The Mystery Grows

The sun felt warm, but the minute I stepped away from the house, a cold, wicked breeze stuck its icy fingernails down the warm nape of my neck. Playfully, it probed under my jacket to chill my midriff. It painfully clawed at my bare hands until I reached into my pocket and pulled on gloves. I refused to let the wind deter me, because I was on a mission. With the snow melted away, I was finally able to search the back yard for something I’d lost more than six months ago.  

Dismal, dead grass covered the lawn, squashed flat by the winter-long weight of snow drifts. With the snow gone the lawn suffered the additional indignity of being covered with a winter’s worth of the dust and grime.

Six months ago, I’d lost my garden plants and flowers. One day they were healthy and beautiful. But after one night of freezing temperatures, they were burnt to a crisp. I needed a sign that somehow, mysteriously, the perennial plants frozen solid in the ground the entire winter could come back to life! I missed them and longed to see a sign, no matter how small, that they were going to resurrect.

In the muddy soil of the flowerbed below the kitchen window, small green sprouts were bravely pushing up from their cold, dark underground bed into a bright but hostile Wisconsin spring day. I found what I was looking for! If these were coming up, there would be others. I recognized the brave greens as daffodils, planted there many years before. Ignoring the evil wind, I enthusiastically forged ahead to see if other plants I loved were showing a return to life.

As I passed the flowerbed birdfeeder, I glanced down at a mat of empty sunflower seed hulls. To my chagrin, I spotted at least five pounds of little, round, brown balls also under the birdfeeder. There were many more rabbits around than I had realized! I felt an instant longing for the fox den we once had in the back yard. Fox made all the rabbits on our block disappear. 

The next destination was my hoop-building garden. Stepping through the door steamed my glasses. With the cruel wind unable to pierce the plastic walls, the bright sunshine created an overheated oasis. Shrugging off my coat, I took a deep breath of the beautiful, earthy smell of soil and moisture.

Despite my steamed glasses, I managed to discover several plants putting up new sprouts. I rejoiced over dianthus, catnip, roses, oregano and chrysanthemums.  With my vision clearing I looked for my five blueberry plants on the other side of the garden. They seemed to be missing! Then I realized they were gnawed down to small sticks. In disbelief, I yelled, “No!”

There was no mystery about what had happened. Rabbit pellets were scattered liberally around the garden to reveal ‘who dun it’.

I stepped back out into the sharp-edged wind to make my last inspection of the day, grimly thinking about how deer regard my flowerbed along the driveway as their private smorgasbord.

The flowerbed appeared dead and forlorn. There wasn’t much to see, since it had been covered with snow until just a few days ago. The only plants visible in this mulch-covered bed were the winter-deadened hydrangeas and a few other woody-stemmed plants. I was confident they would come back.

Three years ago, I’d planted one hundred spring bulbs in this flowerbed. When the weather warms up, the mysterious resurrection of plant life in any cold climate like Wisconsin, is amazing. One variety of bulbs hidden inside this flowerbed was truly a double mystery. I call them mystery lilies, bought at a garage sale in 2005 for fifty cents.

Each spring when the crocus and daffodils begin to blossom, the mystery lilies send up clumps of strappy green leaves. These clumps do not produce blossoms. By midsummer, the strappy leaves wither and disappear, leaving no sign that a plant had ever been there. Then in August, several tall stalks topped with pink blossoms rise out of the flowerbed above the bulbs; no leaves, just flower stalks.

With such a strange habit of mysteriously coming and going, the Lycoria squamigera bulbs have several common names; mystery lily, resurrection lily, surprise lily, naked ladies, pop-up lily or magic lily. They’re delightful!

Chilled to the bone, I turned to go back into the house, satisfied the plants which hadn’t grown for over six months were still alive. I even hoped the rabbit-damaged plants would survive. After all, anything can happen when it is spring in Wisconsin and mystery lilies grow in your flowerbed.

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