Out from under

March 21, 2003

THE DAFFODILS can't help themselves. Nor the crocuses or snowdrops. Up through the dark earth they come, sprightly and green. The garden would seem a bruised, battered mess but for these tender sprigs. It was a brutish winter, which makes the advent of spring all the more appreciated and noticed. Moss on a roof. The dusky scent of peat. A buzz of mowers. Buds on a bedraggled hydrangea. Squirrels obsessively digging under an oak.

And beyond the garden, the season emerges with a cordial familiarity: a girls lacrosse team practices in shirtsleeves and shorts, a vintage Jaguar convertible - with the top down - idles at an intersection, a line forms at the local ice cream parlor.

It's hard not to notice the activity. It's hard not to join in. The spring weather makes adventurers of us all. Mothers push strollers in the park. Dogs romp off-leash. Birds twitter in the trees.

By H. Marc Cathey's count, spring arrived 10 days early this year. The president emeritus of the American Horticultural Society explains it this way: The heavy snow that blanketed the region worked like an incubator on dormant plants and flowers. From that snowy comforter, flora burst forth with surprising vigor. Why, even a tulip has bloomed in his garden! Given spring's robust start, the garden would be an obvious place to tarry on a warm day, and many have already made good use of a rake.

But Mr. Cathey cautions against gardening too early. Don't putter and by all means don't prune. Let the wet leaves linger a bit longer. Resist the urge to garden and the garden will be better off .

These days remind him of the late spring of 1944. A war was under way then, too, and Henry Marcellus Cathey was visiting relatives in Wakulla, N.C. When word came of the devastating American casualties on the beaches at Normandy, his grandmother insisted on "quiet time." It was the patriotic thing to do, to respect the dead.

A boy of 15 could learn to paint with watercolors, or reread the Sherlock Holmes stories, or help plan his grandmother's rose garden. He did all three.

"We don't realize the benefit of quiet time," says the 74-year-old gardener.

Mr. Cathey urges patience now. The days are getting longer. Every day brings three or four minutes more of light. Soon enough gardens will be ready for rakes and hoes, shears and spades. Until then, delight in the daffodils and crocuses and snowdrops blooming in the yard. Or follow Mr. Cathey's example: Bring home a gardenia from the garden store and inhale the scent of spring in a quiet moment.

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