Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Hawks are Back!

Last Thursday my good friend Paul Young and I traveled to the Connecticut Flower Show in Hartford, where we were to spend the day volunteering at the Tri-State Hosta booth. The Flower Show is a good way for gardeners to hurry spring, viewing the April-scented landscapes built for the weekend, browsing the offerings of the vendors and mingling with others impatient for the feel of earth in their hands.

Though the Show was a pleasant interlude in a cold, interminable month, it was what we saw along the way that is most memorable. We hadn't been on the road a mile before I spied the first hawk. High in a tree on the side of the road, waiting for a rodent to venture forth and thus to become breakfast was a fine specimen of a bird. Strong-winged, sharp-eyed, beautifully plumed. A red-tailed hawk.

I began to count. By the time we reached Hartford an hour later, I had seen 10 hawks. All perched in trees high above the highway, scanning the grassy sides of the interstate, searching for a meal. On the way home I counted another 12.

They're back. The hawks have left their winter feeding grounds, and are arriving back home in Connecticut, here to mate, build nests, and raise their young. On clear days their piercing cry of "kee--kee--kee" can already be heard over the silence of the late winter woods.
The hawks are back. Sping can't be far behind.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Late-Winter Chores

What a delight to be able to write "late winter"! Only 5 more weeks of an interminable season. We were teased with a couple of warm days this past week, and it made me itch to get out and garden. What's that you say? There's nothing to do this early?

Au contraire, my gardening friend. Start with yard and garden clean-up. If your ground isn't too soggy, make a circuit and pick up large sticks and twigs. Put them in the brush pile. (you DO have a brush pile, don't you? They provide essential shelter for a variety of amphibians, mammals and birds in our fragmented forest.)

It's also time to start removing the wadded-up leaves that have settled onto paths in your garden, or which have blown up against the house. Let the ones stay that are nestled in the shrubbery or among the perennials. Unless they're smothering the crowns of your plants, they can remain as free mulch. If they are hiding the perennials, wait a month until spring has indeed sprung, then remove.

As you gather up those soggy leaves, deposit them in the compost pile. They're full of nutrients and moisture and will help to super start the composting action in just a few weeks.

Stepping into the garden and doing just a few chores accomplishes several things. It gets you out in the fresh air; it lessens the workload which will be upon us next month; and even fifteen minutes of labor helps satisfy that winter-dormant urge to garden. And then there's the possibility of finding the first flower of the season, just as I did last week. There it was, a single johnny-jump-up, snugged in among the miscanthus and pennestium in the grass garden.

And a welcome sight she was!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sweet Peas

Once spring breaks, I think I'll again try growing sweet peas. This will be the third or fourth attempt. One year I dug the seeds in too early and they rotted in the cold earth. Another year I planted them too late and an early May heat wave cooked them. In the spring of '97 I planted my sweet peas in too much shade and they failed to thrive. There probably was another time, but now that I'm 60 (!) I forget things.

Still, the siren song of these old-fashioned, fragrant flowers calls to me. I can just see gathering armloads for the house, or giving them away in a nosegay. I can visualize the pastel colors and the cunning tendrils spilling over the white hobnail vase which was a gift from my mother. So when the new seed racks at Agway beckoned last week, it didn't take too much self-convincing to grab a couple of packs. I chose 'Floribunda', an early producer, and 'Perfume Delight', a variety known to be heat tolerant. I've got a sunny area picked out, next to the arbor and adjacent to a 'Ludvig von Spath' deep purple lilac. I figure the plants can grow either up the arbor or through Ludvig; their choice. I'll wait until the ground warms up to sow the seeds, probably around the latter part of March. And then I'll pray for success.

I grow many plants from seed each year, but I always insist on trying something new with the turn of the calendar. I'm not sure sweet peas really count, as I've tried them before, but hope surely springs eternal in the gardener, doesn't it?

Hope, and of course, folly.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Garden Journal

Tired of this endless winter? Longing to feel warm earth in your hands, hear that clear spring birdsong and smell those first flowers? Dream on; we're still a couple of months from all that.

But there is something you can do to hasten spring, at least in part. Start a garden journal. Pick a blank book of any type, and jot down your gardening thoughts on a daily or weekly basis. Tell your journal what you plan to grow come spring, and where you plan to make your purchases. Draw a diagram of your plot, make a list of your garden wishes. Commit to paper the name of that great gardening book you mean to read this year. Record the warming temperatures and the increasing day lengths.

It's all grist for the gardening mill. It will all help the endless frozen days to pass. I've kept garden journals for over 20 years, and it's endlessly fascinating to review their contents. In fact, that's my favorite pasttime when snow shuts down our community. I dig out my journals and open them at random, amazed to read how I dealt with the deer in '86, or the name of that (I thought!) lost-to-memory iris from the middle '90's, or how I longed for time to garden when my children were small and oh! so demanding.

My journals are kept on a shelf in the family room with my gardening books. I used to just pile them one on the other, but now I line them up by years, so as to have better access. I also record the year on their spine, and start a new journal each January, no matter how much space might be left in the old one.

Some of the lists I keep in my journals are: the Perennial Plants of the last 20 years; pronunciation guides to difficult names; list of items I need to purchase; list of tasks to complete this gardening year; and transplant ideas.

Keeping a garden journal. Another chapter in the gardening life.