We have had quite a string of rainy days. Rainy and cold, every day. Thunderstorms and the downpours to go with. It is plainly too wet to plow. The only gardening we are doing is in containers. Water logged soil can have every last bit oxygen squeezed out of it by foot traffic. Or a wheel barrow wheel. My advice? Stay off of soggy soil. Wait. Some weather conditions are perfect for working the garden. Cool and dry is great. Warm and barely moist is friendly. Hot and dry is no gardeners idea of an ideal working situation, but it beats cold and soggy. The winter was long and vile, and the spring has been chilly and off putting.
We have had a few hours of dry periods between storms. It is clear that the cold tolerant annuals are are not the least bit fazed by any of the unsettled weather. Thank heavens for spring plants. May is never a summer month. But a moderate May makes for a spring cool and dry enough to work. Cool night temperatures mean the spring flowers persist. The difference between 2 weeks of magnolia flowers and two days has everything to do with temperature. The chilly rain has been great for all the plants, but unfriendly to gardeners who only want to get outside and stay there.
There are those plants that handle the chill and the rain without complaint. The parsley I put outdoors in April never fusses. The pansies and violas bow their heads in the rain, but they spring right back. Interested in some spring spunk for containers-try parsley, osteos, pansies, violas, stock, nemesia, godetia, lavender, rosemary, lettuce, nemesia, ornamental cabbage, bok choy, spring flowering bulbs, early season perennials – gardeners have a long list of plants that thrive in a chilly and rainy spring season. The tulips at the shop are glorious, as are the grape hyacinths and hellebores in my garden.
As for what is planted in the ground in my rose garden, I tread lightly. The roses have been devastated by the winter. 5 of them are dead, the other 15 or so died back to within 8 inches of the ground. The new growth is so vigorous that I haven’t the heart to take them out. I don’t have the heart to post a picture of the carnage either. They did after all survive the winter, but it’s not so swell looking right now. The asparagus is four feet tall already. I have not been able to walk in there to cut it. The anemone Honorine Jobert, brunnera and boltonia are growing. The canes of all of the climbers on the wall are dead. New shoots are coming from the ground. The sopping wet ground and wet foliage says keep out.
No gardener likes to stay away. They like to wade in and sort everything out. But it isn’t a good idea to wade in just yet. So the garden news in my zone is about what is stalled, on hold and not yet going on. Hold off as long as you can stand it.
May 18, I still have a winter fleece on. I have yet to step into my garden. The little pleasures? The grass seed in the bare spots in the lawn seemed to sprout overnight. The variegated lily of the valley is up and blooming. The delphiniums are 30″ tall already. I can tell this much from afar. A bucket planted with ferns, hosta and streptocarpus is a pleasure one can enjoy up close.
Anyone who gardens has a fascination with what I call living color. The red of tulip is a much different kind of red than red represented by paint. Color infused by life and light is a special kind of color. It is no wonder that flowering plants are prized by gardeners. Given the winter we just endured, the first signs of color are so welcome. And no plant is more about the joy of color in the spring than tulips. I plant a mass of tulips at the shop every year. It is the perfect opportunity to explore shape and color relationships, as every plant looks just about the same. I A mass of all one color is striking in certain settings, and in small groups. A mix of color and shapes makes for a more painterly approach.
A good mix begins with a selection that blooms at slightly different times. A very early and a very late tulip will never keep one another company. Tulips with related bloom times means that the display of color will evolve over time. From the moment a bud appears to the time of bloom is about a month. The tulips in the foreground of this picture are behind those in the background for a simple reason. They are close to some fairly large lindens that shade them in the early part of the day.
The next step in choosing a mix has to do with height. A mix all at the same height means that each individual flower is not in view. A mix of heights puts the color both up, middling, and down. Once a tulip comes in to bloom, the flowers continue to grow. In a cool spring, the stems will grow to their full height, and stay in bloom quite a while. In a hot year, the stems will be short and the flowers short-lived. Given our fairly cool temperatures, this should be a good year.
Choosing the colors is the most difficult part. No one has the luxury of picking a tulip for its color any other way than via pictures in a catalog. A picture of a tulip is not remotely like the real thing. Solid red tulips can be orange red, or bluish red. Or red violet. Or red with streaks of yellow. Many tulips are comprised of several different colors overlaying one another. The edge of the petals may contrast in color with the body of the petal. Other tulips may be streaked or spattered with another color.
Tulips that have multiple color tones are great for creating a visually satisfying and complex display. This softly colored mix is comprised of tulips with subtle color variations. Choosing colors that are analogous means they are closely related on a color wheel. The overall effect from a distance is monochromatic, but up close, there are many variations. This tulip mix is easy on the eyes, but not sleepy. I like looking at pictures of tulips on the John Sheepers website. The colors represented are fairly true, and they include a written description of the colors as well. No catalog records what the inside of a tulip looks like. That warm and sunny day that mature group of tulips opens their petals wide and flat is a beautiful day indeed. I do take pictures of tulips on my own, for reference. We do a different scheme every year-why not. They are all beautiful. It is surprisingly easy to put colors together that are jarring and ill suited to one another. I do see a fair number of red and yellow tulips planted together. A mix is best with a minimum of 3 colors. The color rhythm is better, and less choppy. Red yellow and dark purple-an exciting scheme. Red yellow and orange, a closely related celebration of hot color. Red, yellow and pink is a little softer, especially if the pink is a littler paler than the others. Pale yellow, watermelon red and the palest pink is a completely different look than the aforementioned schemes. Red, yellow and white is striking by way of contrast.
A color mix also influenced by the ratio of one color to another. 25% yellow, 25% red, and 50% white may read like polka dots. a 33-33-33 blend is an even blend. A 50-50 mix with one big patch of another color is energetic and catchy.
As for this yellow tulip with anemone petals-I have no idea what it is called, or where it came from. But I am glad to have it as part of the mix.
Our spring so far has been cold. As in damp April 42 degree cold. I spent the day outside with my crew today-I am chilled all the way through. Of course I expected a stellar spring, given the extreme length and depth of our winter. Silly, that. Our spring is hung over in the worst possible way from an arctic style winter. Landscapes from house to house are troubled. Only yesterday did I see a forsythia in bloom. Thin bloom, by the way. Today I have a magnolia stellata at home blooming-a month late. The flowers are small, but there are lots of them. This is the good part of the bad and the ugly.
The residual effect of a winter such as we have had may mean that the spring and early summer may be cold. Gardeners in Michigan are well aware of this. The Great Lakes still are 40% ice covered. Air moving over our very cold lakes means we may have to live with chilly conditions for a while. Maybe quite a while. My reaction? Plant like crazy for spring.
Had I known that this winter would prove to be so relentless and lengthy, I might have planted more spring flowering bulbs. More hellebores. A group of hamamelis. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, yes. Never has some spring color meant so much to these winter weary eyes. We have been planting spring pots non stop since the first week of April, and for good reason. Nature has not seen fit to let go, and move on. I am not inclined to hang back, and do without. Anyone who loves the garden is ready to see something grow and bloom.
I can think of no better year to plant some containers for spring. My guess would be that the reliably warm weather is many weeks away, and that the early part of the summer may stay cool. I have no science whatsoever to back this up, but I see that the transition from one season to another always takes a month or better. A transition from a brutally cold winter to summer indicates a transition that may be protracted. I hate to predict, as predicting the weather is a skill vastly beyond my abilities, but I will say I feel my area may feature residual cool weather.
Lots of plants tolerate, and thrive in cool weather. On the thriving side, cool weather vegetables such as peas, as sweet peas,, pansies, violas, parsley, chard and alyssum. On the tolerant side, osteospermum, rosemary, sagina, lavender, dill, angelina and dusty miller. I would bet there are lots of plants I have missed. One only needs enough cold spring tolerant plants to assemble a palette. And plant.
I will do whatever it takes to add a big splash of color to a spring planting. This lavender preserved eucalyptus and yellow-green preserved lepto adds a big splash of color to a landscape which is by and large still dormant. Thank heavens for the pansies. That live and vibrant color is strong medicine for anyone who is garden starved.
I did plant the window boxes at the shop for spring. This one features sweet peas Rob bought on a plant buying trip out east this past week. The trailing violas and phlox intensia will grow. The centerpiece of this window box is an arrangement made from preserved eucalyptus, hakea, lepto, and curly pussy willow. This centerpiece of preserved and fresh materials will make a generous statement about spring until these plants take hold.
Spring containers in my zone are plant challenged. Cold weather means the cold tolerant plants may take a while to take hold, and represent. The alyssum and creeping jenny will soften the edges of these urns. By early May, these plants will be thriving. They may still be thriving, come the first of July. In the meantime, the centerpieces for these urns will provide both color and scale. Containers do a great job of providing a little drama ahead of a garden just waking up.
Pansies,, alyssum and creeping jenny are sure harbingers of spring. But they have a modest profile, like many cold tolerant spring plants. No need to ask them to make a splash. Making a splash of a punch of spring color is entirely in your hands.
Any material you have at your disposal can dress a spring container planting. Cut forsythia branches, or pussy willow in a spring container-beautiful. You cut branches might root in the pot. Green leaves breaking from branches may be all you need to move on from the winter.
Every gardener celebrates the spring differently. Every spring is different. My landscape is on a schedule all its own. Biut when I am ready for spring, I do not dog my landscape to come to. What good would that do? The plants in my landscape will make their program known over the next four weeks. In that meantime, I plant spring pots. Should your garden still be really sleepy, a container planted up for spring could make for some sunshine. Try it.