So far spring is throwing us for a loop. Early April started out great. Because of slightly above average temperatures my garden came back to life with startling speed. Mid-April the temperatures nose-dived, and a 28-degree night turned a few hostas to snot. The rest of the month remained cool. Nevertheless, my garden continued to grow, and it was good to see color returning all over. Now, on May 8, we are expecting frost for the next two nights as an artic blast pushes into our area. While we may not see snow (whew, what a relief!) I will be protecting some of the plants so they won’t turn to snot again. A sheet thrown over plants will provide protection, even if it looks weird. Some marigold plants put out in the garden two weeks ago will also need to be protected. (Yes, I know, I planted them outside before their time.) They are already nearly a foot tall and they will be covered by empty plant pots. Not a great look for the garden, but enough coverage to keep them alive.
Aside for frost protection for the next few days, I walk around my garden and marvel at a few plants which only show up in early spring before returning for their underground snooze the remainder of the year. Many, many years ago I bought my first Trillium at Lowe’s. It was a tiny little stick with a small root, but I potted it up and eventually planted it out in the garden. Every spring this woodland native would produce three leaves and one “flower”, which more correctly are considered sepals. The white flower would slowly fade to pink, before going dormant again. Eventually I had a small grouping of these plants in early spring, but it certainly took time before they multiplied. Then we moved and I found again some Trilliums in stores. At first, I planted them around the silver Maple tree and the next year I had three tiny plants. Then, the Maple declined so much in health we had it cut down and when the three plants reappeared in spring, I moved them to a better, shady spot. This year the Trilliums came back and I am hoping they will multiply and lighten up their shady corner of the garden.
The second oddity in the garden is my ‘Jack in the Pulpit’ or Arisaema. A friend in Connecticut had lots of them growing in her garden and while visiting she dug some up and passed them on to me. I put them all over my (New Jersey) garden, trying to see which location they liked best. Surprisingly, they liked every spot and they obligingly multiplied. Before we moved, I dug some of them up and planted them in my new garden. Each year after they have bloomed, seeds develop and I move the seeds to new spots in the garden, hoping they will like their new spots. So far, I have managed to quadruple the number of plants and with additional shady spots in my garden their environment is becoming more to their liking. Before long I should have them growing under shrubs in just about every corner of my garden and they will delight me with their odd flowers.
A young great heron, which was a bit of a nuisance late last year, decided to visit my pond early this spring and managed to catch a few fish. I wanted to reduce the number of koi in the pond this spring so this heron “kind of” obliged me by eating them. However, before it cleaned out most of the fish, I put up a barricade at its favorite fishing spot and it hasn’t been back since. Most of the fish which disappeared where good-size three and four-year olds; the older, bigger fish remained, and the small fish were also untouched. Going into my fourth gardening year in this new garden I now have to contend with a late frost and a hungry great heron who wants to make my pond its personal fishing ground. Who ever said gardening was easy?
Any time during the gardening season you come across the perfect gardening moment, a moment in time when a plant, or a group of plants, are at their peak and you capture this moment on camera. Then, within days, the flowers peak, conditions change and you look for the next perfect gardening moment. Sometimes we anticipate those perfect gardening moments.
In early spring, when trees burst into color, it seems we veer from one perfect gardening moment to the next in mere days. There is one moment I always eagerly await: the early blooming magnolias. Before I started my garden in Pennsylvania, I visited a friend’s garden in New Jersey. She had many remarkable specimens in her garden, but the plant I fell in love with was her yellow blooming magnolia. I searched for the same type tree and managed to find one. In the spring of 2018, as a small tree, I counted 40 blooms on the tree and considered myself quite lucky. Spring 2019 gave me a measly five flowers. What a let-down, but then there is always next year (gardeners are an optimistic lot!)
This spring there were so many flower buds and last week when they opened the tree was covered with magnificent yellow blooms; close to 100. Yes, I did count them! For two magnificent days I could barely take my eyes of the tree. Then, the next night we had severe thunderstorms and heavy rains. That morning about a third of the flower petals had fallen down. The following day we had 40+ miles an hour wind gusts and today I had to hold onto the car door with both hands before I managed to close it. Guess what, my perfect gardening moment with my yellow magnolia came and went within days, but I did manage to capture it at its peak. Fleeting at best, but a beauty to behold.
Well, where do I start? A medical scare brought us up short, but now, months later, all is well again. Then the Corona virus strikes and suddenly our worlds become smaller and smaller. My worst nightmare was the closure of libraries, just when I was at the end of my last book. Thankfully, the secondhand bookstore remains open, although allowing less than 10 people in the store at the same time. I stocked up on some books, enough to make it through the end of March. Then, my favorite nursery, Ott’s Exotic Plants, half an hour away from us, remains open. We were the only visitors and I bought a few drumstick Primula as well as small Rex Begonia plants, the start of a new collection. At our old house I had a very nice collection of Begonias, proudly displayed in the shade of the Plum Cherry tree during late spring and summer. Once we moved to our new house, with NO shade to be had in the garden, they slowly withered and died. On the compost heap they went. One hung on for another year, but eventually I tossed it on the compost heap as well. That was during our wettest summer ever, and this plant refused to die; actually it flourished! Eventually I took pity and potted it up once more. It spent one more winter indoors, before I tossed it again. It shriveled, died and turned into beautiful compost for my garden.
By now winter is nearly over and what a winter it was; NOT! I could not have asked for a ”better” winter; a few cold days, pretty mild the rest of the time and with little snow. We will probably have a few more pests around this year because of the lack of heavy freezes, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Already greenery is peeking up everywhere and that annual shot of color in early spring is right around the corner. Here and there, in protected corners, you can see cherry trees in full bloom and what a sight for sore eyes it is. The Witch-hazel has bloomed and right now the Forsythia are at their best, covered in yellow flowers. Early daffodils can be seen everywhere and buds on trees seem to be getting fatter by the hour.
In the basement I started a tray of Marigolds. I potted them up over the weekend and so far, each seedling is doing well. By the time they can go outside (late May) they should have grown into nice little sturdy plants.
Outside I have been busy cleaning up, cutting back plants, pruning some of the shrubs and my compost piles are overflowing. Weather permitting, I walk through the garden in early morning and late afternoon; every day there is more to see. Tomorrow should bring us 70+ degrees and I am expecting my Hellebore flowers in shadier spots to reach up to the sun and open; those in sunnier spots are already strutting their stuff. Oh, and then we get a blast of cold air and overnight frost. Nevertheless, better weather is on the horizon!
Even when the world seems bleak, one only needs to look at nature, to appreciate its wonder and know that all will be well in the end.
January 15th; we are slowly making our way through January. It’s my least favorite month of the year. After a festive December, January seemingly holds nothing but 31 cold and gloomy days. But, surprise, we have some days above normal. I walk around in a turtleneck with a sleeveless vest and must unzip halfway through some light garden clean-up as I am overheating.
About 6 weeks ago I cut back the willows, both the Hakuro Nishiki willow in its shrubby form as well as the grafted tree form. Now I have heaps of (6 to 9 feet) long willow branches ready to be cut down to fit into the garbage container. But not all the branches will be thrown out. The Spouse comes out to help on one of these nice days and together we cut and trim. The side branches on main stems are cut off as well as the thinnest ends. I keep the rest; branches about 5 to 6 feet long, which I plan on recycling in the garden. Since willow branches are very pliable, they make excellent material for weaving. I pile the left-over branches in the back yard, waiting for another warm day to start weaving near the fence. Then it snows, but sun melts it pretty much all the very next day.
Foliage from bulbs is up several inches, tricked by the warmer days. It stops growing as the weather turns cold again, and while the ends may look the worse for wear, eventually all new foliage will appear and flowers too. Spring may still be many weeks away, but I can see the promise of spring all around me. Maybe January isn’t so bad after all!