Monday, March 31, 2014

April is the Cruelest Month

"Primavera" Eugenio Gignous 

"April is the cruelest month . . . "

writes the poet. That line has confused me for years. Is it cruel? April is the springiest month, when elementary school teachers paste tulips and yellow galoshes to bulletin boards, and little old ladies dress up for church looking like pastel Easter eggs.

But the gardener understands the cruelty of April. The derivation of the word April can be traced as far back as Varro, where the etymology, omnia aperit, literally "it opens everything" may be a reference to the opening of flowers and trees. I have been thinking about openings lately as I contemplate the seeds growing in every window sill. Annuals, perennials, vegetables, and shrubs splay across every surface of my house. Today I ate my cereal with a tray of zinnias and three naranjillas. For the last few weeks I have been a witness to the openings of seeds. Birth is an act of violence. These dry brown seeds burst into life, ripping off their skins, splitting cotyledons, thrusting root into ground and stem to sky. Sometimes I lean in, expecting to hear the cries and wails of these infants. We enter this world in an act of violence, as if to test our mettle and prove our worthiness to cross the threshold.

April is the most lavish month . . .

"Frühling in Worpswede" Hans am Ende, 1900
March left us with mulch and daffodils. April starts with mostly bare ground and the few cherished heralds of spring, but ends cloaked in a gaudy quilt of greens. Chartreuse, viridian, lime, olive, jade, and celadon foam and froth across the ground. The poverty of March yields the extravagance of April.

Even the old, dying maple next to the church parsonage has engaged in a fit of fecundity. The tree blasts an armada of twirling, papery helicopters into the parsonage garden. A mini forest of maples has erupted in the garden, making it difficult for me to tell my annual seedlings from the young trees. They say plants approaching death often go to flower, a last effort at immortality. I look to the knobby old tree and then to his sea of babies. I'm not sure I have the heart to weed them.

April is the maddest month . . .

February stirred in me a restlessness to get outside and start digging in the dirt; by April, I am consumed with a howling lunacy. For weeks, the only planterly life I've seen are the seedlings in my window sill. Now April spews life in every form, across every surface. The eye has no place to rest. I move around the garden like an ant, delirious and distraught by the riotous explosion of leaf and limb.

April is the month for madness. We mark the first of April by acting like fools. In France, the "days of April" (journees d'avril) refers to a series of violent insurrections against the government in 1834. In England, they mark St. Mark's Eve (April 24) by sitting on the church porch to watch the ghosts of those who will die this year pass.

This month I am a fool, a rioter, a ghost. I enter into the garden and find not asylum, but bedlam; not harmony, but cacophony. The desperation of winter has blossomed into the desire of spring, and I pass the murderous tulips with a suspicious eye.

Originally published, April 2010


  1. :) May be because we didn't have winter at all last year, it's a little difficult for me to relate... It's been harmony and uninterrupted flow of labour and joy here, since last Summer. But I remember the feeling you describe - from previous seasons, Thomas. Lovely article.

    1. Not much winter sounds lovely. These mid-Atlantic winters are hard for impatient gardeners like me. All the waiting intensifies the wait and increases the pleasure when it finally comes. Until high summer comes and everything browns out again.

  2. You write poetry.

    1. Senseless drivel is more accurate, but thank you nonetheless.

  3. I remember how short and sudden spring is back east. Here in the maritime NW, it's long and slow. It starts in February and lasts until summer finally hits in July. April is when the garden becomes fragrant with Daphnes and Pieris, the ground is carpeted with Primula juliae, and I start sneaking some of the borderline hardy plants out of my little greenhouse. By March, I've pretty much finished pulling up the maple seedlings, but in April, the weeds....oh the weeds. I will be pulling weeds until the rains stop in June.


    1. That sounds lovely. I'm from the deep South where spring started in February, which I miss. But then we have the humid summers. I think the maritime NW sounds like a lovely gardening climate. Our extremes are tough.

  4. Oh, well said!

    But I am reminded that once again I got no seeds started inside. Oh, for the company of zinnias at the breakfast table!

  5. I feel like my garden is contributing to a mental breakdown. I know that sounds melodramatic but I can barely work in it without being reduced to tears. I wait and wait and wait for a clear warmish day and I can barely get anything done because I'm paralyzed by the enormity of it. Nothing else in my life is having this effect. It's so overwhelming, messy, overrun with the most spectacular, pernicious weeds (so much so that it feels hopeless). I know I'm supposed to enjoy the process, remind myself this is something I do for fun, but am I going crazy? Is this just the hard part and I need to just toughen up and get through it?

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


If you liked this post . . .

Related Posts with Thumbnails