Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Bloom This Week

Actually, lots of things are a-bloom this last week in April. More than should be, in fact. We're waaay early this year. Lilacs, forget-me-nots, lunaria, Korean spice viburnum, tulips, daffodils, crabapples. And so much more. I love my garden at all times in season, but sometimes I think the couple of weeks when the tulips bloom is my absolute favorite.

However. Here's a shot of a quiet corner of my fishpond border. Lamium, of which I'm not overly fond, (because it's aggressive) is admittedly pretty in flower. In this picture it's draped across the rocks around the pond, and looks quite lovely. Perched above it is one of the best small plants for shade, even dry shade. European ginger, grown for its shiny, healthy, round leaves, not the almost-imperceptible flowers which are borne under the leaves. This ginger, planted when the pond was put in 10 years ago, has self-sown and spread. It's not a thug, though. And it's easily transplantable.

Both of these guys will do well in shade, and don't they look pretty against the rocks? I like how they soften the stone, and add color to a monochromatic scene. When you design your gardens, think in contrasts, like this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thrilling Trillium

I found this little beauty in my woods last week, tucked in between a swamp maple and a tulip poplar. A welcome sight she is in my deer-and-invasive-species-ravaged woodland.

My newspaper column this week is about garlic mustard, but that's not the only marauder I've got. The bittersweet, however, is pretty much eradicated on my 2 1/2 acres, and I tolerate the few stands of barberry. In a minuscule attempt to at forest restoration, each year I transplant more tree seedlings to the edge, and vigorously apply my homemade deer repellent further into the woods.

But there are no baby or adolescent trees left in the interior. The deer have devoured them all, leaving only the mature forest, ever thinner and more open to plant invaders. When those trees die a natural death there will be nothing left of the once-grand forest. Will people care then? Will there be a real, coordinated effort to control the deer population at that point?

I hope so.

In the meantime, my small efforts to bring back a tiny portion of the forest pays off when I see skunk cabbage, jack-in-the-pulpit, and ephemeral wildflowers like this red trillium.

Somebody's got to care.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Petite Daffodils

Does the sight of vibrant yellow daffodils gladden your heart like it does mine? I love them all, the old-fashioned 'King Alfred', the fancy doubles, the pure white of 'Mt Hood' and the late-blooming 'Actea', and of course, the jaunty little 'Tete-a-Tete', which bloom early and often in clusters. Easy to grow, easy to pick, and critter-proof, all daffodils really want is a place in the sun and a handful of Bulb-tone now and then.

Though I admire them all, I only grow daffodils that naturalize reasonably well. The ruffled pink ones are delectable, for instance, but it seems the farther away from the basics the cultivar is bred, the less hardy it is. I want my daffs to last for many years in the garden.
Some pointers:

  • Choose firm bulbs, and plant in decent, well-drained soil, in full sun.
  • When picking, pull 'n twist the flower stalk from the base.
  • After bloom, remove the withered blossom, but leave the leaves. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Those declining leaves are making food for next years' show. If they want to hang around until July, let 'em.
  • Fertilize 3x a year. Once when leaves first emerge in spring, once when flowering is finished, and once in autumn.

But do enjoy your daffodils, and plant more every autumn, so that you, too can appreciate their exuberance in the April garden.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Grande Dame of Early Spring

She's here! Helleborus orientalis, Lenten rose, has risen her lovely, statuesque head to greet we winter-weary, waterlogged folk with a true taste of spring. There she is, amid the tattered remnants of last year's leaves. She's shown up in my garden in robes of purple, ivory and speckled green.

Time to do right by her. Here's how:

First, release her from those ugly leftover leaves. Cut them down at the base and toss into the compost, being exquisitely careful not to cut her flower stems, as they are close together. Then, if she has any progeny under her skirts, pot them up for gifts, garden club plant sales, or transplant them right away.

Don' t be alarmed if the temperature drops into the 20's one of these nights; the Lenten rose will droop in the cold, but revives in the light of day. She's a northern gal and can take the cold.

I do hope you've given Lady Lenten Rose a place of honor in your garden, where her blooms can be admired now, when there's so little in bloom, and on into the six weeks or so that she flowers. At the front of the flower bed, or next to the front door, in a moist, shady spot is ideal.

And did you know that she makes a gracious bouquet?

All in all, the Lenten rose, while a tad expensive at the nursery, is a most regal presence in the border. Early, deer-proof, colorful, long-lasting....what more could we wish for?