The Grim Reality

A northern garden in April-yikes. My rose bed actually looks better than usual for this time of year.  I have leaves on the climbing roses well in advance of their usual time.  A warm March and a south wall has tricked them into thinking it is spring. The boltonia is up next to the wall-but little sign of the Japanese anemone or asparagus yet.  I have great views of the hose, the gas meter, the window wells, and the dirt.   

The gas and electric meters do not fall into the realm of garden ornament, but my garden has them, like most gardens.  If you do a great job of covering them up, your bills get estimated; why do they always estimate on the so high side?  The wires-who knows what these are.  As T.S. Eliot penned in his poem “The Wasteland”, “April is the cruellest month”.  Though he by no means in referring to my garden, the phrase is perfectly appropriate.  My garden, in April, looks terrible.

The herniaria under the bench-a yellow brown.  Its unclear what is dead, what is alive, and what will be restored by warmer weather.  It all looks dead to me today.  OK, I might be overreacting. It is however, abundantly clear, no garden parties should be scheduled in the foreseeable future. Were I able to wave a wand, or put lottery winnings to righting this, or lottery winnings to an April retreat/ cottage anywhere else but right here, I would do so.  But this is where I live all year round, and this is what there is to report.    

My giant maple-how forgiving it is given Milo’s squirrel rants.  He leaps up on this trunk all winter long, thinking should he work hard enough, he will be able to climb up and destroy that squirrel.  Sections of bark are ripped off-horrifying. The pachysandra at ground level, ground off. A few intermittent broken and intermittent stems are all that has survived his daily winter onslaught. Not pretty.  

What is this grassy weed that comes on so strong in the spring?  Every year it spreads.  By the time I am able to get in there, and weed it out, it disappears.  This weed has the amazing ability to make my rose garden look littered before it ever wakes up. 

My Helleborus Angustifolius-every blooming stalk has been smashed to the ground by the snow.  I am sure once those green flowers appear, I will feel better-but today, I hate the entire winter burned mess.  Staking flowering hellebore stalks in April? I have given five years to this scheme; this April, I am ready to move on to plan B.

Lady Miss Bunny-I do so love this sculpture Rob gave me for my birthday some years ago.  This April-does the moss not need replacing? So many bones are showing-I am wincing. The moss needs replacing. Howard likes to hide under her when it is snowing-witness the pachysandra dead spots.  Dead spots-I am looking at them everywhere.  

My twig things-thank heavens they are sprouting. This very old Palabin lilac standard has been grey and grim for quite some time. I am inordinately pleased for the green haze I am seeing. The weather was very warm today-I could weep given that my garden has not responded immediately.  Who can believe I would even publish pictures of this mess of a garden-but day to day-any landscape is very much about the day to day.  It is a good time to assess, and plan.    


The grass will get greener, yes?  I will prune the winter away from the Limelight hydrangeas. Better days are to come, yes?

At A Glance: Spring Yellow

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Pink Of My John

Viola tricolor is a very old garden species-known to most north American gardeners as Johnny Jump Ups.  This weedy and equally cheery viola will seed with abandon, once you have it, and have it happy.  It has many common names in England; “Pink of My John” is my favorite of those names.  Many of the common names for violas have to do with the part of love that is pure folly-any gardener understands all about love and folly. Pink of My John may perfectly describe my relationship with my garden.  I had a wild garden of considerable size many years ago-the grass in that area was overrun with every color of violet imaginable-how I loved this.  Viola, violet, pansy-I am a fan of the entire range.  In the early 19th century, Viola tricolor was crossed with a variety of other viola species, resulting in the hybrids viola x wittrockiana.  Simply stated, the pansy.   

The word pansy derives in part from the French word “pensee”-which literally translates as “thought”.  Pansies frequently have dark faces-thus the human reference.  I myself am much more fond of pansies without faces-I like my spring color clear and strong.  The ”Clear Sky” series of pansies are remarkably floriferous, and come back reliably from a fall planting in my zone.  This Clear Sky light blue, with its darker blue blush is so distinctively a sign of spring.  I know of no other flower, in any other season, that has this color.  Several years ago it was the thrill of a lifetime to be in Texas to see the blubonnets blooming everywhere in late March. For one wild moment I thought I would have to move to Texas, just to have that blue in my life.  

White flowers-I could write at least a dozen essays about their appeal.  The white pansies are a little shy in their blooming until it warms up-but when they do bloom, you notice. A pansy flower does have the most beautiful form-does it not?

Clear Sky blue is just that-saturated sky blue.  Pansy flowers have little substance; they are thin petalled.  In the right situation, the sunlight coming through this pansy is an experience of color that no paint could ever deliver.  Living blue. All of us who have endured a very long winter-the signs of life are more than welcome.

This viola is from the Sorbet series-Lemon Chiffon is an appropriate name.  Plant hybridizers are those scientists behind the scenes that breed plants for great color, heavy flowering, disease resistance-and in the case of pansies, heat tolerance.  The new hybrids of pansies can perform non-stop through the end of June in my zone.  As I do not plant my summer pots until all of my clients pots are done, a spring planting tides me over.   

I like seeing hybridizers introducing color mixes.  This mix called Ocean Breeze- has four related color groups-and everything in between.  Masses of an identical color are dramatic.  Masses of varying and related colors are charming and friendly.  These violas are notable for their dark lines-known as whiskers.  The whiskers-are they not beautiful? 

These violas represent another mix; the citrus mix comes on fast and blooms like crazy. Planted up, there is a rhythm and beat that is really tough to ignore.  Such small flowers, organizing a following-I am impressed.

This purple picotee pansy is a new one for us this year.  Mark assured me that he saw it perform well in trials.  The whiskers, the white, the purple edges-a happening. 


My advice; don’t skip the spring. Leap into it; you will not be sorry.

Spring Schemes

I am at that weepy stage-I am so glad spring is finally knocking at my garden door.  Tomorrow Mark is delivering the first full truckload of spring plants-this is my idea of an important event. My perennial garden is still sleepy-but for the crocus, and the magnolia buds.  OK, the butterburr and hellebore flowers have broken ground-tentatively.  I am hoping by time things break loose at home, I will be negotiating steps like a regular person.  But I digress-my topic today has to do with the colors of spring-are they not so specific to this season?  I make a point of planting in some way with spring flowers; no matter how fleeting the season, I would not think of doing without them.   


Blue pansies and blue lobelia-this color is seasonal color in Michigan; sign up now, or hold your peace until next spring.  I am not so much a fan of blue-except for spring blues.  The clear sky pansies, the lobelia-delicious.  I like pairing the blues with the greens-they are courteous enough to yield the floor to each other.  By this I mean, some partnerships are perfect.  Persian Queen geraniums and creeping jenny lend the lime to the scene; parsley is never so ornamental as it is in the spring.  The texture is rewarding, the dark green color previews the gardening season to come.  Those among you that value parsley as an herb; fine- there are lots of gardeners out there that would have a mind to plant parsley for the betterment of a dinner.  But there are those of us who see parsley ornamentally; I like mine in spring pots.   

Queen of the Night tulips-a dark purple color that goes to black in certain early spring light.  I am mostly a fan of that rich purple part- any plant rich with color this time of year warms me up.  These dark purple tulips that have blue green company from their foliage.       

This photograph is from a spring some years ago.  I do not tire of seeing these older pictures.  The black, white, and lime spring color scheme is a good one.  I would go so far as to go on record- this combination of colors is a favorite.  The black tulips can be very drab if you don’t view them up close.  The white highlights their deep color. 

Black and white tulips-so beautiful.  Every garden has a conversation going on-listen, if you will.  Sometimes I step back, and let the garden speak for itself.  My only wish for my garden, and my client’s gardens-that all of us have a garden that speaks back on occasion.

These pale and icy yellow pansies -so easy on the eye inthe spring. Clear Sky primrose. The hosta tribe-soon to spring to life-they provide structure, shelter in this pot.  The yellow reeds add some height and texture. 

The lavenders, and their sturdy parent, the purples, bring a spring to life.  The stone,  lead and concrete and steel endure-as well they should.  But every garden pot, ornament, trellis, bench, fountain,  bucket and cistern longs for some life. Spring plants to the rescue.   

My most favorite plant of the spring season-citron alyssum.  Do you know it-that pale yellow alyssum that wakes up late, but  lasts late into the summer.  Many stars of the garden are modest.  Mostly I avoid saying the words alyssum citron.  I let the plant speak for itself. It is a great companion for yellow petunias and pansies-and most herbs.  

Spring schemes-I am keen to see how trhis year’s scheme works out.  It will not be long now.