Cold, rain, frustration – but signs of hope too

A robin recently built a nest and laid three eggs in a bush near our front door.

It’s been a frustrating few weeks when it comes to gardening/working in the yard. For a little while at the beginning of May it looked like the weather had turned the corner, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s and the long-term forecast looking good. Even though I know the weather is prone to change, I let myself get excited and started to plant things.

Of course within a week we were looking at overnight lows in the 20s, and every day was cold and cloudy. Somehow I managed to keep everything that was actively growing alive through the cold days, but then the rain came. Over a four-day period we had 6-7 inches of rain, and a big part of our backyard turned into a lake.

We have this one corner that tends to flood when we get a lot of rain, so I did some research to see what plants might grow there and finally settled on actaea, which I ordered by mail and planted. It was just starting to get a few inches tall when back-to-back storms of three-plus inches each put it at the bottom of the aforementioned lake. It weathered the first round but I think the second came too quickly afterward, and it didn’t survive. That was a big disappointment.

In addition, I had planted a lot of flower seeds along the border with the neighbors’ fence, including a bunch of sunflower seeds. I had saved some seeds from a sunflower I grew last year that did really well and was looking forward to seeing if I could duplicate that success. Alas, nothing has come up and I saw several empty seed cases in the area, indicating the birds seem to have found them. Combine that with squirrels eating the heads off the tulips and it just hasn’t been my couple of weeks.

Gardening can be frustrating like that. While my book Farmer Bear’s Garden showcases a gardening season in which everything goes right, in my experience that has only happened about once as long as I’ve had a garden, and recent years seem to be getting harder and harder (apparently the last three years have been the three wettest Mays on record here in Illinois). Whether it’s bad luck or climate change or some other factor, I find myself planting and replanting over and over before I can get it to stick, if I do eventually succeed. I thought about writing a sequel to Farmer Bear’s Garden where things do go wrong and the Bears are bailed out by their grateful neighbors, but while it may be realistic, it seems kind of depressing, and I see children’s books as a place to send a hopeful message.

Perhaps this is just nature’s way of telling me it’s not yet time to plant. Even though it might seem like it should be the right time of the year and everyone else may be doing it, it just isn’t working for me.

But all is not so bleak, and there are rays of sunshine to brighten the gloom.

We have landscaping rocks all around the front and one side of the house. The long-term plan is to get rid of them but for now we’re stuck with them. I assume one reason they were originally put in place is to keep weeds away, but if so that strategy failed, and they are increasingly being overtaken by weeds, requiring me to tediously pull them out from between the rocks one by one, trying to get the roots. Wet weather is the best time to do this, and since I can’t do other outside stuff anyway I’ve been doing a lot of this weeding lately.

That’s how one day last week I ended up weeding near our lilac bush when suddenly a bird flew out just over my head. I didn’t know it was there and didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed the bird was sitting nearby on the house chirping at me. I know enough to figure it was protecting a nest, and sure enough, there it was about a foot above where I had been working. I’ve never seen a nest so close to the ground, but it gives us a great view that you don’t normally get to see. Hopefully the eggs hatch and soon we can watch the little robins grow and develop up close (trying of course not to spook the mother).

I always loved seeing those blue robin eggs as a kid when I’d find one that fell from a nest or a broken casing after they hatched. It’s something that just says spring and new life. I love to see things grow and thrive, plants as well as animals. The robins are hard at work bringing new life into the world. And I know that someday soon the rain will move on, the sun will start to shine, the weather will warm up, and things will start to turn around. It can be frustrating but it’s always worthwhile in the end.

Mama Robin sits on her nest near our front door.

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