spring in the garden

Back garden, April 2022

This Garden, this Spring

Every spring is different. Now that I’ve gardened this same patch of ground for nearly 30 years, I think I’ve experienced the full range of variations. Except that with a changing climate, there may be shocks and surprises along the way.

This has been a slow, cool spring, quite different from 2021 (the year of the Heat Dome). Last spring was dry, with April temperatures in the 20s (degrees C; that’s 70s F). This year we’ve had more rain than normal (and that after an extremely wet fall and winter), and below normal temperatures. On April 12, wet snow fell for several hours. Strong winds from all four directions (on different days) battered plants and scattered twigs.

But late April and most of May are the best months in this garden. Spring bulbs are in bloom and there’s lots of fresh foliage. Things are green and juicy. The cool weather means tulips, narcissi, and other flowers have remained in good condition for weeks.

Bluebells, narcissi, ajuga, hellebores in north circle bed April 2022

A few months ago I was unhappy about my hellebores, which seemed to be suffering the effects of excessive autumn wetness followed by severe cold at the end of December. I am happy to report that they shook off the doldrums (assuming hellebores can get doldrums). Most bloomed as usual, and are now approaching the stage where I remove the flower stems to prevent seeding.

Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum," hellebores, Brunnera "Looking Glass" in side bed April 2022
Hellebores and companions in the narrow bed to the west of the house.

Inevitably, there are a few disappointments. The pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) that used to bloom together with white candytuft and flowering currant seems to have vanished from the scene. It appeared to be in decline last spring, so I thoughtfully dug it up and reset it in improved soil. Either it didn’t appreciate that treatment, or the June heat wave did it in. For whatever reason, there is no sign of it this spring, which is both sad and annoying.

purple anemone and flowering currant
Blooming well in 2017, now dead.

On the other hand, the gentians (Gentiana acaulis), which sulked last spring, are doing really well. Half a dozen flowers opened this week, with twice as many buds still forming. (I sometimes berate myself for counting buds and blooms, but do it anyway.)

Gentiana acaulis
The bluest of blues.
Gentiana acaulis single flower

This is really the best time to be a gardener here. Cleanup and mulching are done. The miserable business of pruning is finished and the tyranny of the hose and watering can hasn’t yet arrived (although soaker hoses are in place and ready). The hardest job is mowing the grass, which looks deceptively good right now. The gardener strolls around, admiring and self-congratulating. Even common, weedy plants look good.

Lunaria annua, Money plant, Honesty
Money plant, also known as Honesty (Lunaria annua)

Whether because of the excessive heat last June or some other reason, huge numbers of laburnum seedlings have appeared. I must have pulled up hundreds of them by now, and I see more every time I visit certain parts of the garden. Some of Nature’s excesses demand intervention by the gardener. Others are to be invited and celebrated.

Kerria japonica double form
Kerria japonica, like an explosion of sunlight.
Pink and white tulips
Reliable tulips.
Dryopteris filix-mas, Male fern, Fiddleheads
Also reliable is this fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). The clump gets bigger every year and has developed a kind of topknot.

One plant that’s doing better than usual is the Bleeding Heart (now called Lamprocapnos spectabilis by botanists, although I still think of it as Dicentra spectabilis). Mine has always bloomed on disappointingly short stems, but this year it looks more or less as it should. When I see its dangling little heart-shaped flowers, I always think of garden writer Henry Mitchell’s description of them: “Like Valentines hung out to dry.”

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart
Lamprocapnos spectabilis, Dicentra spectabilis, Bleeding Heart, single flower
Pink tulip close-up
This one tulip’s colour is the same shade of pink as the bleeding heart. It’s been blooming for weeks.
Hellebores and Pieris japonica new foliage
Hellebores again, this time with the new pink foliage of Pieris japonica.
Primula auricula variety unknown
Primula auricula, variety unknown. Doing well this year in larger pots.
Photinia x fraseri and Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii
Photinia x fraseri with lots of new red leaves following pruning in February, with Euphorbia characias ssp. wulfenii. Self-sown bluebells nearby.
Yellow grass Milium effusum "Aureum" and bluebells
Bluebells again, this time with yellow ornamental grass Milium effusum “Aureum.”

When I’m feeling grumpy about the look of the garden after hot, dry weeks in August, I should look at this post and tell myself it will be like this again.


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Early daffodils February 2022

Early Spring in Bloom

Finally! Some photo-worthy garden sights in this rather drab month. The highlight is a wealth of crocuses that haven’t been eaten by the mysterious garden raider that has decimated the hellebore buds.

Algerian iris Iris unguicularis February 2022
Algerian iris. This is the only flower so far; the first was beaten down by snow and two others were chomped by “something.”
Iris reticulata and skeletonized leaf February 2022
Iris reticulata and a wisp of skeletonized leaf I didn’t think to remove before taking the picture.
Early daffodils February 2022
Reliable small early daffodils.
Photinia after trimming February 2022
Photinia trimmed to an ice cream cone shape (okay, a melting ice cream cone) with the help of my wonderful tripod ladder. Euphorbia wulfenii at its base setting up buds.
Purple crocuses closeup February 2022
Sunlit crocuses.
Crocuses along front walk

Spring Again

My garden to-do list for February and March

  • Finish winter pruning and haul brush pile to curb for collection
  • Clean up beds, cut down dead stalks, etc.
  • Uproot or cut suckers of lilac, snowberry, and Oregon grape from spots where they’re not wanted
  • Dig up or at least cut down plants of invasive Italian arum (aka Arum italicum or lords-and-ladies)
  • Pull up maple and laburnum seedlings, shotweed, and other weeds
  • Lay out soaker hoses. (They won’t be needed until June, but it’s much easier to wrestle them into place when plants are small)
  • Edge the beds that adjoin lawns
  • Acquire materials for mulching mix: bagged manure, lime, slow-release fertilizer, kelp meal, bone meal, alfalfa pellets
  • Mix above materials with compost to make Alfa-Omega* mix for mulching, and distribute among the beds
  • Repot potted delphiniums and hostas to larger pots; ditto the rose “Fragrant Cloud,” which was grown from a cutting and therefore is on its own rather feeble roots, rather than grafted onto a vigorous rootstock
  • Seed tomatoes
  • Execute the colchicum-clematis move as per plan.

*Alfalfa plus the “end product,” i.e., manure.

I’ve already done some of these things; others are in progress. Pruning was easier this spring due to the acquisition last fall of a ladder designed for use in gardens, as opposed to home maintenance.

Three-legged ladder and Photinia
This ladder is way more stable than the four-legged type, and can be adjusted for uneven terrain. Pruning the Photinia was much easier this year! (Photo taken Feb. 27/21)

While racing around doing the tasks on the to-do list, it’s nice to stop and admire something that looks wonderful.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata (Photo taken Feb. 19/21)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette” in its new pot (repotted last September)
Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore "Pirouette" flower closeup

Hellebore photos taken Mar. 6/21

Part of back garden April 2020

More Garden Sights

I’ve been busy in the garden lately, but I managed to take these photos.

Heuchera and white Arabis
Heuchera “Timeless Orange” and white Arabis
Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)
Labrador violet. The purple flowers and hint of red in the leaves are a delightful combination.
Cedar bench and potted Hellebores and Hostas
The cedar stump bench near the pond — a familiar sight I keep returning to. Hellebore “Pirouette” in final bloom stage.
White camellia
White camellia visiting from my neighbour’s garden.
Tomato seedlings ready for potting on
Tomato seedlings ready to pot up.
Tomato seedlings potted on
Now potted up!

Gorgeous weather here — sunny and temperatures of 15+ C (60s in degrees F). Wishing everyone a Happy Easter weekend!

Blue hyacinths

Spring Sights 2020

To my surprise, I forgot to schedule the post I had intended for today (March 22nd). I’ll schedule it for next week, and in the meantime, here are some photos from my garden taken on the first day of spring.

Rhubarb emerging
Rhubarb leaves. Wrinkly when young, smoothing out as they mature.
Erythronium oregonum, Fawn lily
Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) and Chionodoxa lucilae
Daffodil, white and yellow
Daffodil (variety unknown)
Sedge, Carex and garden ornament
Huge clump of sedge (Carex morrowii) and garden ornament
Hellebore "Ruby Wine"
Hellebore “Ruby Wine”
Hellebore, white with purple spots
This hellebore was a nice surprise. It’s a seedling from one of my old plants, which are mostly pink and purple.

I was about to say something about the garden being a welcome diversion in these days of staying at home and “social distancing,” but that would be inaccurate. The truth is I prefer messing about in the garden to most kinds of socializing.

Fellow bloggers, how are you coping with whatever virus-avoiding situation you’re in? Are you reading, watching, or maybe even writing? Is anyone getting bored?

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!
Back garden overview June 2019 with kale tree in bloom

The Marvels of May

May is over, but here is a bouquet of sights from my garden gathered during that month. It was a great year for irises. Two managed to bloom that had not for years, probably due to shade and dry conditions. And I have blue poppies once more. I can’t take any credit for them as yet; if they survive the next winter to bloom again, I’ll have something to brag about. The mass of yellow bloom on the right side of the featured photo is a giant kale plant, almost a tree.

Pale yellow irises with dark red purple bearded irises
These irises (names unknown to me) have always been here. This year they’re blooming better than normal.
Pale yellow irises
Dependable pale yellow iris, type and name unknown to me. They’re increasing nicely in the dry shade of the back garden.
Bearded iris, white with blue edge
Surprise iris (not it’s real name). I vaguely remember it in bloom many years ago. I moved it to a better spot a couple of years ago; it must be happy there.
Purple bearded iris
Another surprise iris, a big purple one this time. No idea when I planted it. It must have languished bloomless for years, until now.
Primula auricula in bloom with tomato plants and potted dahlia with blooming thyme in background
Primula auricula. I have two plants, which both bloomed well this year. Small tomato plants in lower left corner, sprouting dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff” above.
White foxglove with thalictrum behind
Volunteer (meaning self-sown) foxglove. It’s right at the front of a border, but I’m glad I didn’t weed it out.
White foxglove spotless
Close up of the foxglove flowers. It’s totally spotless; a plant elsewhere has purple spots inside the flowers.
Urban deer
Trouble in paradise — plant-nibbling urban deer. They cruise by regularly and sample the garden buffet. On the plus side, I’ve seen them eating bindweed.
Mixed foliage in the front garden with "Pink Panda" ornamental strawberry flowers
Mixed foliage in the front garden, with a few flowers of ornamental strawberry “Pink Panda”

Here are four photos of the two blue poppy plants I bought a few months ago. Their labels call them Meconopsis sheldonii “Lingholm” (grandis).

Rosa glauca, red-leaf rose, blooming in the rain
Rain-washed leaves and flowers of the red-leaf rose, Rosa glauca. The inch or so of rain was most welcome.

I’m looking forward to June, but sorry to see the end of iris time.

Orange tulips and forget-me-nots with iris cristata and molinia caerulea variegata

Spring Sights: Tulips and More

I took these photos over several weeks in April and early May. Of course, gardens never stay the same. By now, tulip time is over and we’re into iris time.

Red tulips from above
These are the tulips that used to be pale pink!
Tulipa batalinii
My favourite little species tulips, Tulipa batalinii
Red and yellow parrot tulips close up
Zany parrot tulips up close
Lamium maculatum "Friday"
Foliage effects: Lamium maculatum “Friday” and hardy cyclamen
London Pride (Saxifraga x urbium) and broken pot fragments
Making the best of a broken pot with “London Pride” (Saxifraga x urbium) and moss
Bluebells and cute pink watering can in front of shed
That photogenic watering can again! Looks even better with the bluebells in front.
Bluebells and white lilac
Bluebells and white lilac brought indoors.
miniature daffodils

After the Snow, Spring?

Our recent snowfall is almost a memory. We’ve gone from this…

front garden, snow, Christmas 2017
A previous year’s snow; I tried to ignore the latest one so didn’t take any pictures, but it looked just like this here a couple of weeks ago.

To this…

The last remnant of a giant Pooh Bear made of snow that turned up on the boulevard. It was five feet tall! Sad, isn’t it? Note the dandelion.

It’s still unseasonably cool. The therapeutic effect of warm temperatures and sun hasn’t arrived, although the patient plants are trying to pick up where they left off in January.
The garden has that battered and squashed look produced by two bouts of strong northeast winds, days of below freezing temperatures, and almost a foot of the white stuff.

Today I went looking for photo-worthy sights in the garden and didn’t manage to find much. The old stuff looks tired and beaten-up, and the new stuff hasn’t really started.

oriental hellebore, snowdrop foliage
Dark purple hellebore flowers amid flattened old foliage and gone-over snowdrops. Not pretty.

tulip foliage, green and white striped ribbon grass,
Ribbon grass (Phalaris) amid sprouting tulips (Tulipa saxatilis), which will have nice pink and yellow flowers… someday.

Iris reticulata, tulip foliage, dalylily foliage, sprouting, black mondo grass
Iris reticulata with sprouting daylilies and more T. saxatilis. Also some black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus), which is really resilient and cool but not flashy.

Now back to making lists of things to do: cut down old stalks, tidy up beds, prepare mulch, distribute mulch, seed tomatoes, foxgloves, and verbena, set out new plants, work on the soaker hose revival project, finish pruning… Rush to get it all done before summer arrives.