butterflies, bees and colorful beetles in our garden, the leafed-out trees, the warmth of the sun and the long, long hours of northern daylight.  But I try to find the raw, stark beauty revealed in the winter months.  It is not the vivid, vital beauty of summer.  No, it is a harsh beauty that complements the cold, brittle air, stinging wind and sharp light of December.

The season's first snow that is likely to remain until spring.

The season’s first “sticking” snow is likely to remain until spring.

When snow falls, a temporary hush settles over the city, dampening the noise of traffic and aircraft, and making it easier to hear nature’s sounds — the quiet ticking of sleet and snowflake on spent plant stalks, the rustle and crackle of brittle leaves in the wind, a chickadee’s call and the honking of geese flying low overhead.

This snow wasn’t as pretty as most because it was too soggy to etch and highlight trees and other plants.   But, I found a few lovely, wintry sights in the yard:

Red leaf barberry (Berberis thunbergii atropupurea berries are coated with freezing rain and snow.

Red leaf barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘atropurpurea’) fruit is encased in freezing rain.

A single apple leaf...

A single beacon apple (Malus ‘beacon’) leaf decorates a snowy landscape.

A purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seed head sparkles with beads of sleet.

A purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seed head sparkles with beads of sleet.

Snow frosts an evergreen Korean boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana).

Snow frosts the tips of an evergreen Korean boxwood bush (Buxus microphylla var. koreana).

Snow softens the rough bark of 70-year-old beacon apple tree (Malus "beacon").

Snow softens the rough, scaly bark of a 60-year-old beacon apple tree (Malus ‘beacon’).

Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) buds are coated in snow.

Tightly closed Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) buds are dusted with falling snow.

First Hard Frost of Autumn

Early yesterday morning, as Orion sailed high overhead and strings of bright stars washed the sky in spite of an almost-full moon, the first killing frost zapped gardens in the urban core of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  About two weeks later than the average date of October 7th, the first hard frost turned basil and impatiens to mush, bedraggled morning glories and hyacinth beans, and shriveled the last blossoms of Japanese anemones and toad lilies.  But one hardy bloom survived: a newly opened cluster of climbing ‘Henry Kelsey’ roses.  The rose faces south and grows next to our brick garage, which helps to shelter it from north winds.  The National Weather Service predicts nighttime lows in the upper 20s the next two nights, so the roses won’t last much longer.  However, their fresh, simple beauty was a gift on a gloomy, unseasonably chilly day.  To read more about Minnesota weather, seasons and related topics, visit Updraft Blog: Weather and its Underlying Science at MPR.org.

Rosa 'Henry Kelsey' (Canadian Explorer Series) survived the season's first hard frost.

Yellow leaves of an ash tree accent Rosa ‘Henry Kelsey’ (Canadian Explorer Series) blooms that survived the season’s first hard frost.