We finally had rain! A storm dumped 0.6 inches of rain in about an hour and I could hear a sigh of relief from my garden. The roses immediately put on new growth and everything is standing a little taller and straighter.
With June 21st behind us, we have headed into summer and with it the days are growing shorter again. Why, oh why couldn’t days grow shorter starting with fall and grow longer again in spring. I would be perfectly happy with nine months of longer days and can live with three months of short and cool/cold days. However, life doesn’t work that way and I will have to live with the seasons the way they are.
Last year I put hardy geraniums in my garden. They seem to be a staple in English gardens judging by how often I saw them in British garden shows and I decided to get some; again. You see, I had them in my NJ garden at one time and while I liked them in the beginning, once they took off, I didn’t care for the way they sprawled in my garden. Fast forward a decade plus and here I am buying five pots of them. I put them in the long border coming into the garden; spaced out between yellow as well as orange daylilies and parsley. Soon they were growing and yes, they sprawled, again. But this time their sprawling habit, weaving through the daylilies and parsley, was charming. Here was a plant connecting through its neighbors without suffocating them. When I put the new front garden bed in, I bought more of them and planted them throughout. Now they weave themselves through the purple kale and I could not have asked for a better combination. The varieties used in my garden are Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and ‘Rozanne and Friends’; both of which are a purply-blue. They combine well with anything yellow or orange, as well as with blue or purple.
My garden doesn’t include a vegetable garden but the purple kale, while certainly edible, was bought purely as an ornamental plant. I am hoping to find the same purple kale plants in fall, as my current kale will probably bolt over the summer, set seed and die. Kale is a plant which should be planted in fall and which can be harvested throughout early winter. Kale is best after a light frost and in Holland my father grew plenty of kale in his vegetable garden. We always had kale as “stamppot”; a typical Dutch dish. You boil potatoes as well as your vegetable and then mix both in a big dish. It’s a great dish for kids as the mix of potatoes and vegetables (kale, or any cabbage, sauerkraut or even brussels sprouts) goes down a lot easier then eating bites of vegetables. A little bit of light gravy over it all and you have the perfect winter AND comfort food. But, my purple kale with ‘Rozanne’ sprawling through it will stay in the garden for as long as it will live. It’s just too pretty to eat!
Oh, how time flies. The early spring flowers have come and gone, late spring flowers have started to bloom and soon, with summer only weeks away, my garden is getting ready to truly break out in color.
April brought me my “river of blue”; grape hyacinths cascading down on the backside of the waterfall. Last fall I added more bulbs to my river, but thanks to reseeding some day in the not too distant future this part of the garden will be a sight to see in spring. Then, just as the grape hyacinths start to fade, my hardy ice plants turn that same part of the garden a golden yellow. It would be an amazing sight if both grape hyacinths and hardy ice plant bloomed at the same time, but then it would all be over within two or three weeks. Instead, I get to enjoy the river of blue for nearly three weeks and then it all turns gold for weeks on end.
In other parts of the garden trees bloomed; the Caroline silver bell had (duh) bell-like flowers; the Canadian redbud broke out in magnificent magenta flowers while the American Fringe tree dripped with white flowers which smelled heavenly. But this floral feast was over too soon and the trees leafed out. Now they provide puddles of shade; a reprieve from bright sunshine and hot temperatures for shade loving plants at their feet.
The gravel has been put down on the paths which I so carefully cleaned from mulch and decomposed mulch weeks earlier (and re-used it all in flower beds). I now crunch my way through the garden from one end to the other and back again.
Meanwhile the weather has been downright dry. More than a week ago we had a bit of rain; we were supposed to get ½ inch over two days, but instead we got 0.15-inch one day and nothing the next day. Nevertheless, even with that little bit of rain the garden perked up considerably. Then, thankfully, the temperatures dropped a little, the wind stopped blowing so hard and I have been able to water my newly planted plants from the rain barrels in the garden. With the possibility of rain “here and there” in the near future I am hoping for lots of it and soon. If not, I may have to break out in my rain dance, and with my two left feet, that won’t be a pretty sight!
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.