Noel Morata over at A Plant Fanatic in Hawaii has begun hosting a monthly meme known as The Hot, The Loud and The Proud, in which we are all invited to share examples of these qualities in our gardens… or wherever we may find them. The Victory Garden is still notably dirt-colored*, with the bits of green beginning to take up a little more of the visual space every day. But alas, no tropical colors, or even hot primary colors, are visible yet. Space is reserved for my favorite bright-colored flowering annuals, many of which have already sprouted and begun their lives on a corner of my kitchen table.
So I knew I’d have to keep my eyes peeled this month to be able to participate in the meme’s inaugural post. And as it turned out, for me at least, I ended up focusing on the “loud” part, which involved my ears and nose, as well.
During the winter, one becomes attuned to even the tiniest changes in the landscape because so little seems to be happening, and yet the overall feeling by the end of the long season is of having been muffled. The senses feel dulled somehow, as if the nose and the ears and even the eyes had been buried in the same heavy layers as the body.
It’s not true, of course. If anything, their sensitivity has been increased by not having much stimulation during the dormant months, so that between the warmth of sunlight and the delicious scents, the sweet sounds of birds mating and insects awakening and children playing, and all the colors of the rainbow shimmering under blue skies, it feels as if Nature has joyously and playfully set us a 50-course banquet after a winter’s worth of starvation diet.
By midday today we’d hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to make F. sigh and say he could feel the first menacing hint of summer in the air. Certainly, the world felt differently than it has for the past several weeks. Many Southerners, and not just gardeners, have been complaining to me about how dreary this early spring has been, wet and windy and dark and cold, and many of the nighttime temperatures hovered in dangerous territory, as if the land were loath to let winter become a memory.
But today, finally, the sun could be felt striking the skin. It had weight and substance. The very air shimmered with its golden promise, and the insects responded accordingly.
A grasshopper leaped out of my way with an indignant clicking noise, a wasp swirled past me on his way to the paradise of untamed wildflowers at the edge of the wood, and small bugs hammed it up in many of my macro shots of flower blossoms. It occurred to me, watching some glassy-winged flies hovering in a sunbeam over the nearly empty radish patch, how much the floating, gliding, hopping, flashing and clicking has been missing from my everyday reality.
And that’s not to mention the buzzing. Because what would spring and summer be without my favorites, the bumblebees? I love them, really, will brave their stings over and over to get closer to them and to save them from lingering death trapped in screened-in porches, and today we had our first close meeting after the long quiet of winter. Their individual buzzes sounded loud and lovely to my ears as they worked among the fragrant blossoms of an ancient-looking rosemary and the beautiful chartreuse bracts of nearby Euphorbias.
A man on a riding lawnmower had passed over the green shortly before I arrived, and the air was scented with poet’s daffodils, fading paperbush blossoms, and the bright and unmistakable smell of cut onion grass.
Have you ever met onion grass before? If you live in the Southeast, you surely have, even if only your nose has made the formal acquaintance. A member of the chives family, wild onion grass smells like a cross between garlic chives and spring onions, quite distinctive in the air once the blade of a lawnmower has made the plant blend in with the rest of the turf. (And it’s delicious in salads, a bonus wild green in spring if you do not spray your yard with chemicals.)
Eau de cut onion grass was by far the most noticeable presence in the natural world today, permeating everything.
When I was a child, I imagined alternately that this was the smell that began spring, like an olfactory starter’s pistol (along with honeysuckle for summer and ripe apples for fall), the smell that the color green gave off when it was really happy (my favorite interpretation now), and later on in adolescence, the smell that made all the birds and animals want to find a partner and mate ASAP. Its presence is that commanding in a landscape. “Loud” is a perfect word for it.
Since I hated spinach with a passion, I also granted to onion grass the role attributed by Popeye to that other early spring green. I thought if I ate enough of it, I’d become not just strong, but be able to speak with the animals and have sparkling eyes.
I nibbled a shoot this afternoon, in honor of my childhood ideas, and I could almost swear the bees understood my whispered spring greetings. Plus, when I arrived home, a glance in the mirror suggested that my eyes did seem to shine more than usually. Maybe I was onto something all those years ago.
*Photos for this post taken at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens, which are lovely all year ’round.