One Dad’s Musings on the Early Spring Garden

Call me crazy, but I prefer a garden in the late winter and early spring. The kinetic frenzy of a summertime bloom bonanza seems too easy to me, too obviously gorgeous. The potential waiting just below the surface in the second week of March, that’s where true beauty springs. Appreciating the lush green of late June asks nothing of the viewer. To behold what American poet William Carlos Williams describes in “Spring and All” as “the stark dignity of entrance” calls on us to see below the surface, if you will, to imagine all that can be.

Photo by Scott Gilbert
Photo by Scott Gilbert

That’s why I enjoy visiting the Biltmore Gardens in the off season. Knowing that in just a few weeks, and certainly within a couple of months, the grounds will showcase as beautiful a collection of blossoms as you’ll see just about anywhere inspires me to ponder my own potential and the potential in my kids. In the Spring Garden, I can see hints of greatness just forming, welling up to explode with the tremendous force of life. I’m stunned.

I can also see the true forms of the plants, particularly the trees and shrubs. Hidden behind the verdant flounce of July and the color riots of October, the clean and hard lines of a branch formation reveal the growth patterns that make the plant what it is. Look at and truly see the soldier-straight posture that will support the weight of later petals. Or the twisted and gnarled arms of a tree that will sport the most delicate lace of foliage.

Photo by Molly Gilbert
Photo by Molly Gilbert

Beyond the plants themselves, at Biltmore I am also reminded of the deliberate care and planning taken in constructing a beautiful space. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the Walled Garden never fails to impress. When not distracted by the flowers like some nectar-drunk bee, hardly knowing where next to cast my eye, I can consider the garden’s carefully laid lines. No matter my spot in the landscape, every direction offers a view that maximizes the scene.

The truly amazing aspect of this early Spring experience is the combination of effects. At the same time that I am considering potential, I am also confronted with purposeful planning. There’s a life lesson not to be taken lightly. In those moments when our potential can come to fruition, we will succeed most readily when we have lived purposefully.

Photo by Scott Gilbert
Photo by Scott Gilbert


Homeschool Curriculum Starter Suggestions

Older Students

Plenty of writers like William Carlos Williams have considered early spring. Opportunities for creative writing inspired by the gardens and grounds abound.

Students interested in design or in history can research Frederick Law Olmsted, building a writing or multimedia project about him and his works.

Be sure to take plenty of photos that can be used as inspiration and reference for more fully developed art projects later. Students might draw the landscape, exploring the line and form of a bare garden. Those with greener thumbs might develop their own formal garden designs influenced by Olmsted.

Budding film makers might capture a lot of footage to be used in documentary films about gardens, about life cycles, about design, etc.

For Biology or Botany lessons, students can catalog the plants in various stages of growth, documenting the date and recent weather conditions. Many (if not most) of the plants are well-marked, making further research about them all the easier. These efforts make multiple trips more than worth a membership.

Math projects can make use of the Walled Garden’s inherent geometry. Students can calculate acreage and dimensions.

Younger Students

Students can write about their favorite spot in the garden or their favorite plant, explaining the reasons for their choice. They might also describe the garden or some aspect of it, including ample detail to build vocabulary and sentence structure.

They might also write about how they would design the garden differently, drawing a picture of their new design and explaining it in a paragraph.

To meet science requirements, have students examine the stages of the life cycle.

Opportunities for math include multiplication to determine the number of tulip bulbs needed to fill the garden beds (or division to work in reverse). Students can also count the number of steps needed to cover a certain distance and then calculate the number needed to walk around the whole garden.

Spring Approaches at Biltmore
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