grumpy about a Wisconsin spring

Even the New York Times wrote about how hard this past winter has been on midwestern gardens. My own feeling is that the article was published by the Times as a sort of curiosity piece about those crazy people somewhere west of Manhattan, with cutesy quotes from quirky Wisconsinites to add color. Nine years ago, reading the article would have made me chuckle and shake my head, and then I would have rented Fargo to keep it rolling. Because Fargo has anything to do with Wisconsin.

But I’m enlightened now. I’m becoming one of those crazy midwesterners — only without extended family living in six houses within a mile of me — and this may be the year when I finally go native on the gardening front. I’m giving up on my dream of re-creating, here in the harsh Wisconsin air, our slightly-southern gardens of the DC/Maryland area. This winter broke me.

Everything seemed fine until really late in the winter. The snow piled higher and higher, and the animals got hungrier and hungrier. Anthony noticed it first. “Carla. Have you seen what the rabbits are doing to your evergreen?” Then a few days later, “Carla. Have you seen what the deer have done to your maples?”

I had to stop typing just now to put my hands over my eyes for a moment and pull myself together. I am actually grieving for my beautiful little trees, and it pains me to write about it. I feel regret, loss, guilt, a physical pain in my gut. I also feel a feral rage at the animals that ate my babies. One day I was chatting about the situation with our neighbor Pete, as he walked by with his dog Robert. It’s pronounced “Row-Bear,” a fact for which I have no explanation. It puzzles me. I don’t think it’s a Wisconsin thing, but I’m not sure. I said something about what the deer and rabbits had done, and how I wanted to kill them, and I called the deer “f*ckers.” Pete looked a little disappointed in me and spoke gently, saying something like, “well… maybe they were hungry and just looking for something to eat.” I rolled my eyes into the back of my head and made faces, but this is also why I’m fond of Pete. He’s right of course, and I’m so glad that I could provide them with a late-winter feast.

No no no no. I am not glad about it. I am grumpy. Because look at what the rabbits did to my beloved evergreen, just 4 feet tall after 7 years, a slow-growing asymmetric floppy beauty.


The snow piled up a foot or two and covered the bottom limbs, which is why they’re still there, at least at the outer extremities. The rabbits came and hung out on top of the snow, issuing shit in prodigious quantities.They ate the middle of the tree. Then the snow melted, and the middle of the tree was gone, and all the lower limbs were weighed down by a 2-inch thick layer of rabbit shit. It was just sickening, like something out of a horror movie. I actually had to shove and shake the shit off the lower limbs to set them free, there was so much of it. I love this tree so much, but the reality is… It’s stupid-looking now, no longer delicate and strange. Dare I say it aloud? It may have to be euthanized.

Then there are my maples. I know Japanese maples are a touchy thing in Wisconsin, and I’ve had several fail in different spots in my yard. Even the Times article commented on it: “Certain plants that were “on the edge of their hardiness” in the Great Lakes climate, like Japanese maples, did not survive.” Okay okay. But MY surviving maples were in two microclimates that were warm enough. Two are up front near the vent pipes for the heating system, and one was in back on a protected hillock right behind the house. They were making it and thriving. But then this winter happened, and the stinking deer. They killed the maple in back.


The deer ate every branch that would have carried a leaf, and then some. And look at the base. The bark is gone. It’s as good as dead. I pulled the tree out and cringed as I hacked off its well-established roots. Anthony couldn’t say goodbye. He took it down to an ungardened hillside and shoved it into the dirt, with a dry hope that it’ll survive to see another season.

The maples up front were likewise decimated. They were fountaining, lush ornamentals, well-established and thriving. Now it looks like Edward Scissorhands pruned them.


I can only post up a picture of one of them. I can’t take it anymore. It just hurts too much.

Also did you notice what an excellent photographer I am? Do you like the way I captured the beauty of our tarp-covered A/C condenser as well? I’m just trying to change the subject.

Even our wee magnolia suffered this year. Usually it’s covered in beautifully delicate white flowers in early spring. This year, it was not.


The fourteen flowers that did manage to open were ripped off by heavy rains a few days after they bloomed. I guess I’ll just mulch, fertilize, and wait eleven short months for another shot at magnolia glory.

Until a few days ago, I found myself going outside every day to stand glumly before my trees’ broken and maimed bodies, staring blankly as my slippered toes turned frost-bit in the spring chill.

It’s turning around now. A few warm days here and there have started to slake away the dormancy, in our garden and my heart. This morning is glorious, sunny and — for a Wisconsinite — balmy. It’s over 60 degrees!

After 3 nights stuck in bed between Nick and Jesse’s squirming bodies and pokey toes (Anthony has been trapped in Palm Beach since Thursday, poor man), I woke up seriously grumpy. Before my eyes opened, I was snapping unpleasant and inappropriate edicts about where the kids could put their toes from now on. Jesse started whining so I sent her off to her own room. Where she should sleep anyway. I had to walk the dog, who was stopping to sniff something every foot or two. It drives me crazy and turns me into even more of a nattering crazy person than usual.

Still, by the end of my walk, the bright day had lifted me up. There’s green stuff coming in everywhere, and it’s so beautiful that the kids and I decided it’s a perfect day to go to Jumping Country, an indoor blow-up play zone. Why waste a day like this on the outdoors? We hopped in the car and did a full-freeway-freeze-out, windows and sun roof wide open, bouncing and head-bobbing our way north to Grafton as we sang along to Pure Pop on the radio – Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Timberlake. I even remembered to pack my 1-quart coffee thermos, so I am SET on this sofa in this warehouse, typing this blog post on this iPhone, my kids lost in the bowels of enormous polyurethane structures. It’s spring in Wisconsin!