At A Glance: Glimpses of Spring

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Budding

I am writing this Friday post late Saturday afternoon; sorry, it has been a busy week.  The warm weather has brought in  friends and clients -for a spring hello, and for spring work.  I am so glad to be back to work designing. Every project has its own 3″ by 5″ card-they go on my bulletin board wall.  This way, I can see everything I have going on at a glance. I get messages; “please put me on the board for….” -I like this. Green cards for design.  Blue cards for design going into the build phase.  Lavender cards for spring plantings.  Pink cards for summer plantings.  Yellow cards for parties and events. This may seen archaic to most, but it works great for me.   Having a stack of design and build cards-each design project benefits the other.  Design is very much about rhythm and regular engagement, and I am engaged on a number of fronts.  Everything is budding-I am sure you have noticed, as I have.     

This green flowered primula “Francisca” was discovered by Francicsa Dart on a traffic island in Canada in 1995. Green flowers look good for a long time-as their petals photosynthesize just like leaves-the info from the new issue of “Gardens Illustrated”.   Many older green flowered primroses have been propagated too long, with attendant viruses that weaken them. This primula is an exception- remarkable for its robust growth.  Budding is about anticipation, and expectation; people and plants share this come spring. This late wait- just one of a list of rewarding things a gardener has to look forward to.  This late winter wait is a vast improvement over the post holiday wait-I’ll take it.

The forsythia in the outlot has budded and swelled in the twinkling of an eye; this is its habit.  The recent night temps in the twenties has not damaged the emerging flowers, but it has thrown them into a cryogenic state of inanimation.  I am sure this terminology would make any biologist laugh-but whatever.  These buds are at a standstill. If I cut and brought these branches inside, they would pop overnight.  Watching them move ahead, and then screech to a halt outdoors-a good lesson about how good timing helps any new venture.

My hellebores have sent up buds very cautiously-there is something in the hellebore internal clock which hedges the bloom time bet. How plants interact with weather is incredibly interesting, and beautifully complicated.  No stalks will push these buds skyward until conditions seem optimal.  After all, the purpose of the flower is to make itself available for pollination, set seed, and thus insure the survival of the species. An inauspicious start out of the box doesn’t speak well for a good finish. That those flowers thoroughly enchant me; I am sure nature is rolling her eyes.  Make what she will of my naivete, I like the enchanting part of spring blooming.    

I am so fond of willows-in any and every form.  Their most amazing moves come right about now.  Their branches tell you when the spring sap is rising-branches dulled and browned by winter come alive-before the leaves bud.  Willow tree branches will go intensely yellow green, and glow, in early spring.  These trees light up, when the season turns-like no other plant.  This is a gift to the garden.

My rhododendron flower buds have been in place since last season. All winter they impassively withstood every insult the Michigan winter had to serve up. They are still tight and tightly closed.  It is much too cold for opening day. A few 60 degree days does not impress them-they need to be sure winter has let go-before they let go.   

No one could fault Rob for lacking a sense of humor.  These budding bulbs are made of wax, and have wicks.  Planting them in wood trays and candle holders in natural and preserved moss; this represents a wickedly funny hope for budding.  I have seen a lot of second takes at the shop this week.  This budding out is all about how just about everyone is searching for any sign that the winter is over. Some have succumbed-and taken them home for spring dinner parties; our warm weather is dicey at best, until June 15.

On every gardener’s mind- is it time?

Planting For Spring

Word has it that we will have night temperatures in the teens and up to 20 degrees tonight-welcome to spring in Michigan.  My tulips that are four inches tall-I am hoping blistered and burned foliage will be the only damage.  As for my crocus just barely representing themselves-who knows.  But as tough as spring can be, there are those plants that are resistant to temp troubles. The charteuse leaved geranium, Persian Queen, can take a lot of cold.  Should the cold linger, it will languish; I am not a bit afraid to plant it out April 15, and hope for a steady warm-up.  Osteospermum handles cold even better-these daisies that come in a wide range of colors last long into the summer as well.  Petunias roll their eyes, and are moodily tolerant-don’t count on them to grow now how they do in hot weather.  Alyssum-the workhorse of the spring garden that moves on into summer without any fuss.

Pansies and violas are a mainstay of a spring garden.  I do not use the word mainstay lightly;  the longevity of early spring perennial blooming hinges entirely on the weather.  Should we have an early warm up, or a late freeze, they fade.  Pansies and violas take the ups and downs with equanimity.  Some hybrids survive our winters after a fall planting.  This is worth some flag waving; in the fall,  I can bury tulip bulbs, and overplant the surface with pansies-the spring gratification far outweighs the winter delay. 

Heuchera has seen a breeding explosion like few other perennials in recent years.  Peach, orange and lime foliage-these leaves are seductive. The black leaved varieties don’t send me.  Black foliage to me is about drama-what drama is there in a black leaved plant that grows 6 inches above ground level?  Black leaves on a dirt background-mud, in my mind. I have never been much of a fan of heucheras in the garden-they need division too often for me.  In pots, they shine; I plant them all the time.  Their color and shape is beautiful-up close to the eye. 

I have an aversion to empty pots come spring-they look so forlorn. One’s winter stick center can be kept on through the spring, but I want to see some real plant life going on, early on.  My gardening season is short-best to plan to savor every day. 

Empty pots at the front door do not exactly say welcome. Nothing in the ground is making much of a move yet-save the hellebore flowers.  A nation of hellebores would not warm up this front door-they have an entirely different seat on the garden bus. Low to the ground, they are not so hard to pass over.  They need an intimate, traffic stopping space to shine. I am truly sorry they are not more widely grown.  However, the fact is, once nurseries get good traffic going on in the spring, the hellebores are finished blooming, and sit there on the shelf,  benignly green.  It is easy to miss them.  When I see my patches of crocus push up in the spring, I always regret that I didn’t add to them last fall.  Gardeners need to be six months ahead of the season-how hard is that?  

Though spring plants tolerate cold, they thrive in warmer conditions.  These south side window boxes put on weight from the moment of planting.  The Persian Queen geraniums never skip a beat, and will still look great come October.  How lobelia grows here defies everything I had come to believe about lobelia.  They will thrive in full son on the south side, if the watering is dead on.  This picture was taken the end of June, after an April 1st planting.

This lead egg cup from the Bulbeck foundry in England is a focal point in this garden.  It would not do-for it to be empty in the spring.  Too many other spring views depend on its state of dress. The shape, arrangement and placement of landscape elements in this garden look good, given how early the season.  A Bulbeck stuffed with spring plants-beautiful.


The plants of spring are specific in their color shape and habit.  Once the season passes, that look is gone.  A long spring-this I like.

Finally, Spring Plants

I laid eyes on my first batch of spring plants today-I was ridiculously pleased.  I could not take my eyes off these yellow pansies-nor could my nose.  Living plants have that most divine life-smell;  it was as if I got my first deep breath of saturated oxygen in months. This first contingent of plants I have special appreciation for-every sense I have is the better part of starved.  The spring plants deliver. I am not so much a fan of pansies with blotches-frequently called faces-I am not interested in anything remotely resembling black in the spring.  I love and welcome these big clear faced pansies. 

It is much too early for tulips-mine are 4 inches out of the ground, thanks to the very mild March we are having. These are fakes.  Though I value my plants like other people value their kids, I am unabashed about having these.  Made from some rubbery material with a decidedly tulip-like sheen, they cheer me up every time I walk by them.  So pink, they are!  The decision to carry fake plants is twofold-very few places carry them anymore-though the technology, appearance and feel of them is incredibly good now.  Those rayon tulips I saw 15 years ago were hard on the eyes, and dreadfully tough to take. These tulips bring spring to mind; this is enough to ask.  More importantly, I like to plant pots for spring-I am ready now.  The chilly spring weather is great for my bulbs and woodland flowers-they last and last, going into nature’s cooler every night.  But planted pots don’t gain much weight until the night temperatures really warm up.  A few fakes can give some needed heft and scale to a spring pot. Planting pots for spring-try it.  You may really like it.

I maintain the traffic island across the street from the shop-all the township does is mow the grass every so often.  As I prune the forsythia and honeysuckle, and look after the crabapples, I have no guilt about cutting and forcing some branches for the shop.  The masses of forsythia bloom heavily in the spring, given that I prune them properly after they bloom.  You are looking at 20 cut stems here-I would say the shrub planting from whence these stems came is happy.  I would not want forsythia in my landscape-not enough summer, fall,  and winter interest to warrant a spot on my small property.  But if I had land, I would plant them in rows, like radishes, and marvel at their glorious moment.  Have you seen Forsythia Hill  in bloom at Beatrix Farrand’s garden at Dumbarton Oaks in DC-truly glorious. 

Plants soften the edges and hard surfaces that make up much of the natural world. If I were able, I would plant every container I have; the plants bring so much to the party.  A crate is a crate-a crate full of hyacinths, smelling fresh and fragrant, is a spring moment.  

Amongst Rob’s plant choices today-what I call ashcan flowers.  I have not seen them in 30 years.  Ranunculus acris-a spring blooming perennial ranunculus, grew wild next to my trashcans, in the alley of my first house.  They like a low spot and don’t mind water-I so like plants that are happy in tough spots.  Yellow in the spring-this is a good look.

Rob designed and planted his first spring pot-a wire basket lined with moss got a mass of blue pansies-and a tuteur of prairie pussy willow. Belgium, England, and Oregon do much with plant towers from natural materials-he likes them.  I have to admit, these yellow stems against those china blue blooms says early spring loud and clear. I am waking up.  

This pussy willow is a new one to me; prairie pussy willow, I am told.  I plan to call for the nomenclature.   The best part of a love for horticulture-no matter how many years it has been on your mind and heart, something new is bound to come your way. regularly. I had Rob move this pot 10 times before I found this spot to photograph it.  Those grey fuzz balls on their yellow stems are worth a good look.  That spreading topknot of willow I photographed in front of my old linden.  This visual relationship makes the most of each element.   I have a mind to learn about this salix. 


Inside, my greenhouse roof provides the necessary light for lots of plants.  I could do without a lot of things-but not the plants.  I share this in common with gardeners from sea to shining sea-and beyond.