The Spring Garden

May Day (3)Despite a run of very warm weather, and the tomato plants I have seen sitting outdoors for sale, it is still very much the spring season here. One of my favorite things about gardening in the mid west is the fact that the seasons change.  I like all of them.  Spring is a special favorite, as it comes on the heels of the dregs of the winter.  Speaking of the dregs, we have a forecast for 37 degrees overnight. Our last frost date is the end of May-some 2 weeks away. This is no hardship.  The spring season, even on the coolest of days, is a delight. My variegated lily of the valley is proof positive of that. My tulips are on hold, in full bloom. The dogwoods are just about in full bloom, as are the lilacs.

DSC_0457The spring flowering trees are at their best when the spring is cool and moderate. Some years ago all of the flowers on my magnolias were frosted off, and the new shoots sustained damage as well. Our past winter was terrifically cold-especially in February. As a result, my magnolia flowers are so so this year. But I have seen lots of crab apples, cherries, red buds, and Bradford pears striking in bloom. The spring flowering trees-I would take a chance on them. My dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. Spring blooming trees are a marvel, and there are so many kinds to choose from. I see very few young flowering trees when I drive through neighborhoods.  And not so many stands of tulips either.

spring season (5)I ascribe this to the notion that many people feel the spring is especially ephemeral, and is shorter than the other seasons. However, the spring is just as long as every other season. The spring does not begin with a flowering phase.  The long process by which plants emerge from the ground and break dormancy is every bit as beautiful as a patch of daffodils in bloom. That pale limey green I call spring green is as visually lush as the new growth.

DSC_0219These dwarf spruce are not so dwarf any more, after 30 years in the ground.  When the new growth emerges on the tips of every branch in the spring, the visual effect is spectacular. The hellebores have been in bloom for at least a month. The warm weather pushed every plant full speed ahead.  At times there was too much to look at, and not enough time to look.  A good friend in the nursery business told me years ago that his gardens are designed to peak in late summer-this is when he has the time to appreciate them. I want it all.  Every season. This is why I make a special effort to enjoy the spring, even though it is a very busy time of year.

May Day (4)This patch of creeping jenny, campanula, and sweet woodriff is lush and fresh.  That quality applies to every inch of the spring landscape. All of the failures in the garden now are winter failures. Everything in the spring garden is growing robustly.  Regular rain sustains all that growing. There hasn’t been enough time for bugs and fungus to take hold. The time for disappointment comes much later.  The spring is about promise and possibility.

spring season (2)My yellow magnolias are rarely in bloom longer than a week or 10 days, but each one those days is heavenly. I look forward to them with great anticipation. The spring garden has an expectant atmosphere. How ephemeral the flowering makes the experience of that blooming all that much more sweet.

spring season (1)My perennial garden is finally beginning to fill in.  The delphiniums should be so beautiful this year.  They have just about filled the tomato cages that I hope will keep them aloft when they flower. Would that the catmint would keep this shape.  By midsummer it will fall to the ground, splay out, and need shearing.  This moment is a good one.

Mother's Day 2014 (41)Rob plants lots of spring pots, many of which feature lettuce, bok choy, chard, and herbs. This pot is good enough to eat. That luscious quality speaks to the best of what spring has to offer. There is no other fresh like spring fresh.

DSC_0433This new garden we did for a client last year has a few early flowering perennials-notably euphorbia polychroma and anemone sylvestris.  My client planted yellow and white viridiflora tulips, and white triumph tulips.  What a charming spring garden she has.

May 11  2015 009 I can hardly believe I have seen basil for sale outdoors already.  It despises cold soil, as do tomatoes, and many of the summer season annuals.  The best way to tell if you can plant for summer is to put your finger in the soil.  If it is very cold, wait to plant any tropical plants. A week of consecutive night temperatures above 50 degrees is a sign you might consider planting tropical plants. I am not ready for geraniums, or calocasia, or caladiums.  I want my spring as long as I can have it. The best way is to ignore the siren call to plant for summer when it is too early is to cultivate a spring garden, and enjoy the spring around you while it lasts.

What A Difference A May Day Makes

spring flowers (2)It seems barely 10 days ago that the main attraction in my garden was the snow.  After 10 days of 65 and 70 degree weather our spring is coming on strong. It is astonishing how quickly the plants are responding to the heat. The spring flowering annuals are putting on weight every day.

maple tree bloomingThe maple trees are in full bloom. They came into bloom overnight, and several days later the chartreuse flowers are drooping in the heat, dropping,  and blanketing the streets.

spring day May 4 (10)My magnolia stellata bloomed during that cold spell.  I have had flowers for several weeks-this is a record.  With day tiome temperatures in the 70’s, the flowers will drop.  Spring flowering plants like spring weather. Spring flowering plants fade fast when the weather warms up too fast.  The weather prediction is for warm weather for the next 30 days.  And nights near 50.  I am not sure I dare believe this prediction – spring weather in Michigan is known to be unpredictable. The transition from spring to summer is always rocky, in one way or another.  I will reserve judgment for a few weeks, and concentrate on enjoying our spring while it lasts.

spring day May 4 (8)Buck’s horseradish plant is the most robust shade of green. He is delighted to see it growing so fast. I shudder to think how wide and tall this plant will be this summer. Some day it will need to be contained. But today, I marvel at its spring color and vigor.  The garden is emerging from its long sleep.

spring day May 4 (7)The Passionale daffodils are the most beautiful they have ever been. An early cultivar of the so called pink daffodils, Passionale is a robust grower, and a heavy bloomer.  I had enough flowers the past several weeks to cut a few bouquets.

spring day May 4 (6)All of the soulangiana magnolias in my neighborhood are in full bloom, and dropping petals.

spring day May 4 (4)The trees, the shrubs, the perennials and the bulbs are all speaking to spring at the same time. The warm weather is driving the spring at a very high speed.  I suppose I have a traditional view of the seasons.  Three months of winter, and then 3 months of spring.  The sudden and very warm weather-will my garden go from winter to summer with but a few weeks of spring?  Anything is possible, so despite a work schedule that is busy, I am trying to take the time to enjoy right now what we have of spring.

spring day May 4 (5)My PJM’s are glorious in bloom. The dogwoods are just beginning to bloom.

spring day May 4 (3)My Sum and Substance hostas leaped out of the ground.  Spring is all about the breaking of the winter dormancy, the emergence, and the growing.  Don’t miss it.

spring day May 4 (9)The lily of the valley shoots are a delicious shade of green. Spring is their moment.

spring day May 4 (2)The hellebores are stooped over with flowering stalks.

spring day May 4 (1)The clematis on the bench is growing by leaps every day.

spring annual gardenI have planted the garden around the pool with perennials four times in the past 11 years. Obviously, I have yet to figure out just the right perennial plant that will thrive here. The bare dirt was not for me. I planted the bed for spring. I am not ready for summer yet.

32 Degrees At Night, And Holding

cold April day 2015 (2)I see a few signs of spring.  The crocus have come and gone.  The magnolia Stellata is in full bloom, weeks behind its usual appearance.  The grass is greening.  The trees are budding out. A few forsythia are blooming, halfheartedly. Their flower buds hated the intense cold of this past winter. There are daffodils and pushkinia here and there. We have had a smattering of spring. Our night temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark for weeks. Last week’s snow flurries on and off culminated in a brief but intense snow that actually stuck to the ground. Wow.

cold April day 2015 (4)Night before last was 30 all night long.  At 6 am the temperature dropped to 27.  At 6:45, when I loaded the corgis in the car, I realized that my windshield would need scraping. The grass was glittery with ice. All of my early spring flowering plants were frowning.  The chionodoxa were laying flat on the ground, stunned.  The flowers at the top of my magnolia stellata looked like wet blobs of kleenex.  The hellebore flowers were stooped over. The delphinium were caked with ice.The gravity of this late frost dragged everything down-including me.

cold April day 2015 (6)This April has been anything but hospitable. Snow in April means we had snow every month for the past 6 months. Not so unusual. Snow this late in April is a little unusual.  Years ago I kept a garden diary. It was not all that interesting-just a recording of what was blooming or happening when.  It must have been in the early 8o’s –  6 inches of snow on April 16. It made me laugh – I wrote that in the diary. This gratuitous winter dusting the other day was insulting. It made me scowl.

cold April day 2015 (7)Milo had an intuitive grasp of the situation.  We don’t go to the rose garden in the winter. Nonetheless, there he was, trying to get me to  venture out. As if I wouldn’t notice the winter weather.

cold April day 2015 (8)I most certainly am ready for that incarnation of spring that has night temperatures well above freezing.  Though I am perfectly comfortable outdoors on a afternoon that is 55 degrees, I would not be so happy spending the night outdoors at 30.  My trees, shrubs and perennials have been in a deep sleep all winter. A few obnoxiously cold nights won’t deter them from their scheduled appearance.

cold April day 2015 (11)Our tulips are well out of the ground. A 27 degree night did not faze them.  They grow actively in a very cold part of the year. All of those plants that emerge in the early spring are programmed to not only survive, but they thrive in cold weather. The netting of ice of the leaves of the tulips gone over in the cold did not please me, but I was not worried.  They are familiar with cold weather.

cold April day 2015 (12)I was sure they would recover. What doesn’t bounce back?  Any plants that you have bought recently that have been raised in a greenhouse need to put one toe in the water at a time in April. This is known as hardening off.  A perennial that has been wintered outdoors in an unheated space is ready for whatever insult April has a mind to deliver.  A perennial that has been heated, and brought on ahead of its normal time to emerge can be damaged by exposure to cold.  They need to be exposed to the real world-one step at a time.

DSC_9692Greenhouse grown plants need some time to adjust to the real world.  This process can be a bore to a gardener who is impatient for spring. Out in the day-but back in at night. We haul plants in and put them out dozens of times in the spring, before the season turns. Not interested in managing the transition?  Don’t acquire plants too early.  Plants already in the ground are very cagey about when they decide to make an appearance.  They respond to daylight length, and temperatures. Once they are in active growth, close to freezing temperatures can damage the new shoots or flowers. Extended below freezing weather can damage flower and leaf shoots-every gardener in Michigan got a PhD in that science a few years ago.  Your in ground plants are fine, given our very cold April.

DSC_9727These greenhouse pansies, even though they were covered, took a hit from the cold. They will recover. But they were not ready to be turned out into the cold.  Any plant not used to the cold needs protection when the night temperatures dip.  Or a lengthy hardening off. The daytime temperatures are not so critical.  Watch the night temps.  And the soil temps.  This will make you a better gardener.

purple violasThese violas were grown cold.  They shrugged of the dusting of snow, and the 27 degrees overnight. If you plant in early spring in our zone, remember that April is not always a spring month. The plants you have in your garden that lived through our winter-they will be fine. Thinking to plant new plants in a garden or a container? Look for spring annuals and perennials that are grown cold. If you can’t tell-ask. Any plant nudged along with heat under glass will be vulnerable to variations in temperature.  Baby them. That said, any cold friendly plants you put to the soil now will be spilling way over the edges of your spring in just a few weeks. I promise.

Sunday Opinion: The Plants

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My enchantment with plants dates back so long I can hardly remember how it started.  To the best of my recollection, a brief residence in North Carolina after I graduated from college got me interested in orchids.  Who knows what prompted that.  A plant at the grocery store checkout counter-it could have been.  Within just a few months, I was spending more on orchids than groceries.  My rental house in Chapel Hill had orchids in pots and on boards hanging from the trees.  The mild climate made it easy to cultivate them outdoors.  The slipper orchids-loved them.  Who knows why or how, but I became intensely interested in plants.  All of a sudden, I was noticing them everywhere.  In parking lots, and in residential yards.  In buildings.  In wild places, left to their own devices.  What was growing behind the garage, or at the ocean shore.  The plants-loved each and every one of them.

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The moment that I became aware of plants was not a momentous day.  Just an ordinary moment.  But in the years since, I can see that the life of the plants has altered and greatly influenced the course of my life.  Wildflowers.  trees.  tree peonies.  rock garden plants.  herbaceous perennials hardy in my zone.  the annuals that live but one season.  Ferns.  Dahlias.  Woody shrubs.  herbs.  evergreens.  succulents.  vegetables. bulbs, espaliers. moss and lichens.  Tropical plants.  The plant kingdom-the organizing metaphor, the language upon which a landscape or garden design is built.  Why am I thinking about this?  Our spring fair opened yesterday.  10 growers brought their spring plants to exhibit and sell.  We moved our fair inside-the cold, blustery, and snowy weather was so terrible.  As much as I hated to host a spring fair when fair spring weather was not in the forecast, I was ready for a spring celebration.  Lots of other people were ready for spring too-notwithstanding the current cold and gray.

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As reluctant as I was to move the growers with their plants inside our shop, they were pleased.  And the many hundreds of people who came today were happy for a venue indoors too.  Our warehouse style garage was packed with people all day long-looking at the plants.  I was astonished to hear the general consensus from all of the growers in attendance. We like being indoors, in close quarters.  The feeling-community-like.  I personally observed gardeners in that garage for hours-looking over the plants.  They were dry, warm, and comfortable.  They had lots of company.  Why should I be surprised?  It is the plants- around which no end of different people express their delight and connection with the natural world.  There was a lot of talk.  A lot of looking.  A lot of exchange.  I feel certain, after a Saturday that was jam packed from start to finish, this spring fair was above all, about the plants.

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I had lots of confirmation today that there is an instinct in people to make something grow.  Better than that-a love for making something grow.   People who had never met before, were deep in conversation, and making notes. Over the plants.  The peonies from Wiegands and the hellebores from Arrowhead Alpines-sold out.  The wildflowers from Starr Foster-all but gone.  I was so worried about the weather for our fair.  Tonight I realize that the gardening people and the plants made the weather a side story.  The main attraction?  Making something grow.

gardener-to-be.jpgAnd then of course, passing that on.