primula white with yellow centres

Spring, the Frantic Season

Never mind that March 20th is the official first day of spring, here it’s been under way for weeks. The grass has been mowed twice. Crocuses have gone through two sets of flowers (the first of which were nibbled by deer). And the gardener is racing around with clippers in pocket, clutching a digging knife in one hand and a bucket (for the stuff to be clipped or dug) in the other, muttering incoherently.

I should know by now that going out and having a look around the garden at this time of year always ends in a frantic session of dealing with several small crises at once. Spray deer repellent or fetch netting for the plant that always gets eaten. Dig up those wild garlic sprouts and those snowberry suckers.

Where did all these weeds come from? Especially hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). I pulled up zillions of them last spring, but I must have missed a few. This plant is also called “shotweed,” and no doubt it lived up to its name and shot seeds all over the place. The little plants are kind of pretty, with their rosettes of lacy leaves and their tiny wild flowers. Maybe I should just leave them? I understand this plant is edible, reputed to add a peppery zing to salads. Maybe I should treat it as a salad herb.

Cardamine hirsuta, a.k.a. hairy bittercress or shotweed

Hold it right there! This sort of thinking is why I have so many quasi-weeds and out-and-out weedy weeds here. Many are self-inflicted.

As a reminder, here is a list entitled Plants I Would Never Have Planted if I Knew Better: Italian arum, Snowberry, Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Periwinkle, Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria aurea). And another list called Plants of Which I Have Way Too Many. I’m talking about you, Purple Toadflax and Rose Campion, champion self-seeders both.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I find it nearly impossible to remove (i.e., kill) any plant that’s growing vigorously and looking great. Even if it’s a weed. In fact, it’s quite possible all those hairy bittercress plants are descended from a pretty little specimen I failed to pull up years ago, thus ensuring its abundant presence here for all time.

On the plus side, in an east-facing window of the garden shed, there is a small pan containing a nice little crop of blue poppy seedlings. They are still too small to handle, but they’re alive and therefore full of potential.

Clematis armandii

The evergreen clematis (C. armandii) looks wonderful this year, weaving garlands of white flowers through a big old holly. Last year it failed to bloom at all, after brutally cold winds in early February. The pink hellebore “Pirouette” is blooming abundantly, and dark red “Ruby Wine” is living up to its name. “Black Diamond,” on the other hand, is not blooming. “Not blooming yet,” I say hopefully.

Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette”

Sometimes I think nine-tenths of gardening is a matter of balancing the plants that grow way too vigorously with those that don’t. Maybe instead of striving for the ideal of each plant neatly surrounded by an area of bare dirt, I should consider how plants behave in natural environments, where tangled messes are the norm and bare dirt is an aberration. Let them fight it out among themselves and appreciate the survivors.

Years ago, I wrote a post about why I hate pruning. I still hate it. “Strength follows the knife” and “Prune vigorous plants lightly and weak ones hard,” are two pieces of advice I wonder about as I wield the clippers and pruning saw. Maybe they’re true for plants in optimal situations. What really happens is gardeners underestimate the ultimate size of shrubs. A day comes when hard pruning of the vigorous is necessary to make it possible to get into the house without having to turn sideways. It’s not a pruning issue so much as a planting one.

This Photinia was drastically reduced in size and needs an annual trim to keep it a reasonable size

Uh-oh, I hear the garden issuing further orders. Gotta run. Not wanting to end on a complaining note, I’ll just insert another picture…

Dark pink tulips, formerly almost white
Coming soon!


    1. We’ve had a few days of cold wind here just now that have slowed things down a bit, but plants are definitely in “let’s grow” mode. I’ll have to get busy if I want to distribute fertilizer and mulch before the new growth hides the soil!

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  1. I sure am itching to get busy in the garden. It will probably be at least a few weeks before I get to do that though. Tansy is that main plant that I regretted planting – It just grew way out of control. I guess and seeds spread everywhere. I could say the same for lemon balm (out of control) but I love it so much that I give it all the room it wants, When pulling “weeds” in the garden I often find myself identifying, or at least trying to and then determining if I could put them in a salad or not. Maybe one of these days I will actually make that salad.

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  2. In prehistorical days springtime was the time of starvation. You’d eaten everything you’d managed to harvest and store, you’d slaughtered and eaten your extra animals, and migrating animals had not yet started to travel. In springtime, finding food was hard. If you lived next to an estuary or bay, that helped, or if your own tribe migrated south. So even though we all now rejoice at the arrival of spring, it wasn’t always a time of jubilation.

    (I reference different types of communities here, but the theory applies to many of them.)

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  3. We moved to a condo last summer, so my garden is now in my past. I miss it. I did tend to leave it to the plants that could look after themselves, and ended up with a lot of dillydallies, hostas, sedum, and Siberian irises. When moving I came across my original garden plans. I must have been a whole lot more ambitious 25 years ago. Or more naive.

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    1. Those are all good plants, Chuck. I’ll bet your garden looked great. I also have some plans that I made decades ago, before I realized that plants aren’t like building materials or furniture. You can’t count on them to stay put! (P.S. I like “dillydallies” better than “daylilies.”)


      1. I sure would like to blame auto-correct, but I have to admit that I seem to read what I expect to read, not what is actually written. I have no idea how dillydaillies come to be — I had to google to find out how to spell lilies and I guess it never quite came together. English has been the bane of my existence.

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        1. I still like dillydallies. There ought to be a flower with that name. And autocorrect is mischievous! I read blog posts on my tablet sometimes, but I’ve almost stopped writing comments with it since it mangled someone’s name. I hit “send” before I realized and had to apologise.


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