Perched on the Edge of Spring

– Posted in: Acquisitions, Hardscaping and Projects, What's up/blooming
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I can hear, but still not see redwing blackbirds trilling in the trees, and this morning the Canada geese announced themselves with plaintive hooting and great lazy shadows crossing the lawn. We are perched on the edge of spring! I’ve been preoccupied for the last three years with other matters, and gardening has taken a back seat. But as my life calms down somewhat, I’m discovering that one never gets away from gardening; it’s been there the whole time, running in the background of my mind. And I seem to have come back to it with a greater dollop of patience and wisdom than when I left: problems that before were insurmountable, seem much less daunting to me now. Also, the effects I was frustrated in not being able to achieve before, seem to have either happened behind my back or my standards have declined considerably. Probably the latter� But best of all, the old familiar rush of excitement has returned as I contemplate the seasons and their chores before me. Our local Christian Center advertised Easter as New Year’s for the soul. Surely spring is New Year’s for the gardener. I have made all sorts of resolutions.

My first task is to dig up from my memory all the little surprises I managed to plant before the cold drove me into the house last autumn. After our new kitchen extension was put on the back of the house in 2002, the views from those bright windows cried out for garden beds so I started a terraced bank behind the house. It took two years for me to dig the five layers, and still they need constant adjustment. The above picture that I took this morning shows the pine logs that I use to contain each step and how the ravages of winter have left them in total disarray. They are dislodged by water run-off from storms, by deer stumbling across them, by lawn mowers that catch their edges. However, they will do until a better idea presents itself to me. Each row has a footpath behind it, wide enough for me to crawl along, weeding and muttering and generally communing with things. I usually have a cat in attendance, hiding among the daylily foliage and reaching out a paw now and then to let the weeding hand know who’s boss.

How pleasing it will be to have the entire bank in bloom! For that is the goal. It is still very much a work in progress, and begins the season with an outrageous plethora of daffodils. There is a �peony hedge� at the top, to frame the whole arrangement. Those peonies come and flop and go rather quickly, but their foliage is invaluable for the remainder of the summer. Below them I have a layer of daylilies, one of my favorite perennials. And below them are Siberian irises, planted in dedication to Dr. Currier McEwen. The fourth row went in two autumns ago and was filled last summer with dahlias. I love dahlias but have never given them a space of their own before. Wow� The final row was dug last autumn and planted with late-blooming perennials and blue sages to offset all the tropical fruit colors above. I haven’t seen this row in bloom yet. I�m not that good at regimentation, so when I refer to the �daylily row�, of course it also has alliums and a Siberian iris here or there, and the iris row has a daylily or two and some yarrow. Speaking of yarrow, I would dearly love to have that terra cotta-colored variety that is tall-ish. I have invited it in once or twice, when I�ve been able to get my hands on it, but so far it has not deigned to stick around. Yarrows are undersung, in my experience. They are great bloomers and their foliage is usually interesting as well. The pink does a little too well for me. Coronation Gold has languished in one spot for years. Moonbeam (?) or Moonshine, not sure what it�s really called, is lovely with silvery milli-foliage, but short-lived. I have a white yarrow that I started from seed many years ago that borders on invasive. Quite tall and nice dark green foliage, but very pushy.

A dear friend brought me a dozen Asiatic lily bulbs when she visited and I quickly put those somewhere on the bank. I can�t remember exactly where they went. Actually, the bank has become a repository for all manner of plant. (I tell myself that I might as well experiment with what does well up there � good drainage and really full sun, but actually, it�s because I keep getting new plants and I don�t have anywhere else to put them.) Last year I had good success with a showy annual Lavatera �Silver Cup� planted among the daylilies. It bloomed very reliably for most of the second half of the summer. A container of nasturtiums, on the other hand, which I had hoped would spill charmingly over the dahlia �step� did nothing of the sort and was hardly worth its keep. To fill in the dahlia step, I planted some plain orangey-yellow calendulas all along the front. They were extremely loyal in their blossoms, and their color echoed the daylilies above them.

I hope to be able to report to you on the bank from time to time during the spring and summer. I was just out there this morning and can tell you that there is an encouraging number of green spears coming through. As I look at them, I begin to remember the efforts of last autumn�s race to get into the ground what I had sanguinely ordered from McClure & Zimmerman way back the June before to take advantage of the 10% discount� What luxury to see the fruits of my labors. Daffodils planted in autumn are like money in the bank for the gardener on her own New Year�s Day.

About the Author

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

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