Spring chores

– Posted in: Garden chores, Plant info, What's up/blooming

Today it got up to 84°F, perfect for working in the garden, but a little warmer than I like to see it at this time of year for the plants’ sakes. (But not to worry, it will only hit 60 tomorrow, and snow the day after that.) Anyway, the hardest thing about spring clean-up chores is trying to decide what to do first, because, inevitably, not everything that should get done will get done. I began with something that was just plain bugging me: the remains of last year’s blue flax (Linum perenne) was obscuring the view of the Siberian squills (Scilla siberica) just coming into bloom. So I got out my slim Japanese scissors and trimmed back all the woody stems of the flax. Now the fresh growth of the flax foliage just coming on complements the squills, a little scene of beauty amongst last year’s wreckage. In other words, one tiny place I can rest my eyes without feeling guilty.

Next, I got out my goatskin gloves and our largest garden spading fork, and went to dig out the brambles from the north side of the house. I’m just “treading water” here; I haven’t really added much to what was here when we moved in thirteen years ago, so I just try to keep things civilized. Brambles are definitely not civilized. This was not the only place where I have brambles growing, but it was the only place I decided to tackle today. My back has been acting up and I didn’t want to overdo the strenuous stuff. As a matter of fact, after I finished this little piece of work, I went in the house, got a drink, and then got out my exercise mat and did an abbreviated version of my morning back exercises. Tonight I’ll put some heat on my back for good measure.

After that, I went back outside with my baby girl and attempted to rake out a bed and watch her at the same time. I had debated how much debris I should be cleaning out of my perennial beds with more snow on the way, but just about everything in this bed, which I call the Purple-and-Gold bed for obvious reasons, is on the thuggish side. It needs to be, because what this border borders is the main playing field for my children. Any plant that can’t take a direct hit from a soccer ball doesn’t belong here. (I got the bed mostly raked before she headed out of sight.)

Actually, plants are pretty good about not coming up before their time, unless we have a really weird spring like last year. What I mostly have to worry about are things I planted last fall, which might heave, and certain biennials, notably foxgloves and hollyhocks, which get all psyched for spring and then killed by a late hard freeze. I always tell myself I’ll listen to the weather report and cover them if low temps are predicted, but I never remember. Maybe I’ll mulch my foxgloves with some of the bona-fide straw that came with the Reath’s peonies last fall, and see if I can’t get them to live long enough to bloom this year.

I could easily get discouraged looking at the mess my beds are in. Some of them look more like lawn with big weeds, there’s so much grass in them. In the shady beds, it’s ground ivy that’s taking over. And there’s an awful, awful, awful lot of hollyhock mallow (Malva alcea ‘Fastigiata’) where it shouldn’t be. The original plants will eventually be coming out, to be replaced by roses, I’m thinking, but for now, the best defense is a good offense. That is, deadhead the living daylights out of them! Easier said than done, because the last flowers are still blooming when the first flowers are setting–and scattering–seed. And when I do cut the stalks down, want to know what happens to them? Before I have even finished the chore, my little boys have picked up the rigid, five-foot stalks and started dueling with them! I think I could write an article on children as a mechanism of (mostly weed) seed dispersal.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

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