Sure Signs Of Spring

snowdrops.jpgI have had some signs of our very early spring. Piles of snow in April.  Hellebores encased in ice.  Yews whose foliage is bright orange from  exposure to cold, wind and salt.  White leaved tips on boxwood tell the same tale.  Broken and smashed boxwood-those people plowing snow for days and months on end hardly knew where to start or end their efforts.  Every rhododendron I have seen has damage of one sort or another.  But there are some signs of spring that are as right as rain.

crocus.jpgI had no idea what my crocus would do, considering the length and the severity of our winter.  Would they come up in March, sense the three feet of snow overhead, and give up?  Would they bloom late, pout about a season that did not favor them, and peter out overnight?  Would they stay put below ground, in anticipation of a better spring next year?

crocus.jpgMy worries were unfounded.  Lots of my worries about the garden have much more to do with me, than how nature responds to challenging conditions.  This early spring has made clear that the smartest move I could make as a gardener is to carefully observe natural phenomena.  And take comfort in the fact that nature is eminently able to handle trouble. I may have been laid low by this winter, but today I have crocus in bloom better than I have ever had them. When I got home from work tonight, I was astonished.  My field of crocus-a sure sign of spring.

crocus.jpgThe crocus are very low to the ground. I would recommend that you take the effort to get down and take a few moments to appreciate them.  I am making a very special effort, as they are the first sign of spring in my garden.  These Pickwick crocus are gorgeous today.

crocus.jpgThe life of the gardener is not convenient, predictable, or easy. That said, I would say that every plant in my garden has had a hell of a winter.  Their troubles are much more trying than mine. Any plant that managed to survive the winter we have just lived through deserves my recognition.

crocus.jpgThe crocus wide open in the sun the second week of April- hear hear.  Well done.  Thank you.  So glad to see you.

crocus.jpg The crocus blooming is a sure sign of spring.  These tiny plants blooming big bring me a substantial sigh of relief.  The coming of the crocus in my zone means that spring cannot be far behind. So incredibly beautiful, the crocus in early spring.  Every gardener that I know appreciates the little treasures.  They have a sure idea about what constitutes a big treasure.  The big treasure are those small moments.  Gardeners one and all, I am happy to know you.  Having a crocus moment?  Write me.  Thanks, Deborah

 

Moss It

DSC_9020The signs of spring in my area are still few and far between.  I do have a few crocus just coming into bloom now – in April, for pete’s sake. My garden cannot be cleaned up yet, as a layer of ice still covers most of it.  I have winter pots still so frozen in place I cannot take them apart.  But I have other options for spring.  As in planting pots for spring.  We are in the process of planting lots of them for the shop.  Shortly we will be planting spring pots for clients.  I do have a love for mossed containers.  Nature represented in both the top and the bottom is a very good look. Lining moss baskets has always been about the art of patching.  Florist’s moss comes packed in cases of pieces.  Some moss pieces are big and thick.  Rob calls these moss hides.  Some pieces are thin and small.  A wirework basket may need a number of pieces of moss, stitched together via a puzzle of overlapping pieces.  Any natural material comes in all manner of natural shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

DSC_9021One of our suppliers had the brilliant idea of attaching moss to a biodegradable backing.  Don’t ask me how they do this-I have no clue.  But I do know that mossing a wire basket just got a whole lot easier.  For a round wirework container, Rob rolls the container in a natural arc across the moss mat.  He marks that radius with a nursery marking pen.  The marks describing the top of the container, and the bottom.  That pair of lines create an arc.  He cuts that arc big and wide- oversized.

DSC_9025That arc derived from the top and bottom of the container means that the moss mat fits smoothly inside the basket.   Of course there is a lot of fussing.  Anything in the garden that means much to a gardener requires the work of a pair of hands.  A pair of hands on a shovel, or a hose, or a rake.  As for my gardening efforts today, I am putting my hands to planting containers for spring.

DSC_9026Not that I do as good a job as Rob does.  He has infinite patience.  He eases the moss mat into place.

DSC_9028The bottom of this wirework container is filled with drainage material. By a third.  Container plantings require more drainage material than soil.  Waterlogged plants never prosper, unless you plan to pot up bog plants.  A seasonal pot planting does well with bark as drainage material. Making sure that water can drain from a container is essential.

DSC_9031After the bark, the container is filled with soil.  We use a soil mix that is custom blended for us.  Lots of compost.  A big dash of sand.  And soil.  We do not use peat based growers mix in our pots.  Soilless mixes are perfect for professional growers who can manage the fertility levels and water to a tee.  For gardeners, we recommend a soil based mix. We like dirt.

DSC_9033The upper side of the moss mat gets folded over. A rolled moss edge looks generously finished.  That thickness contrasts beautifully with the thin wire that describes the shape of the container.   That roll also helps to keep the soil right where it belongs-inside.

DSC_9034Once the wirework container is moss lined, it is time to plant the plants.  For this pot, white tulips, white English daisies, and white variegated ivy.

DSC_9038Planting a pot no doubt involves design.  Color, texture, mass-and a vision about the mature shape of the planting.  But planting a pot is also about that magical moment.  An idea. The plants. The dirt.  The act of planting.

DSC_9043This mossed wirework basket-an expression of spring.  An expression of spring?  I expect both nature and every gardener to be making news, soon.

Vernissage

vernissage.jpgFive years ago today, April 1, 2009,  I published my first post. To follow is a reprint/edit of that post, entitled “Vernissage”.

vernissage-2.jpg

Strictly speaking, the French word vernissage refers to the opening of an art exhibition.  I learned the word recently from a client with whom I have a history spanning 25 years.  This speaks a lot to the value of nurturing long term commitments.  I have learned plenty from her, and from her garden, over the years. In the beginning, I planted flowers for her.  Our relationship developed such that I began to design, reshape, and replant her landscape.  She was passionately involved in every square foot of her 8 acre park.  Needless to say, the years flew by, one project to the next.  I have favorite projects.  A collection of fine white peony cultivars dating from the late 19th century was exciting to research and plant.  A grove of magnolia denudata came a few years later.  Another year we completely regraded all of the land devoted to lawn, and planted new.  I learned how to operate a bulldozer,  I so wanted to be an intimate part of the sculpting of the ground.  There were disasters to cope with, as in the loss of an enormous old American elm.  Deterring deer was nearly a full time job.  Spring would invariably bring or suggest something new.

vernissage.jpgIn a broader sense, vernissage refers to a beginning- any opening.  This has a decidedly fresh and spring ring to it.  I routinely expect the winter season to turn to spring,  and it always does.  But every spring opening has its distinctive features. Last year’s spring was notable for its icy debut. Grape hyacinths and daffodils ice coated and glittering and giant branches crashing to the ground.  This year, a different kind of drama altogether. My first sign of spring was the birds singing, early in the morning.  It was a bit of a shock, realizing how long it had been since I had heard the birds.  Why the break of my winter this year is about hearing the singing-who knows.  Maybe I am listening for the first time, or maybe I am hearing for the first time.  Every spring gives me the chance to experience the garden differently.  To add to, revise, or reinvent my relationship with nature.  This past winter was the coldest, snowiest and most miserable I ever remember.  It just about reduced my spirit to a puddle on the ground.  Spring is not so close to being here yet, even though it is April 1.  But I see the signs.

hellebores.jpg
Much of what I love about landscape design has to do with the notion of second chances. I have an idea.  I put it to paper.  I do the work of installing it.  Then I wait for an answer back.  It is my most important work-to be receptive to hearing what gets spoken back. The speeches come from everywhere-the design that could be better here and more finished there. The client, for whom something is not working well, chimes in.  The weather, the placement and planting final exam test my knowledge and skill.   The land whose form is beautiful but whose drainage is heinous teaches me a thing or two about good structure.  The singing comes from everywhere. I make changes, and then more changes.  I wait for this to grow in and that to mature.  I stake up the arborvitae hedge gone over with ice, and know it will be two years or more-the recovery.  I might take this out, or move it elsewhere.  That evolution seems to have a clearly defined beginnings, and no end.

hellebore.jpg

This spring will see more than anyone’s fair share of burned evergreen and dead shrubs.  The winter was that bad. But no matter what the last season dished out, I get my spring.  I can compost my transgressions. The sun shines on the good things, and the not so good things, equally.  It is my choice to take my chances, and renew my membership.  The birds singing this first day of April means it is time to take stock.  And get started.

vernissage-4.jpgI can clean up winter’s debris. My eye can be fresh, if I am of a mind to be fresh.  I can stake what the heavy snow crushed.  I can prune back the shrubs damaged by the voles eating the bark.  I can trim the sunburn from the yews and alberta spruce.  I can replace what needs replacing, or rethink an area all together. Spring means the beginning of the opening of the garden.  Later, I can celebrate the shade.  I can sit in the sun, and soak it up. I can sculpt ground. I can move all manner of soil, plant seeds, renovate, plant new.  What I have learned can leaven the ground under my feet-if I let it.  Spring will scoop me up.  Does this not sound good? I can hear the birds now; louder.
April 8 2013 (9)
Today also marks 22 years to the day that Rob and I began working together. There have been ups and downs, but the relationship endures, and evolves.  We are celebrating our 22nd spring.  Suffice it to say that Detroit Garden Works is an invention that reflects the length and the depth of that relationship. Vernissage.  We are thinking about spring.

 

 

Seeding Sweet Peas

the gardener's workshop high scent sweet peasCould there be any fragrance more enchantingly reminiscent of spring than from the flowers of the sweet pea?  “High Scent” is a cultivar of sweet pea known for its fresh and sweet scent.  Sweet peas, indeed. The creamy white flowers are edged in pale lavender.  Divine. Like edible peas, the plants are vining, and grow to 6 feet tall. They want the same cool conditions that all peas want. They will continue to grow and bloom as long as the nights are cool, and the days not too hot.  Mulching helps to keep the root runs cool. Once the heat of the summer arrives, the edible and ornamental peas wane, and quit producing.  Sweet peas is just one of many things that come to mind when I think of English gardens.  The climate in England means the run of the annual sweet peas is a long run.  Sweet peas are are difficult to grow in my area, unless we have a long cool spring.  I usually buy them as cut flowers when they are in season.  I have never tried to grow them.  All the literature suggests that sweet pea failure in my zone would be predictable.  Both this vase of high scent sweet peas, and the fabulous photograph is from The Gardener’s Workshop Flower Farm in Newport News, Virginia.  If they can be grown in Virginia, might I not be able to grow them?

sweet-pea-seeds.jpgWhy on earth am I thinking about sweet peas? This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting and spending an hour with Fergus Garrett, head gardener and designer at Great Dixter in England. He was in town for the Spring Symposium  arranged and given by the Master Gardeners of St Clair County.  One of his hosts brought him by the shop.  His favorite thing of all was an old perennial spade of mine that I have had for years that he found in the tool closet in the garage. Figures!  I am thinking I should send that old spade to him. He also talked with Rob about English hurdles and hurdle makers.  Malcolm Seal is a close personal friend of his, and anyone who goes to the gardening school at Great Dixter learns how to make sweet chestnut sheep’s hurdles.  The hurdle talk, and the company of one of England’s most celebrated gardeners got me to thinking about sweet peas.

sweet-pea-seeds.jpgAnother pea reason-the state of our wintery spring.  Marlene Uhlianuk who owns Uhlianuk Farms in Armada stopped by for our hellebore festival.  She said the ice on Lake Huron near her was 3 feet thick in places.  Too deep for ice fishermen to augur through.  Her theory is that it will take a very long time for all that ice to melt.  She wonders if the ice cover on the great lakes will cool air passing over, and influence our summer weather.  As in a chilly summer.  I am thinking about the possibility that a cold summer may follow a very cold winter. Well, if the summer will be cold, maybe I’ll be able to grow sweet peas.  This is the optimist in me.  The one seed in the above picture that did not swell-I pitched it.  I doubt it will germinate.

sowing-seeds.jpgA third reason?  It was 12 degrees here again today.  Meaning that the we are still ice bound and snowed under.  Any gardening would have to be conducted indoors.  It only took a moment for me to forget about the winter, and concentrate on sowing my seeds.  Seeds with hard seed coats benefit from a process called scarification.  The hard coating can be abraded with a piece of sandpaper, so water can penetrate.  Or you can soak the seeds.  I soaked for 24 hours, and then set the seeds about an inch below the surface.  I made sure that the soiless mix in my flats was thoroughly wet.  This part takes a while. It may look wet on the top, and be bone dry in the middle. Once a seed has begun to germinate, it cannot dry out.  Too dry conditions for even a short time can kill a developing seedling.

growing-plants-on-the-sill.jpgSweet peas can take 1 to 2 weeks to germinate.  As I am sowing them rather late, I’ll keep the seed flats in a warmish place until they germinate.  Then I’ll move them into the shop greenhouse-a cool place.  Marlene thinks it unlikely that I will get flowers as I am starting seeds so late, but if the summer stays cool, who knows what could happen.  At the worst, I will have entertained my winter weary self with a garden narrative.

seed-flats.jpgNow all there is to do is wait.  Sweet peas are very slow to germinate.  I have the time.  The time it takes for these seeds to germinate will be vastly less than the time we have taken enduring the winter.

sweet-pea-white“White Elegance”  is beautiful.  It is not particularly fragrant.  It is a day-neutral plant, meaning that it will bud and bloom regardless of the length of the day.  I have a flat of these seeds sowed.  “High Scent” is a long day flowering sweet pea, meaning the daylight hours need to be longer than the night time hours for flowering to be initiated.  The seeds of this sweet pea, soaked and sown.

Lathyrus latifolius mixedMy third packet of seeds-the rambling and vining perennial sweet pea.  Lathyrus Latifolius.  Perennial sweet peas grow over on the property at the Branch studio.  Who knows how they got there.  I have seen them scrambling down wild embankments along the highways in Michigan.  Blooming in shades of white pink and red, they are a cottage garden favorite where they have room to grow.  This gorgeous illustration is from the website of Van Meuven.  Who wouldn’t want to grow this plant?  If I get any to grow lustily from my seed sowing, I may plant them on the fence at the Branch Studio.  Any plant that represents in spite of the tough and unpredictable Michigan gardening conditions is worth a look.  I planted some seeds today, in hopes of having a garden again soon.