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Traveling Back Through Spring

May 26, 2011

Geranium Biokovo in bloom in my Gettysburg garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) This past Monday morning, after completing all my obligations for the academic year, I got on the road and headed north toward Maine. I left Gettysburg just turning the corner from spring to early summer. The trees were fully leafed out with a lush, summery look. In the days before I left, the sun came out, temperatures shot up into the 80s, and early summer flowers burst into bloom. As I walked to the Gettysburg College campus for commencement weekend festivities, I passed gardens full of peonies, poppies, and roses. In my own small Gettysburg garden, the Biokovo geraniums were covered with a froth of pink and white blooms, Geranium endressii ‘Wargrave Pink’ had begun to bloom, and the first flowers had opened on the Siberian irises.

Geranium endressii 'Wargrave Pink' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Siberian iris (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

But spring was not over for me. My trip north each May involves traveling back through spring. At the beginning of my trip, not only were the trees fully leafed out, but the early summer flowers of wild blue phlox (P. divarcata) and oxeye daisy bloomed along the side of the road. When I stopped for breakfast, about 100 miles north of Gettysburg and about 1000 feet higher in elevation, I noticed that the trees had that lacy look of new growth. For the next 200 miles as I drove through the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania and New York and into Connecticut, I observed that the state of the vegetation along the road depended primarily on elevation; trees were fully leafed out at lower elevations but were just opening new leaves at higher elevations. It wasn’t until I was crossing the state line from Connecticut to Massachusetts, 400 miles northeast of Gettysburg, that I realized that the trees now had that lacy look even at lower elevations and that lilacs (which went by weeks ago in southern Pennsylvania) were in bloom along the sides of the road.

As I crossed the bridge over the Piscataqua River from New Hampshire into Maine, I found myself looking down onto the tops of trees in that gorgeous chartreuse color created by the mixture of flowers and new leaves in spring. As I drove north along the Maine turnpike, the chartreuse of new foliage was combined with pink and white flowers on blooming fruit trees. Although I had been on the road for more than 11 hours, it was easy to enjoy this part of the drive.

When I finally arrived home, here is what I found in my own garden:

Last flowers on forsythia (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Stray tulip (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
A few last flowers on the forsythia at the front of the house, and a stray tulip left over from a long-ago planting.
Moss phlox (P. subulata) just starting to flower, First flowers on Phlox subulata (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Lilac blooms opening (photo credit: Jean Pouchek) and the first blooms on the lilacs.
Rhododendron buds about to open, Rhododendron bud about to open (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Hosta 'Francee' unfurling leaves (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) and hostas just beginning to unfurl their leaves.

Traveling back through spring each May gives me the opportunity to enjoy spring twice. But the experience is not the same in both places. Spring arrives later in Maine, but it also happens much faster. If spring in the mid-Atlantic region is a slow, gentle unfolding, in Maine it is more like one of those sped-up films of time-lapse photography. I have to work quickly to finish all my spring chores here, because it won’t be long until the rush of early summer blooms begins.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011 7:04 am

    Jean what a long interesting trip, bet you are glad to be home in a zone where you can experience spring all over again.


    • May 29, 2011 8:18 pm

      Eileen, I’m definitely happy to be home — although spring is rapidly turning into summer here. In 5 days, the flowers on the forsythia and the tulip have disappeared, the trees have fully leafed out, the rhododendron has gone from buds to full bloom, and I’ve seen the first flowers of Linum perenne, Geranium maculatum, and Tradescantia. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional frost-free date here, so today I planted my morning glory seeds and filled containers with summer annuals.

  2. May 27, 2011 7:47 am

    That’s an interesting perspective. I went to my son’s college graduation in NC this weekend and had the opposite effect because everything was ahead. Overall I like gardening in PA the best.

    • May 29, 2011 8:23 pm

      Carolyn, It was fun to really pay attention to what was happening botanically along my route. I love my PA garden in spring and fall, and I’ll miss it after I retire. (I imagine myself traveling south to visit spring each year in late March-early April.) But Maine is the right place for me to garden in the summer, because I’m a person who wilts when the temperatures get above 80F. I try to time my departure from Gettysburg so that I’m away from there before it gets seriously hot, and I’m always grumpy about the heat when I get back there in August. When we have our annual “heat wave” here in Maine and everyone moans about the misery of temperatures above 90F, I remind myself that this is what it will cool down to in Gettysburg after the cold front comes through!

  3. May 27, 2011 8:05 am

    I enjoyed the ride with you! My husband remembers, as a child, before the highways, it took them 24 hours to drive from their home in Philadelphia to Bangor Maine where his Grandfather had a dairy farm!

  4. May 27, 2011 10:13 am

    Isn’t it neat that you can drive some miles and revisit spring?…very nice! And I get to revisit it through your post.

  5. May 27, 2011 12:32 pm

    I love your perspective and that although you were busy and had an agenda you were able to take time to enjoy nature’s bounty–in whatever season. Very nice.

    • May 29, 2011 8:34 pm

      Jayne, I’m old enough to remember the pre-interstate highway era, so I can easily imagine the 24-hour trip from Philly to Bangor (probably along U.S. Rte. 1 most of the way). My trip is about 600 miles and takes me 11-12 hours, depending on traffic, construction delays, and how long I stop for meals. I always think that if it were even 50 miles longer I would have to break it into 2 days.

      Michelle and Grace, I make this drive four times a year, twice going north (May and December) and twice going south (August and January). Of the four, this May drive north is my favorite. School is over for the year and I’m feeling very mellow and relaxed with the summer stretched out before me; the weather is usually good (unlike those December and January trips!); and the days are long enough that, as long as I leave at a reasonably early hour, I can get in before dark. The route I take is very scenic, and I usually try to take the time and enjoy it. When I get to the Connecticut/Massachusetts line, the scenery changes in some subtle way that always makes me feel as though I’m home (even though I still have 200 miles left to go). This year, it was particularly nice to find the lilacs in bloom. I love them, and they went by so fast in Gettysburg and at such a busy time of the school year, that I barely had a chance to notice them.

  6. May 27, 2011 12:52 pm

    The photo of the forsythia in its last bloom of the season seems to me fully as poignant as the passing of cherry blossoms.

  7. May 27, 2011 1:17 pm

    How fun! Spring is so exciting to watch all the new growth, I would love to do it twice- though I certainly appreciate the warmer weather! Yet- this year we seem to have a very long spring, cold, wet and slow growth. It just keeps every walk through the garden- finding more growth, new buds, etc!
    How nice it will be to come back to the 80’s too!

  8. May 27, 2011 2:46 pm

    At this time of year it must be a real pleasure to dial spring back a notch–much more so than on your “spring” break journey in March…

    • May 29, 2011 8:49 pm

      Patricia, I wondered if the forsythia would still be blooming when I arrived, and it was — but just barely. Most years, it is done and the rhododendron has begun to bloom, but this spring has been cool and wet.

      Gabrielle, It is fun — especially since I often don’t have the time to enjoy the Gettysburg spring as much as I’d like to. I got to Maine just as the weather changed from cool and wet to sunny and dry (it’s been in the 80s here for three days in a row!). The result is that sped-up time lapse photography version of spring; changes are visible in the garden every day.

      Stacy, My spring break trips north to visit winter are a source of considerable amusement and bemusement among my colleagues and students. The students come back with tans from places like Myrtle Beach, and I come back with muscles from shoveling snow. 🙂

  9. May 27, 2011 4:04 pm

    Jean, everything looks great. Those hostas are a wonderful size. And your lilac is beautiful!

    I have a similar perennial geranium to yours, but I’m afraid it did not make the winter! I also had a delphinium and a globe thistle that didn’t make it.

  10. May 27, 2011 7:12 pm

    I think it’s wonderful that you get to extend your spring by migrating northward. I never would have expected to see Forsythia so late in the season. I do wonder though if it will seem like you’ve skipped part of summer on your return to Gettysburg though. Regardless, who doesn’t want an extra helping of spring flowers!

    • May 29, 2011 8:55 pm

      Diane, I lost several delphiniums this winter, too — although I’m not sure why; it wasn’t a particularly harsh winter here. (More likely, the soil pH has gotten out of their preferred range, or I haven’t fertilized them faithfully enough.) Was it Geranium x cantabrigiense that you lost? Mine have been well nigh indestructible.

      Clare, It is unusual for the forsythia to be in bloom this late in the season, although I can remember arriving home one year to find daffodils still in bloom! Actually, I don’t miss any of summer by traveling south in August; instead I extend it. By late August, it’s definitely starting to feel like fall in Maine (and first frost in August is not unheard of); in southern PA, fall doesn’t really arrive until October.

  11. May 27, 2011 9:09 pm

    Jeez! I wish my hosta had red flowers. jim

    • May 29, 2011 6:41 pm

      Leave it to Jean to have a ‘hybrid’ Hosta with “red flowers” … How clever?!?

      • May 29, 2011 9:02 pm

        Jim and Shyrlene, LOL. I planted those tulips more than 15 years ago when I succumbed to one of those mail-order cheap bulb deals. I ordered tulips in three colors — some were supposed to be a glossy red, some a glossy yellow, and some red and yellow. Instead, when they bloomed (the ones that actually bloomed), they were all a dull, muddy red. To make matters worse, I had made one of those novice mistakes of planting them in evenly spaced rows, so that they looked like soldiers lined up on a parade ground for inspection! I have redone that flower bed at least three times in the years since, and each time I have thought that I dug out and tossed all the tulip bulbs. But I still get several of them putting up foliage each year (often one single tulip leaf each), and every so often a flower appears in some random location. I was particularly charmed this year to have a flower pop up in the middle of the only hosta in my garden that was already fully open.

  12. May 28, 2011 1:52 pm

    Your journey was a mild form of time travel! Fascinating that Spring is brief in one part of the country and longer lasting in another. One of the downsides of our small country is that differences in climate are somewhat small (though of course we notice them).

    • May 29, 2011 9:12 pm

      EG, North America is definitely a big continent with maximum climate variation. I think it’s pretty typical of cold climates that because spring comes later and fall comes earlier, the whole growing season is sped up. While I’m enjoying my sped-up second spring, gardeners in places like Alabama and Georgia are showing flowers that wont bloom in my garden for another 4-6 weeks, and those in Florida and Hawaii are growing tropical plants that I can’t even dream of. By US standards, the differences between my gardens in Maine and PA (both part of the northeast) are small.

  13. May 29, 2011 8:39 am

    I enjoyed your reflections … The last two years I had the pleasure of being at our Maine cottage in early June and loved getting to experience the spring magic twice. It’s true what you say about the short springs there, though. Fall is the best season in Maine, I think – at least on the coast, where the days stay warm and the nights are crisp.

    • May 29, 2011 9:15 pm

      Sheila, I’d have to agree about fall being the best season here — especially in years when killing frost comes late and the garden keeps blooming until October. My second favorite part of the year here is the second half of June, which often features sunshine, blue skies, dry air, mild breezes, temperatures in the 70s, and a rush of early summer blooms. Happily we can get crisp nights here at any time of year, even July and August. I always love it when the local television meterologist says, “Okay, open all your windows tonight and dry out the house.”

  14. May 29, 2011 6:15 pm

    Jean, you live in two worlds! I liked to travel with you from one world to another and look at all the spring flowers!

  15. May 29, 2011 6:44 pm

    Jean – we’ll travel with you anytime! How cool to live in two places every year, with two completely difference gardens. *sigh*

    • May 29, 2011 9:18 pm

      Tatyana, I’m glad you could come along for the trip between my two worlds.

      Shyrlene, You were such an easy travel companion! 🙂 I confess that I haven’t taken as much advantage of my two climates as I could have. Instead of using the Gettysburg garden to grow all those plants that aren’t cold hardy in Maine, I’ve tended to take divisions of plants from my Maine garden and plant them there, so that I have an amazing number of plants (like those Biokovo geraniums and those big hostas) in both gardens.

  16. May 30, 2011 5:26 am

    The hot tropical flames I play with here

    Autumn Fire

    • June 2, 2011 8:31 pm

      Thanks for reminding me, Diana, that you have four complete seasons in Paradise. 🙂

  17. May 30, 2011 12:25 pm

    Happy Maine Home Return Jean! Your drive towards the end sounds so lovely and like the view from here earlier this spring. I am sure you are delighted to be in your garden again. The shrub you asked about is a Prunus but I do not know which kind right now. I will try to find it. It is a dwarf, however. Happy gardening. Carol

    • June 2, 2011 8:34 pm

      Thanks, Carol. Don’t go to a lot of trouble trying to exactly identify that shrub — Prunus is good enough. I think it’s lovely, I’ve noticed them in several different places this year, and I had no idea what it was. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a year since my wonderful visit to Flower Hill Farm!

  18. May 30, 2011 11:57 pm

    What a gorgeous collection of pictures, I especially like the stray tulip in the hosta, I just photographed a stray yellow tulip coming up through a globe cedar, they are always such a welcome surprise.

    • June 2, 2011 8:36 pm

      Yes, the stray tulips provide a wonderful combination of whimsy and serendipity.

  19. May 31, 2011 11:39 am

    What a great way to extend the spring/summer season! I’m learning what you mean about this northern climate having a very short spring. I’m actually taking a blogging ‘break’ right now so I can catch up with all my garden chores before the weather gets too hot.

  20. May 31, 2011 12:10 pm

    Jean I was just thinking how rushed it seemed with spring in Maine and it was happening that way here this year as well…how nice you get to experience wonderful spring twice…

    • June 2, 2011 8:44 pm

      Marguerite and Donna, I feel as though the northern spring and summer is a lot like those wild strawberries that grow on my property — the same amount of goodness compressed into a smaller package. Intense!

      I’ve been putting in several hours a day in the garden trying to get everything done. At this point, I have weeded, put in plant supports, and laid down soaker hoses in every flower bed except one (that one will get done tomorrow). I had 4 cubic yards of compost delivered yesterday, so the next job is to get all those flower beds mulched. And just in the nick of time; the early summer flowers (amsonia, siberian iris, geranium, lady’s mantle) have begun to bloom (even as there are still a few flowers left on the forsythia!). Once everything is mulched, maybe I can finally get to mowing the hay grass.

  21. June 1, 2011 10:44 am

    Jean -so happy I found your blog…it is lovely. I have a summer cottage not far away from you in Naples, Maine. My home is two hours away in the seacoast region of New Hampshire. My husband and I always comment about the difference we see in the landscape during our spring ride up to open our cottage each year.

    • June 2, 2011 8:47 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Karen. I hope you’ll come back again. And I look forward to checking out your blog and reading more about your Maine cottage.

  22. June 2, 2011 4:34 pm

    Jean, I enjoyed this post enormously. You write so evocatively about all the little changes you noticed as you drove north – I almost felt I was there with you, experiencing the clock rewinding.

    • June 2, 2011 8:48 pm

      Thanks, Jill. A twelve-hour drive provides lots of opportunity for paying close attention. 🙂

  23. Lula ( permalink
    July 8, 2011 1:23 pm

    Jean, I am reading you blog catching up with missing posts, this is a total adventure, that starts with a travel. Like it!

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