Round Robin

Notes from Regional Herb Gardeners

| February/March 1998

Spring Upslop

DENVER, Colorado—Romantic poets may write sonnets about sweet, lovely spring, but the season can turn on the gardener like a mad dog.

Most seasoned gardeners in this part of the country know to keep their guard up, but neophytes invariably get caught by the cold snap that nearly always follows a balmy week. I understand the craving for a bit of bright color, but sometimes the entire city seems to go a little nuts about the middle of April, throwing caution to the wind and storming the garden centers. Out go the tomatoes, begonias, basil, and marigolds—not to mention common sense.

Friends call me, begging for permission to set out their tender purchases. It’s not fun to be the one to tell them no, so I say it’s fine to plant perennials if they’ve been properly hardened off and to take a chance on calendula, petunias, and nicotiana. Then I launch my crusade: “You really ought to be planting seeds—beets, borage, lettuce, dill, bachelor’s-buttons, larkspur, carrots, chard, kale. They like to germinate in the cool weather, and they’ll be healthy, stocky plants. The flowers will start blooming in June.”

I can almost hear them nodding, waiting for me to get it out of my system. “Okay, that sounds good,” they’ll counter. “Now what about dahlias, can they go out?” I stab a pencil into my leg.

It’s been known to snow as late as June in Denver, but that’s rare. Even so, living at the foot of a major mountain range makes for unpredictable ­weather. Warming winds sweep up from the southwest, fooling nearly everyone. Then a cold front drops down from Canada on the wings of the jet stream, slamming cold, wet air against the foothills. These upslope winds often bring in a big, wet snowstorm. We call it an “upslop”.

We get a big spring upslop every few years. It’s depressing to see the fresh young growth sagging under a white blanket that we thought had been ­safely put away for the season. The perennials and bulbs usually survive just fine, although a few tulips and daffodils get snapped off, and the fruit tree blossoms might come through as long as the mercury doesn’t dip too low. The peas, lettuce, and dill are fine, but those hothouse annuals rarely squeak through. For many, it’s back to the drawing board or the nursery.

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