April ushered in some beautiful, warm days — tank top and flip flop weather at its finest. It was after one of those days in the eighties that I asked my mother, “Have you gotten your tomato and pepper plants in the ground yet?”
“No,” she replied. “We always have a little cold snap around Easter, and that’s this coming weekend, so I’m waiting until after that.”
Mom’s words are what I like to call, “wisdom.” At 85, she knows things.
Still, when we ended our phone conversation that night, I glanced at the 10-day forecast and didn’t see any cold weather coming, but the experts were wrong again this year.
A little later than usual, but just in time for Easter, our Northwest Georgia dogwoods burst into bloom last week — the delicate four-petaled flowers covering the tree’s crooked branches with a blanket of showy, snowy color. By Friday, a front was charging across the country, and when it got to us, it slammed us with violent thundershowers that beat off the blooms of both our dogwoods and azaleas. The following day, I mourned as I saw their crinkled petals on the ground, and I shivered, because the temperatures had dipped back down into the low forties prompting us to turn on the heater again. “Hey, it’s cold up here again,” I shared with Mom on a weekend phone call. “You were right when you said we always have a cold snap around Easter.”
In the South, we are accustomed to the yo-yo temperatures we often experience during the seasons’ transitions. One day, the high is 85 degrees. The next day, temps don’t climb out of the forties. Some folks call the cool weather we just experienced, “dogwood winter,” a colloquial expression referring to a cold snap that occurs while the dogwoods are in bloom. There’s also a “redbud winter” referring to cool weather that startles everyone while the redbuds are showing off their lovely pink flowers and attracting armies of bees.
As I lamented about our most recent cold snap with a friend, she said, “We haven’t even gotten to ‘blackberry winter’ yet, so there’s more cool weather to come.”
As the term implies, “blackberry winter” is a later cold snap that coincides with the blooming of blackberry bushes, and my friend has also mentioned other terms like “locust winter,” and “whippoorwill winter,” which is supposedly the last of the cool weather that occurs when you can hear the song of the whippoorwills in the evenings.
Back in the days when most Southerners lived in the country and worked farms, knowing these things (the average date of the last frost and reading weather behavior) was a necessary survival skill that helped folks feed their families. Farmers depended on folk wisdom to guide them as to the best time to plant their crops and gardens.
I still remember scrutinizing a calendar that hung on the wall at my Grandmother Lanier’s house north of Metter in the 1970s. Each day on the calendar had symbols signifying the moon’s phases and whether or not the day was a good fishing day or a bad one.
“Who cares when the moon is full?” a younger me asked.
“That’s how we know when to plant things,” Grandmother Lanier said matter-of-factly.
She and Papa (Maggie and Henry Lanier) knew when and how to plant things because there were always bountiful supplies of peas at their house — bowls full of those tiny, tiny green peas bobbing in a buttery juice that I still dream about to this day.
But my grandparents died long ago, and so I can’t ask them when to plant things, and people don’t use wall calendars like they used to. So, most years I buy a handy-dandy farmer’s almanac, and sometimes I use it to time my seed sowing, and sometimes I just wing it. By the way, the almanac says that April 20 and 21 are favorable days for planting beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers and other above-ground crops this year, in case you were wondering.
I’m ready for the cold weather to be over so that I can get on with living my best life this year — being outside more, feeling sunshine on my face, being surrounded by singing birds and healthy flowers and vegetables. But patience is a virtue, and we’ll probably have one more cold snap before it stays warm — that’s what the old timers say.