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.

Abscission

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The leaves of trees and woody plants are solar cells that convert the energy from the sun into food that enables a plant to grow and sustain itself.  This is a gardener talking-not a botanist.  I observe that once a leaf is no longer able to perform its job, that leaf is shed from the plant.  The fall is a very long process of abscission beginning in August, and ending once winter comes.  Hellebores do not truly part company with their leaves until the spring following.  Once the flower stalks push forth and bloom, then the hellebore concentrates its energy on new leaves.  The leaves from last year pictured above-I am surprised they look as good as they do, considering this past winter. I will cut last years leaves off soon, so as not to disturb the flower stalks about to emerge.  Hellebore foliage cares not one whit for abscission.  They hold their leaves until the new season’s flowers are up and representing.

014The mechanism by which deciduous plants shed their leaves is complex, and very interesting.  Anything a plant no longer needs to survive, it sheds.  Linden trees in water stress will shed their interior leaves in order to preserve the health of the tree.  Yellow leaves on the interior of a deciduous tree could mean it is in stress from a lack of water.  Fewer leaves needing water may help in a drought.  Any tree needing water will shed any leaves it needs to, to preserve its life.  The life central of a tree may direct that tree to shed unnecessary leaves.    An evergreen tree in great and life threatening stress from environmental conditions may produce an incredible number of cones. Plants are engineered by nature to survive.  Survival marks and engineers all of life. Gardeners one and all enjoy the process of fall color, and the dropping of leaves.  Some trees, such as parrotia and beech, hang on to their leaves until the emergence of the new leaf buds in the spring push the previous years leaves off.  My parrotias are still full of leaves, albeit brown leaves.

013 I am not so anxious to remove the leaves and stalks from my perennials in the fall.  I like the look of the snow on the remains of the garden.   I also believe this detritus helps to shield and cushion my plants from fierce winter weather.  I am content to let the garden go down in the fall, with every stalk and stem intact.  I only do a spring cleanup.  In the fall, every plant is shedding and covering its own.  I don’t see the need to disturb that.  Winter is a tough season.  Our past winter was brutally cold and snowy.  I am glad I left the garden be this past fall.  The European ginger under this bench is virtually evergreen.  It hangs on to its leaves with a vengeance.  I never remove the old leaves; I leave them be.  What I leave be in the garden eventually becomes compost.  If you ever have the urge to clean up every leaf in the fall, think about the forest floor.  The forest floor is a healthy and vibrant environment-just what you would want for your garden.

011None of my roses shed their leaves this past fall.  The leaves survived a terribly cold snowy and windy winter, intact. The leaves are still hanging on, this first week of April.  We have only had temperatures above freezing for a few days.  I cannot tell yet if my roses survived this winter.

008The leaves still attached to the roses-I have no idea what this means. I have seen lots of deciduous shrubs with the fall leaves still intact from last fall. Did the winter come to us so quickly that the process of the leaf drop was interrupted, detained?

007Though nature can throw a mean and deadly curve ball when I am least expecting it, I know this spring could be just as tough as the winter we just experienced.  I sat in the rose garden tonight for the first time since last October.  Yes, I had on my hat and coat.  I have no idea what is to come.

012Should you have any idea why my roses never shed their leaves last fall, would you write me, please?  I have never seen this.  I do not know what to make of it.  I am prepared for the worst.  I am a gardener, first and foremost.  Dealing with the worst in a garden is ordinary.  Dealing with an unknown worst-keep me company, please.

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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.