Sleet bounced across the pavement but it smelled like rain and when the clouds parted the sun sparkled on pools of water on the parking lot outside the feed and supply store.
Lettuce and broccoli and cabbage transplants lined the brick wall under an awning, tender green leaves bright against the potting dirt. I closed my coat against the cold wind.
Such is April in Western Pennsylvania.
Most of my gardening experience comes from a Texas childhood, so when April comes around and I haven’t so much as turned over my garden bed yet, I start to feel frantic, like I’m missing something. But then a flash snowfall comes or frost layers every blade of grass and I take a breath, wait for Memorial Day.
This year I wanted to try a spring garden, with cold-weather plants that, supposedly, can handle the sudden changes from sunshine and 70s to sleet. And so I walked into the small farm store on Water Street Wednesday afternoon, with 15 minutes and a list and no idea what I was doing.
In May, the parking lot is filled with shelves of flowers and tomato plants and peppers and squashes; but in April there’s just the one row of lettuce and broccoli. I read about planting lettuce by seed, a little each week, for lettuce stretched out all season; so I stepped inside the door of the small room looking for seed.
Two men watched me, neither saying much. I say I want lettuce seeds, I think, and he says I’ll get a lot more lettuce for my money that way and pours a bit of one variety, a bit of another, into his scale. $1.25 worth of red leaf, butter crunch and green leaf lettuces pour into a small envelope.
How about spinach? Any of the onions will grow fine, and I can buy half a bag.
I walked out back into the strange April weather with lettuce, spinach, parsley and pea seeds and red onion bulbs and a pack of six tender broccoli shoots that are sitting on my dining room table, waiting for enough sunshine that the soggy ground can be worked before I plant them.
Here goes a spring garden, with bewildering April weather and all. Wish me luck?