If the last four weeks are any indication of how spring will progress, I say, bring it on. From March 21st till now the temperatures have slowly inched up and at this point I gamble on continued good weather. Two weeks ago I put the dahlias out on the porch; a risky endeavor considering they do not handle any cold weather well. The first night I tossed a light frost blanket over all of them; just to ensure the 38-degree weather didn’t do them in on their first day out. After that, they have remained uncovered and while the wind occasionally whipped them around a bit, they have come through unscathed. Today I put them in their designated beds and the drenching rains we are expecting should water them in well. Then I will keep my fingers crossed for the next three weeks in the hope no unexpected (but possible) frost will hit between now and mid-May. Well, as a gardener I am an optimist but not every plant benefits from this trait. However, when I am overly optimistic if something will live in my garden, it also provides me with new opportunities when something doesn’t. Yes, life in this garden occasionally can be rough.
My blue river of grape hyacinths flowed a little more powerful than a year ago. I added more bulbs this fall while some of the baby bulbs from previous years’ growth are now starting to bloom as well. In time (give or take two to three years) I should have a nearly solid blue flow from the tops of the rocks to the top of the retaining wall. Then, as the grape hyacinths fade, the ice plant will start blooming with bright yellow flowers. Without a doubt, my springs will be colorful!
Something that didn’t do well in the garden, my much heralded Schip Laurels, got the old heave ho a few weeks ago. They looked raggedly and while it is claimed they have no “significant pests” bothering them, mine had many leaves with large holes in them. No clue what was eating them, but happy they were not. The best looking two got relocated; the others were put out at the curb at trash time. Instead I reworked the entire bed. Two lengths of willow screen were put up against the fence. This will serve as a background for a few clematis plants which (in time) will disguise the willow screen and the fence which is still slightly visible behind it. An arbor was put in the middle of the bed and right behind it… a door. While it is a non-working door, as plants grow up around it, it will look like a gateway to another garden. The arbor will have yellow climbing roses growing up and over it, mixed with clematis ‘Betty Corning’. ‘Betty’ has blue purplish bell-like flowers and it will clamber through the roses. On either side of the arbor, large hostas have been relocated from other spots in the garden. Meanwhile I also dug up a few patches of Irish moss and put it down in front of the door. This will become my bright green entrance mat in front of the door. Today I noticed the nose of a Hosta coming through a patch of Irish moss; it will have to be teased out and relocated. Meanwhile the Solomon seal planted last fall is also coming up in front of the door. This too will need to be dug up and put off to the side. The vision that came to me last fall is slowly becoming reality in the garden; so far, my spring is off to a great start. Let’s see what the rest of the growing season will bring.
The other day while reading one of my gardening books I came across a quote which went something like this: “March and November have much in common, but March has more promise”. Oh, how true that is; let me count the ways.
· The days are getter longer and then on March 10th the clock jumps forward and suddenly we have an extra hour of daylight. What joy!
· March 21st, the first day of spring. Ok, last year on the first day of spring we had a snowstorm which dropped 8+ inches of snow. Considering we just had 3 nuisance snowstorms with 4 to 6 inches of snow each this past week, I am sincerely hoping THAT won’t happen this year.
· The temperatures are heading up. Well, they haven’t yet. As a matter of fact, we are below normal for now, but it is still early. Eventually, though, they WILL go up.
· Sun, sun, glorious sun. It brightens the house (and shows me where the dust bunnies are hiding). When I walked out of the house yesterday, I could feel a bit of warmth from those first rays. It even melts snow on freezing days!
· Nurseries will soon open again and entice us with all the possibilities spring will bring.
I am always interested in the names of plants and the story behind them. Quite often breeders name new varieties after loved ones or a famous person. Some plants are so successful that you can still find the named variety decades or more later. For instance, the peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ dates back to 1906 and was named after the French actress who was world famous at that time. To this day, Dutch growers alone grow 20 million ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ peonies each year for export and while I had one in my New Jersey garden, I really should get another one for this garden. Currently I am trying to personalize my garden with plants which share the same name as my parents. For the last few years I had been trying to find the iris reticulata named ‘Alida’ and this past fall I was successful in getting it. This spring it will be blooming in the front garden in blue with yellow and white markings and remind me of my mom. Then the search was on for a Kees, anything named Kees. Reading a gardening magazine, I came across a bright and large flowering marigold named ‘Kees’ orange’. I have never been fond of marigolds; they make me break out in a rash when I touch them, and I never cared for their “fragrance”, but this one I had to have. A quick online search provided me with a place where I can buy the seeds and this spring and summer, I will have Kees’ orange marigolds growing in my yellow/gold/orange and red beds. Thank you, Mr. Kees Sahin, the Dutch breeder, after which this plant was named.
In two of our guest bedrooms the first orchids have started to bloom. While there is still a blanket of snow outside, inside color brightens my day. Meanwhile the potted-up roots and rhizomes in the basement are breaking through the soil and the beginning of plants can be seen. In another six to eight weeks these pots can be moved to the porch for hardening off (getting them used to outdoor conditions) and a week or two later I can plant them out to their final spots in the garden. Suddenly the basement seems too small to contain this explosion of greenery. It is true, March has infinitely more promise than November!
We are still in winter’s grip, but the days are getting brighter and longer. Temperatures remain on the chilly side, but already I can see glimpses of spring. The Witch hazels (Hamamelis variety Arnold Promise) have unfurled their yellow flowers. They are not yet in their prime but give it a few more days of sun and they will beckon the first bees with their scent and color. The low growing sedums, which are easily overlooked in winter, are starting to take on their spring hues; the dragon’s blood sedum is turning bright red while other varieties are taking on different colors. Soon my front patch of sedums will be bright green, yellow and red, with flowers following soon thereafter.
In the basement pots (and plants) seemingly multiply. My one Coleus plant ‘Marrakesh’ from two years ago has now multiplied into 60 new plants. The original 12 cuttings from late September had already grown into nearly foot tall plants. I cut these plants back by about half in order to grown them into bushy plants. The best cuttings were used for 24 new plants and the rest went onto the compost heap.
In the big box stores you can find all kinds of boxes with rootstock or bulbs which can be planted out in spring in the garden. I purchased a few boxes of Japanese Iris root stock as well as bags of different varieties of Dahlia rootstock and one peony. I take these smaller plants/root stocks, pot them up and grow them under ideal circumstances for a few months indoor before they are ready to be put in the garden. While I have little to show right now, in two to three months I will have nice size plants to add to my garden and they will only get better and bigger during spring and summer. One box of Japanese Iris includes six plants; three blue blooming varieties and three in yellow. Six plants for $15 comes down to $2.50 a plant and even if you add in the price of good potting soil (the pots I re-use from year to year) I will have the equivalent of a $10+ plant in spring from a nursery for ¼ of the cost. Buying multiples of the same plants also allows for a more cohesive planting design rather than a hodge-podge of “onesies”.
Of course, this time of year with mouthwatering catalogs arriving in the mail, it is easy to go overboard buying new plants. Frankly, I may have already crossed that bridge. There will be at least 5 or 6 nurseries delivering packages in two months or so and only today I received another catalog I will be ordering from. Then there are the willow branch screens I ordered and picked up as soon as they arrived in the store and the arbor and potting bench delivered last week. And, finally, there is the metal front door with windows I found at a salvage yard which will be put in the garden as soon as the weather is conducive to work outside again. There is lots of work to be done soon but first I get to enjoy the oldest flower show in the nation, the Philadelphia Flower Show, which will be held the first week of March. I will probably come home with more ideas for the garden AND without a doubt, more plants! I am going to need some more room in the basement…
Oh, how I detest this time of year. Sure, the days are getting longer, but sunshine is not in abundance and there are so many dreary days. While January was marked by rain events and very little snow, now we are getting nuisance snow events and even ice and hail. The next few days will bring rising temperatures only to see them fall again and with more snow in the forecast. Grrr.
These days I spend more and more time in the basement, tending plants. The latest round of cuttings from my ‘Marrakesh’ coleus has been successful even when I forgot to water one of the cuttings and noticed it completely wilted 24 hours later. A bit of tender, loving care and it perked right up. I would consider coleus as one of the easiest plants to take cuttings from and even a novice gardener would be able to increase the number of plants from just one plant. If you come across a coleus you absolute like this year, make sure you take a few cuttings come fall so you have new plants to put out in your garden the following spring!
I also started three trays with seeds. Grass in my case, and not just ordinary grass, but ornamental grasses. Two different types sprouted within the week, while the third tray doesn’t show any greenery yet. Few things are more satisfying than seeing seeds sprout and grow and nothing is more frustrating than waiting for anything to poke through the soil and announce its arrival. Oh, I hate this patience bit. Granted, gardening is all about patience. Waiting for spring to come around; waiting for that first flush of green and then the first bright colors returning to gardens and the world around us. Right now, I am more than ready to jump feet first in the garden if only 1. It was spring. 2. The weather was better. 3. It was spring!
On line I go to YouTube and watch British gardening show. Right now, I am on an Alan Titchmarsh kick with his “Love your garden” shows. Every episode shows how a new garden is created for a well deserving person who has experienced loss of a child, spouse, catastrophic health problem, or someone who brings joy to many others. All recipients are nominated by friends, family or co-workers and then Alan swoops in with his team and transforms a (usually derelict) garden into a place of peace, contemplation, play-space for kids and all-around beautiful space. They spare no expense and each garden is different from the next one with an amazing eye to detail and tailored for each recipient. If you need an uplifting gardening show this time of the year, it is worth finding it on YouTube. I also manage to glean bits of plant knowledge from this show and note worthy plants in my little gardening notebook so I can look for them in time for spring planting.
My repotted primroses are growing like weeds and blooming to their hearts’ content. Their bright bunches of flowers brighten up my days while I wait, most impatiently, for the days when I can work outdoors again and see my garden come back to life. I know it’s coming, it’s just not coming soon enough.
Hallelujah! January has come and gone. 31 long and dark days I did my best to ignore. The weather wasn’t too frightful; a few inches of snow now and again and at the very end of the month an Artic cold snap which brought temperatures down to single digits and even down to 1 degree. But it didn’t last long and now we are in for a “warm snap” going up into the low fifties in a few days. What a welcome surprise that will be.
Looking through old photo albums I came across pictures of the spring garden in Holland, blooming less than six months after I left. My father, the gardener, had been busy planting lots of bulbs in fall and my mother took pictures of the resulting eruption of color. While I lived in a fourth-floor walk-up halfway around the world I held a piece of home in my hands, probably wishing I could walk around the garden and sit down to admire it. I was lucky to be able to go back almost every year to visit family and while both of my parents are now gone, we still return every few years. Funny how pictures can transport us back in time, decades ago but it feels like yesterday.
In the basement seedlings are starting to grow. Watching an (English) gardening show on YouTube I came across a nice ornamental grass being used in a garden. It was called Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ or Bowles’ golden grass. It is a brightly colored (gold!) grass which likes a moist and shady spot. It can handle clay soil and grows 12-16 inches tall. In other words, a perfect addition to my garden where I can plant it under the willow and then add to that my yellow blooming Louisiana irises to brighten up the space. A quick search on the internet showed me it wasn’t for sale anywhere in the US, which is ironic as it is also known as “American millet”, but seeds could be had from a store in the UK. Not content to buy just one packet of seeds, I also picked up a few other grasses and within a week I had my seeds. I started my first flat of seedlings about 14 days ago and by now the first blades of grass are up about an inch. The second flat was started 7 days ago and the last flat I started today.
As always, I couldn’t control myself around the primroses in the grocery stores. These bright beacons of spring in the middle of winter were only $5 for 3 plants and after I bought the first 9 in various colors, I came across the bargain rack with plants for $1. I brought home 3 more and now have an even dozen in shades of white, yellow, orange and red. I just repotted them in bigger pots and by April I will be able to put them outside in the garden where they will bloom for years to come.
Days are getting longer and by March 10th we will have an extra hour of daylight as Daylight savings starts; YEAH! It will be here before we know it, or so I hope. In the meantime I dream of flowers to come.