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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Last chance to pre-order my latest novel, She Who Returns. It launches on May 1st!
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Here are four photos of the two blue poppy plants I bought a few months ago. Their labels call them Meconopsis sheldonii “Lingholm” (grandis).
I’m looking forward to June, but sorry to see the end of iris time.