Sunday, May 23, 2010

If Winter Comes, Can Spring Be Far Behind?

This week, we’re both pining for some warmer weather.


I walked to the bus stop this morning with my jacket unzipped for the first time this year. This is no small milestone, as at seven in the morning it can be quite chilly even during the warmest parts of the year. But today is warm; the first of many, I hope.

Spring hasn’t arrived so much as it has grown into young adulthood. Britain in the springtime is lovely, as you well know, (Ah, to be in England…and all that). This is not to say it isn’t lovely in the US at this time of year but here we have the advantage of gardens.

If your mind has conjured up an image of a small patch of land in your back yard with tomato vines and carrots, think again. I am talking about mammoth swaths of land, carefully managed and cultivated by the National Trust and other dedicated institutions. Nyman’s, Wakehurst Place, High Beeches are all local and all astoundingly beautiful in any season. But in spring they are a wonder, with the rhododendrons in full flower and the Blue Bells covering hillsides and meadows in lovely violet haze.

Spring is the time I feel luckiest to live here, with all that managed beauty not far away. And there is still more to see; I have not yet been to the mother lode – the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – or even to Leonardslee, a beautiful garden practically on my doorstep.

But wherever you are—even if you are not lucky enough to live in Britain—I hope you are making the most of your spring.


(Lifts head up from desk, and wipes away tears of homesickness.) I remember Spring in England. The joy that winter was finally over, the hope of warmer weather still fresh and well, hopeful - yet to be dashed by the disappointment of July and August. If you think the collective sigh of relief is audible in the UK, it’s positively deafening here in Chicago. Months of sub zero temperatures and gardens bereft of a single hue of green have us donning shorts and sandals when normal people are still wearing fleeces.

And oh, the dashed hopes. There’s a saying which is accredited to everywhere in the USA (except bits of California) “If you don’t like the weather in ------, wait five minutes and it’ll change.” Or as Mark Twain put it, “In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” Quite. In Chicago temperatures regularly drop a full 40 degrees (Farenheit) in as many hours.

In climates like this, your winter and summer wardrobes are completely different and not at all interchangeable. In the summer it’s far too hot for jeans, and in the winter naught but an Arctic parka will do. This necessitates the “seasonal wardrobe switch-out”, which often takes a whole weekend, sees the shelves in stores stripped of under-the-bed zipper bags, and dry-cleaners working 24/7 as the city’s masses take their winter wear for a quick fumigate before storing them till November.

Unfortunately, Chicago’s version of Spring goes something like:

Today – very hot and humid by 9am. Guess this heavy, long-sleeved t-shirt has to be changed then.
Yesterday – I thought they said it was going to be in the 70’s. What is this 50’s and freezing weather, and more to the point, where’s my parka?
Day before – “But mom, it’s warm. I don’t need my jacket for school”. Six hours later – “Why didn’t you tell me about the freezing rain? I’m frozen and drenched.”

You get the picture. I keep packing my sweaters away, only to drag them out again the next day. After twenty years here, you’d think I’d learn really. By the time we get a decent Spring around these parts, it’s Summer. Yay!

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  1. And that's why I prefer the fall. Summer dies in a much more orderly fashion than it begins in the midwest.

  2. Now that Toni mentions it, I do have a single jacket that I use year-round here. In the States I had a number of jackets/coats/parkas.

  3. Ooh, Elizabeth - that was a great turn of phrase.

  4. Mike,
    This week's Gardeners World had an item on Leonardslee. It looked gorgeous, but the gardens have been sold and the new owner won't be keeping them open to the public. If you want to go, according to the programme you have till then end of June.

  5. Shaun: Yes, that's why I mentioned Leonardslee. Eight years living just down the road from it and i have never been there. Always thought there would be time. My wife and I have taken this Friday off and top on our list is to go see Leonardslee.

  6. Good to know regarding Chicago weather! Looks like me and my British beau are moving there in six weeks!! Thanks for the tips. England will be missed, but time for the next American chapter in our lives.

  7. The spring weather is just as erratic here on Long Island. Last week we had a day that was 12 celsius and raining, now this week it's forecast to be 31 degrees.

    Mike: we went to a wonderful garden the other day that was just like a National Trust property. It was at a former mansion and had been planted in the style of an English country garden, and the flowers were stunning. Just goes to show the Americans can do gardens too!

  8. NVG: That's good news, and it must be nice to take a tour. Out in Seattle my wife and I visited the Bloedel reserve -- quite a garden; I've never seen anything like it even in Britain.

  9. Expat Mum: we appear to have Chicago weather in the UK at the moment.
    It was 30C/ 86F in Oxford yesterday, but looks set to drop back to 16/60 later in the week.

    I'm opting for layers. As MY mum always said - if you've got plenty of layers, you can always be dressed for the weather.

  10. Lady - I think we may be meeting for lunch before that so I can give you LOADS of tips, whether you want them or not. Seriously, if you have any questions, e-mail me at Great time to arrive I have to say.
    Bloody boiling today (Monday) - 90 farenheit and very very muggy. I'm a bit worried about the pup.

  11. Spring here in California now means the smell of jasmine everywhere, it's just beautiful. But hard to compare to a bluebell wood - I think that would win every time.

  12. Here we have the scent of Rapeseed--not quite the same thing ;)


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