Seasons of Winter

10 Apr

Friends, Neighbors, Countrymen, and Fellow Gardeners, 

Now is the time for me to advise on the seasons of winter. 

First, there’s the winter according to the calendar. Winter that dumps snow in places one might expect, but also sprinkled flakes in Atlanta where students squealed and tossed snowballs. This winter we understand, we expect, we endure.

Then spring arrives. That blessed, glorious, spring is circled in red on our calendar. A time filled with cardinals chiming, “pretty, pretty, pretty,” and red tail hawks fighting on my front porch. The calendar says spring. Mother nature confirms it, sending forth blades of grass, and jonquils with their creamy buttery tint.

A fever bubbles inside our spirit, forcing us outside to cut the grass, take a walk; design a garden to put the Biltmore House to shame. Lawn and garden centers tempt us with shrubs we’ll carry home and move, “here—over there—no wait, slide it over just a few inches more,” before digging into the earth and placing it in the “perfect “spot.

Yes spring, is here. Permission to plant anything and everything granted.

Not so fast.

Old-timers, those who know by experience, understand that just because the calendar says it’s spring, doesn’t necessarily mean it is so. For you see, there’s still “sarvis winter, dogwood winter, and blackberry winter” to endure before one can plant tender vegetables and flowers.

Please listen to me.

Sarvis winter (prounounced ‘Sar-vass’ in my hometown of  Bryson City, NC ), usually comes during the beginning of spring at a time when we’re not quite convinced of Mother Nature’s intent. We’re cautious and wise during this period.

Dogwood winter however is the time fever-lead gardeners rush to the supply center, load the trunk, and come home with vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, and corn.

As an aside, do not, for the love of humanity, purchase corn that has been sprouted in plastic containers of six. You know when you put them in the buggy something isn’t quite right. Instead, buy a pack of seeds.

We plant those delicate, hothouse, plants when the nights are 60 degrees naively believing we won’t see 50 degree weather again until September.

Oh, how foolish we are.

Wait my gardening friend…please, wait until the bloom on the Dogwood fades and the blackberry vines have sent forth white petals before you plant delicate tomato plants. For when the blackberries open, that season is called “Blackberry Winter,” correctly named for the white blooms that sometimes magically triggers snow to fall. Then, and only then can you plant with confidence. While Good Friday is the best time to plant root crops, they can tolerate the extra blast of spring-time winter, helpless tomatoes can not.

Happy gardening, and before you get those hands dirty, check those blackberry vines !

Renea Winchester is the winner of the Appalachian Heritage Award. Her first book In The Garden With Billy: Lessons on Life, Love, and Tomatoes will be published in 2010. She welcomes your comments at


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