What a difference a day, nay, a week to ten days makes. We went from cold and gloomy to a bit warmer with sunshine and my garden shows it. The noses of the hostas are reappearing, the snowflakes are up and out in full view and the yellow magnolia bloomed; short but magnificently. Despite my worst fears even the Cercis Canadensis, or Canadian redbud, bloomed. The birds may have rubbed off the blossom on the lower branches, but the upper branches were a sight to behold.
As I am starting to make the rounds again at the local nurseries I suddenly find myself enchanted by a new color; yellow. I have never been a fan of yellow, other than maybe for daffodils in early spring. I once put in a small yellow garden in honor of my mother who absolutely loved any yellow flower, but my taste ran from pink to blue. However, in this new garden I have introduced shrubs which either bloom in yellow (witch hazel and forsythia) or are green and yellow colored year-round (Hinoki Cypress and Goldthread Cypress). And then there is my ‘Rising Sun’ Cercis Canadensis which has yellow/orange/green leaves. Suddenly yellow seems to be everywhere and I like it! The other day I picked up multiple 12-packs of buttery yellow snapdragons and then went back for more. I lined the path in the butterfly garden with them and plan on using the remainder along the bed next to the driveway which is also home to ‘big smile’ daylily with its lemon-yellow flowers. I sowed seeds for creeping zinnia (which bloom in yellow) and with some luck, in the same beds, I will have seedlings from last year’s (yellow) Melampodium.
In a few more days I can finally bring out the coleus I have been growing in the basement for months now. The larger varieties are already over a foot tall and will go in the backyard slightly behind and in between the shrubs. The smaller varieties will be dotted around the garden in the various beds. Next week should bring a flurry of activity to put them all in the ground.
Meanwhile, The Spouse and I have been busy making lawn disappear. The corner of the front yard where I planted shrubs last fall has been “papered over” (with heavy duty contractors’ paper) and we put down several inches of mulch on top. Now all I have to do is find outdoor furniture and we will have a cozy new sitting area. It will give me an opportunity to sit down with neighbors when they catch me as I am working out front. Besides, one can never have enough spaces to sit in the garden, if only for a different view!
I am anxiously awaiting delivery of plants, ordered many months ago. One supposedly is already on its way; the Fed-Ex website shows the labels were printed but stubbornly refuses to tell me where the package is. Please don’t be lost in transit! I drooled over the pictures of the plants as I was picking them out of the catalog; I don’t want to wait another year for delivery.
And so, this spring I mulch with the assistance of the under-gardener, acclimatize seedlings and plants grown in the basement to their new homes outdoor, dig holes for plants bought or prepare beds for seeding. There is so much to do as the weather turns better and I finally find myself in my element again; dirt under my fingernails, a sun-kissed face and the occasional ache from this labor of love, my favorite kind of exercise.
Spring, oh spring, where art thou?
I made it through January. February wasn’t too bad, but March just crawled and took forever to end. As we entered April things didn’t look much better and we were again on the receiving end of a snowstorm. Now we have temperatures in the 40s and still occasional snow. Nearly mid-April and 14 states are under winter weather advisories with some cities or towns in the northern states getting up to two feet of snow.
On a Friday we made a trip to Cape May in NJ. On the way down trees were just getting a slight haze of color. Once we got to Cape May the weather turned warmer and temperatures climbed into the high 70s, low 80s (although not quite that high in Cape May itself). By Sunday on our return home the wind blew fiercely, it rained, and it was raw. But oh, the sights on the way home. Suddenly white and pink blossoms had erupted, and greenery abounded.
Last week I planted some lily bulbs at the end of the garden. Much to my delight, the soil was just wonderful. Without much effort, the spade bit into the crumbly soil and I carefully laid the already sprouting bulbs in their new homes. It won’t be long before they will peak out of the soil and in another month or two their fiery orange blooms will grace my garden. My small Magnolia tree is starting to open its first blooms after those two warm days and much to my delight, yes, the flowers will be a magnificent yellow. We still have some cold, dreary and damp days in the forecast but everywhere I look in the garden I can see signs of life. Get set, ready, GROW!
With below normal temperatures stubbornly hanging around this late March there isn’t much to do in the garden. Instead I dive into my gardening books and make a trip down memory lane looking at pictures of the old garden. I also come across an old book; my “poetry album” from the mid-1960s. In Holland just about every girl had such an album and family and friends would write short little poems in it, preferably writing something about you. One of the poems I memorized decades ago. It was written by my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who always spent a lot of time with us when we were little. He died in a plane crash at 32 when I was 11 and I still miss him. Another poem was written by my fourth-grade teacher, Miss. Staal. She was a wonderful teacher even though I wasn’t a very good student. The windowsills of her class room were full of plants and I got to water them most weeks. Before summer vacation started each of the students got to take a plant home and brought it back when school started again. She was a woman with whom I forged a friendship after leaving school and I continued to visit her during my trips to Holland. She even met The Spouse one year, heartily approving of him! These days when we go to Holland we always make a trip to my home town to say a prayer over my parents’ grave and to visit her grave as well as she is only a few rows over from my parents. Her poem (loosely translated) reads as follows:
Befriend small things.
A flower in bloom,
a dancing butterfly.
Befriend small things
and you will be happy.
Funny how something written almost fifty-two years ago are the words I continue to live by and yes, it does make for a happy life.
A few days ago I hung out my "Welcome Spring" flag at the front door with the optimistic, albeit misguided, hope that spring would arrive soon and would be glorious. Today, March 21st the first full day of spring, brought us… 8+ inches of snow. It started last night and now, at 5 pm, it is still snowing. Shoveling will have to wait till tomorrow. There may be warmer weather in the forecast, about a week from now. I know, I know, better weather will arrive and we will all the happier once it gets here. But it sure isn’t coming fast enough for me.
March can be a cruel month. There are three weeks to go before it officially becomes spring, so technically winter should be disappearing soon in our rear-view mirror. The clock "sprung forward" giving us an extra hour of light in the evenings. Less than two weeks from spring we managed to dodge another bullet weather wise. A winter storm was supposed to bring over a foot of snow, but our area just got a few inches of very wet and sloppy snow. It took less than an hour to clear the driveway, walkway and sidewalks while The Spouse helped a neighbor across the street with his driveway. So far, the temperatures remain in the high twenties during the night and mid-thirties to low forties during the day. Spring weather seems a long way off.
Meanwhile the basement is filling up with plants, seed packages, bulbs, roots and more cuttings. When the first catalogs arrived, I held off for a while, but eventually gave in and started ordering. The orders have not yet arrived, but my garden will be so much more colorful then last year. I will bulk up the meager beds all over the garden and add a few colors I haven't used in the past; reds and oranges.
While my first garden was a tranquil vision with pinks, purples and blues, this year I am adding "in your face" colors. I got inspired last year with my hedging of Tithonia or Mexican sunflowers which bloom in bold orange. In my old garden I also grew these annuals, but as they were mostly shaded they never performed as well as they could. Last spring, I planted seeds near the fence in full sun, in the butterfly garden and watched them take off into six-foot giants festooned with flowers. The butterflies loved them and so did I. This spring I will add a couple of rose bushes near them which will flower with blooms as bright and as orange as the Tithonia. After nearly two decades with soft pastel colors I want to go for bold in this butterfly garden and make it zing.
As I make the rounds in the garden I see and hear the signs of spring. The birds are singing and I have spotted the first American robins (so different from the European robins!), both a sure sign of spring. Outside I can see buds growing fatter and fatter on my (unknown variety of) Spirea. It seems a few warmer days and these shrubs will explode with foliage and maybe early flowers.
The Hellebores are also eagerly waiting for some sunshine. The buds and half open flowers are there but they need a bit more warmth to elongate their stems and open their flowers.
I know spring is not that far off but winter won't release its grip on us yet. I am sure there will be a few more snowflakes in our future; another Nor-Easter forecasted for next week! Slowly, seemingly very slowly this time, spring will arrive and soon I will be digging in the dirt again.
PS: March 17th. On a sunny and slightly windy day I walk around the garden to see what, if any, progress my plants are making. The snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) which look like snowbells on steroids are starting to come up and they give me hope there will be flowers in my near future. Then, a pale blue flower catches my attention! On the slope of the waterfall, facing south, three Iris reticulata variety ‘Katharine Hodgkin” have opened and the foliage of about 18 more of these bulbs is sticking up, waiting for a few nice days to open up and strut their stuff. Hurray, flower power has arrived!