Budded

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If you garden, March is an acutely disappointing month.  If March feels like an illness to you, it is. That late winter gardener’s fever–entirely predictable.  The hope that spring is almost here when it is in fact many weeks away-a normal symptom of said illness.  Once March arrives, no matter what constitutes likely and reasonable, I am over the winter.  I have eyes, ears and a nose for spring.  Though I have written this in countless ways for the last month, this time I really mean it!  The thought that spring is near has been much on my mind- for weeks.  What the gardening heart hopes for bears no remote resemblance to reality-that conflict would be a good definition of a Michigan March.  Hope versus reality-game on.

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My yard is a trashed by the winter.The grass is the color of hay.  That hay has been pounded into the ground by the corgis, so the color is actually dirty hay.  How many gallons of paint do you suppose a paint manufacturer might sell if they names a color dirty hay?  Well, ok, gardeners might warm up to it.  But the idea of dirty hay is pretty unappetizing.  Just like March in Michigan.

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The isotoma around my fountain at home looks dead.  The leaves are brown and black, accented by a glaze of rot.  Who knows if or how much of it has survived this winter.  Some of the coldest days of the winter are courtesy of this March.  How it looks right now-horrifying.  The clematis are but brittle sticks, and the boxwood are burned.  My moss stuffed cow-known as Lady Miss Bunny, has dead weeds sticking out of her side.  Dead rotting leaves are sprinkled all over the yard.  Could my garden possibly look worse than it does right now?

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The European ginger?  The leaves are limp, and lay flat on the ground-exhausted.  I so understand this feeling.  The look of it-I try not to look.  Many of the leaves have those large black patches gardeners know as decomposition.  I do not dare clean them up yet-we have night forecasts in the 20′s for the next week.  Most of the snow was gone, meaning really cold night temperatures could hurt.

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My hopes for March are always unrealistic.  Last year’s March was warm-enticing.  Though it satisfied my need for an early spring, it made me uneasy.  April confirmed that unease.  Freezing temperatures over an extended period of April days was destructive to early spring flowering trees, maples, and birch.  No spring for us, last year.  The 2012 spring disaster- every gardener in my zone remembers.  The nights covering vulnerable plants to no avail. All of the hellebores blooming collapsed in pathetic heaps on the ground. Such shock-realizing that our spring would be erased by deadly low temperatures.  Gardeners far away wrote to me, their voices charged with grief and irritation very much like mine.  Gardeners in my zone and in many other regions have been waiting for a glorious spring for close to 2 years.

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March is anything but a spring month; March is in fact the last of the winter season.  We have has snow more days these first 2 weeks of March, than not.   A single oddball 62 degree day made me believe the winter was over-I truly believed that the crocus, eranthis and hellebores were but days away.  But one day does not a spring season make. The utter cold has returned; just this morning, four inches of fresh snow.  I m shoveling, not gardening.  March is a month marked by the tumultuous transition from one season to another.  Sometimes that transition is easy and sensible.  Other times that transition is so slow, boring, and treacherous,  one could weep.

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The trees and shrubs have no such angst.  They go dormant given the day length and temperatures.  They set buds for spring season, months ahead.  They prepare.  They have no expectation of mercy.  They wait.  The urge to emerge revolves around a complex set of conditions.  Natural relationships that culminate in the OK to grow.

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A bud is an undeveloped shoot.  A leaf or a flower shoot.  Once formed, that bud may lay dormant for months, waiting for the moment when conditions favor growth.  When woody plants form buds, the exterior of that bud is tough-encapsulating.  Breaking dormancy is a very vulnerable state-best not to do so, unless there is a reasonable expectation of success.  Nature provides mechanisms by which that tender stage we call growth is protected from its enemies, until the time is right.   Many plant buds are covered in scales.  These modified leaves protect the life brewing within that bud from cold, wind,and physical insult.

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Many buds are covered in a gummy substance that further protects them from untoward conditions.  These magnolia flower buds have a remarkably rigid hinged casing that is covered in soft downy hair.  This magnolia is always the first plant to bloom in my yard. The buds are swelling, meaning that spring will arrive. Everywhere in my zone the buds are beginning to swell.  They anticipate spring in a very different way than I do.  They intuit the natural shift of the season. They respond to that subtle change in conditions, in a slow and subtle way.  These buds may swell, but they won’t break dormancy until there is a more extended period of moderate weather.

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The buds can hold a very long time, if the weather does not take a more friendly turn. Most perennials have naked buds. What you see in this picture is the remains of my asparagus.  The spring shoots are still safely ensconced below ground. They have little defense against bitter cold. They stay dormant, buds and all, until they have the all clear. The leaf buds of the roses, encased in the same waxy substance as the stems.  They are ready, but holding their cards close.

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The cream colored knobs on this yew-the flowers that will hardly be noticed.  The flowering stage is remarkable, the day a gust of wind throws a cloud of yellow pollen into the air.  At the tip of each branch, an elongated bud known as a candle.  Named for its resemblance to a candle, this growth tip is comprised of the countless needles which will populate the new shoots.  These needles lay flat against the stem, until the spring weather encourages them to spread out and grow.  The buds do a better job of predicting the arrival of spring than my winter weary heart.

 

 

Monday Opinion: What Time Is It?

Daylight savings time means that Sunday March 10th was a day with only 23 hours.  One would think that anything planned for the day could easily be accomplished in 23 hours instead of 24, but you decide.  Howard showed up bedside at 5am like he always does, but it really was 6 am.  He and Milo usually have breakfast at 6, but 6 had already come and gone. By 7, which was now 8, I was late for work, and the corgis still had not had breakfast.  If you are confused, you know exactly how I felt (or am I still feeling it?).  I usually have lunch at 11:30, which, but the new 11:30 is actually 10:30.  So Sunday brunch.  By this time I had at least remembered to feed the corgis.  I was half way to a landscape appointment until I realized I would be an hour early.  In looking at my watch, I see that the second hand is only moving every 20 seconds or so.  What?  I circle back, and spent 40 minutes sitting in my office trying to figure it out.  Why really do we spring ahead, and then fall back?  I knowing children walking to the bus stop has something to do with it.  The other reasons seem unconvincing and arbitrary.  Now there will be more time after work to stand in the garden and be able to do nothing.  I will have more evening daylight to contemplate the frozen ground.  I still have mountains of snow, even though it was 62 degrees yesterday.  I am a day late expressing the opinion that a day with only 23 hours felt like a day that was out of reach from start to finish.  Today I was late for work, and cranky.

The days are getting longer.  Who knows exactly what day the sun will finally make up that lost hour.  At least it will be months before that 25 hour day arrives in November.  In the meantime, that out of sorts feeling can be diminished by just one thing.  The sure signs of spring.  It was just a few days ago that I heard birds singing when I woke up.  The magnolia stellata, even though it is heavily mulched with snow, looks like the buds are ready to burst.  Yesterday it was 62 degrees.  Today it is pouring rain.  It is muddy and icy, everywhere.  Milo’s footprints all over the shop make it look like we have not mopped for months.  What he doesn’t deposit on the shop floor is now in my office.  These are sure signs of spring.  The watch I have had for years is not running right.  It will take 10 days to send it out for evaluation.  However, I am sure I already know what is wrong. Even my watch can’t figure out what time it is.

Thinking Spring

The last two nights have been astonishingly cold, considering it is early October-not early November. This morning, my brown sweet potato vines were limp-the effect of too much cold, and gravity. The summer season is indeed coming to a close.  Most of my pots have been cleaned out.  The olive tree and rosemary have been repotted, and have been brought into the greenhouse.

The red leaved hibiscus looks much like the potato vine-all of its spirit has drained away.   The summer season is coming to a close much faster than I bargained for.  But I have a spring ahead, that needs my attention.  The spring flowering bulbs need to be planted now, if I plan to see them begin to bloom next March.

There are lots of good reasons not to plant bulbs.  The air temperature is cold-the soil temperature is wet and cold.  Planting brown orbs is momumentally unsatisfying.  Once placed below ground, there is nothing to show for the effort.  The fruits of the efforts are months away.  Do you remember where you had crocus, and where you need more?  I don’t either. 

Can you remember where you thought a few more alliums would be good?  Me neither.  Are you tired to the bone from trying to keep your garden watered in extraordinary heat that characterized this season, and irritated about the lack of rain?  Can we not get some rain? 

As irritating as a frustrating gardening season can be, the future requires a fresh eye.  At this time of year a fresh eye takes the form of a round, brown, and plump bulb.  Or in the case of anemone blanda, a brown, wrinkled and dry bulb. 

It is a miracle of nature-how a tulip and its flower and leaves are sleeping, entirely contained inside a bulb.  A tulip bulb is a small, fairly round, and brown papery promise of what is to come.

Number one grade daffodil bulbs are more complex in shape-but they are just as brown and inert.  Globemaster Allium bulbs are quite large, and juicy looking.  Allium albopilosum-is anyone in there?    I understand that when my fall bulbs arrive, they are dormant.  They need planting.  They need a cold period of a good many weeks.  But to look at them, it is hard to imagine the life that is inside.

 

Spring blooming crocus are such a relief in March.  They are not so expensive-it is very easy to sign up for a hundred or more.  Once those 100 bulbs arrive, the thought of planting one hundred of anything seems formidable.  The small package that they arrive in is easy to loose track of.

 

All of this said, I would be most disappointed in myself if spring arrived, with no spring flowering bulbs breaking ground.  I would only have myself to blame.  It would just be much better if I could break free of that image of my cold sacked potato vine, and invest in my future.

I rarely plant spring flowering bulbs in the ground.  Most of what I do in  ground involves crocus, hybrid trout lilies, and snow drops.  Planting bulbs in pots is easy, quick-and eminently satisfying.

I am not interested in forcing bulbs.  Other people/nurseries do this far better than I could ever hope to do.  Do I buy forced bulbs in March-yes. Anythoing that blooms in March lifts my spirits.  My personal plan- I like potting up bulbs in planters, and storing them in the garage.  I bring them out in March-the first hint of spring.  They bloom at the same time that they would bloom, if they were planted in ground.  They bloom on time, and in season-without all of the headache of digging in an in ground planting.

Potting up bulbs in containers is so easy.  I use a good compost loaded soil mix.  I plant the bulbs shoulder to shoulder.  Planting them in fiber pots means they can be dropped into a treasured container come spring without much fuss.  Clay pots, concrete pots, fiber pots-I plant loads of bulbs in containers.   Tulips on my front porch in spring-love this. Little pots of crocus or muscari dress up a spring table.

Best of all, the fall planting/spring blooming bulbs speak strongly to the hope for the future garden.  Every serious gardener makes something grow. 

 

Making something grow is a very good idea.

 

Tins Crates Baskets and Tubs

The little and special plants that mark spring containers-how I love them.  I love the tubs, pails, baskets and crates that make great homes for those little and special spring plants.  I did post some of these pictures on the Detroit Garden Works facebook page today, but I couldn’t resist posting them here.  These spring container plantings make me smile.  What about you?  

heuchera, angelina, and citron alyssum

spring container plantings

spring purple

a basket of pansies, phlox, and lavender violas

A round tin of spring flowers

A rustic basket featuring heuchera and citron alyssum

An oval tub of English daisies and violas

A rustic basket of violas, white alyssum, and twigs

Lavender and alyssum

An orange carex and trailing violas

Enamelled tub of spring flowers

a crate of chard and lettuce

 Citrus mix pansies and angelina

spring baskets

spring pink and yellow

A birdseye view of spring

Milo has a great view of this crate of chard and lettuce!