Early Spring – It’s Playing Hide-and-Seek This Year!
What a rollercoaster ride it’s been waiting for spring to arrive and stay put. We had upper 60’s and low 70’s at the end of February and I was hiking at Quabbin Reservoir in a tee shirt; then we had a major Nor’easter a week ago on March14th. The first day of spring less than a week later was lovely with sun and 50’s, and this morning, I woke to snow squalls, temps in the 30’s and high wind warnings. Most of us in New England just take this weather in stride and know that real spring isn’t too far away. As gardeners, we can’t help but be frustrated though!
Happily, I’ve been out hiking and enjoying nature throughout most of the winter and this spring I’ve been enjoying the earlier than normal buds emerging on trees, blooming snowdrops, and great backyard bird activity. I’ve been resurrecting my nature photography hobby and getting some really great photos that I plan to make greeting cards from to sell.
Inventory is arriving at local nurseries, beautiful spring plants are available at the markets, plant catalogs with new introductions and offerings allow us to work on our plant wish lists, and spring bulb shows and garden symposiums will keep us occupied until we can get outside and get our fingers into the dirt once again. It won’t be long now. Really!
“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” – Gertrude Jekyll
MY EARLY SPRING GARDEN CHORES FOR MARCH/APRIL
After the warm and sunny weather we experienced at the end of February, I thought for sure I’d get a jump on spring garden cleanups. As I write this, the ground is still mostly covered with snow and is not very conducive to garden work! Once the snow melts and the soil dries out enough to walk on, these are the garden chores I’ll be doing wake them up:
–Cut back butterfly bushes, Russian sage, Group C clematis, ornamental grasses, and sedum.
–Pruning winter damaged branches. Wait to prune spring-flowering shrubs after they bloom.
–Be careful removing leaves from garden beds so that emerging bulbs and perennials are not damaged.
–Avoiding walking on wet soil. I keep a few 2’ x 2’ pieces of carpet of board handy to place on top of soil to step on.
–Fertilize my rhubarb.
–Remove dead/tattered foliage of hellebores, Christmas fern, pulmonaria, epimedium, heuchera and other “mostly evergreen” plant foliage.
— Clean my tools (that should not have been put away dirty!) and do an inventory of my natural fertilizers, flower supports, bamboo sticks, string and other gardening supplies so that they will be ready for growing season.
–Pot up begonia and canna bulbs that were overwintering in the basement.
–Research local nursery plant catalogs/nursery lists and begin planning my plant shopping list.
“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir (1838-1914)
MUST-HAVE PLANTS/NEW INTRODUCTIONS FOR 2017
I’m always on the lookout for smaller shrubs and easier-care perennials and several of the new introductions for this year fit my criteria and look very promising. They are:
— Brazelberries ‘Baby Cakes’ Blackberry – a dwarf, thornless blackberry that has full-size berries in summer. Hardy to Zone 4, you can grow this compact plant in a container or fit it easily into the garden border.
–‘Storm Cloud’ Bluestar (Amsonia) – a new introduction by Proven Winners, this great perennial, hardy to Zone 4, is completely covered with light periwinkle blue flowers in spring and reblooms for several weeks. Typically, amsonia turn a wonderful golden color in the fall and keeps a nice presence in the garden throughout the summer.
–‘Pink Fizz’ Heucherella – this pretty Zone 4 plant can take full sun to shade conditions and blooms from spring through mid-summer. Also known as “foamy bells”, this plant will brighten up a shady spot in your garden and is quite drought tolerant once established.
–‘Leading Lady Plum’ Bee Balm – this plant is a pollinator magnet, loved by butterflies and hummingbirds alike. With gorgeous magenta flowers and a tight, compact habit, this bee balm will not flop over and has been bred to resist powdery mildew. Plant it in full sun in well-drained soil and enjoy!
–‘Sonic Bloom’ Reblooming Weigela – who wouldn’t want a reblooming weigela in their garden? Hummingbirds will love to keep returning to your garden border to enjoy the luscious hot pink tubular flowers of this gorgeous shrub that will bloom from spring through frost!
–Angelface ‘Super Blue’ Angelonia (Summer Snapdragon) – I’m always on the lookout for sun and heat-loving annuals to tuck into containers and use as fillers in my garden border. This blue-purple flower with white accents is even grape-scented and blooms from spring through fall. I’ve used angelonias for years in my garden designs and look forward to using this new color.
—Hydrangea ‘Everlasting Green Cloud’ – I love green flowered hydrangeas and this new introduction grows to only 3’ to 4’ in diameter. It is said to be super tough as far as the stem and leaf structure. If planted in part shade and kept out of afternoon sun, I think this color will be a winner in garden borders. If you are looking for more colorful hydrangeas, have no fear. Dan Ziomek at Hadley Garden Center has 67 hydrangeas available on his nursery list for 2017!!
“Nature, in her blind search for life, has filled every possible cranny of the Earth with some sort of fantastic creature.” – Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970)
CONNECTING WITH NATURE IN THE GARDEN
One of my goals for this year in my own small garden at my condo, as well as for customer gardens, is to provide more natural food to support songbirds. Did you know that chickadees eat upwards of 9,000 moth or butterfly larvae (caterpillars) to successfully rear a single clutch of 4 to 6 offspring? Also, they only forage within 150 feet of their nest. So, if we want to enjoy songbirds in our yards and gardens, they must have ready access to food. Every caterpillar counts!
Here are a few of the most valuable plants to support the largest number of moths and butterflies and their larvae (the primary diet of birds). Be sure to look for native varieties since they provide the most natural source of food.
–Trees: oak, willow, black cherry, birch, crabapple
–Shrubs: blueberry, clethra, azalea, lilac, spicebush
–Perennials: goldenrod, aster, helianthus/sunflower, Joe Pye weed, geranium, liatris, butterfly weed
–Annuals: lantana, pentas, cosmos, zinnia, alyssum, marigold
–Herbs: dill, parsley, lavender, bronze fennel
–Grow your own natural birdseed with coneflowers, coreopsis, cleome, and sunflowers
“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir (1838-1914
GARDENSCAPES EVENTS IN MARCH/APRIL
April 1, 2017: 21st Annual Gardening Symposium – Creating Healthy Gardens From the Ground Up put on by the Western Mass. Master Gardner Association at Holyoke High School, Holyoke, MA. I will be giving two classes. A Beginner’s Garden Design Class and a class called The Four Season Garden—Advanced. Be sure to register and sign up for classes.
As the cold weather winds down and longer days and warmer temperatures promise spring, I think of how blessed we are to enjoy the changing seasons and the beauty that each one presents. I’ve enjoyed the quiet season of winter with long hikes through peaceful woods enjoying nature all around me, have tried many new recipes, read several good books, had many tea visits with friends, and just dreamt of what this next garden season will bring. It’s good to have a break and I look forward to new adventures in the gardens and wonder what this season will bring. I hope your winter was a good one and that thoughts of spring gardens are making you happy too!
Thinking spring . . . .