The best thing about early spring is seeing something new every day in the garden. Of course the pundits would say that if you have done your garden properly, you should see something new every day of the gardening season; but that is another issue. In spring the pace of growth accelerates, and the plants almost seem to be in a competition to see who sends up the first shoots. Last week I couldn’t find a trace of any of my many hostas. Today when I took my daily inspection tour I found that most of them were at least an inch out of the ground.
As the daffodils gradually fade, I am encouraged by the sight of the first ferny leaves of the threadleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) in my front border. I divided these extremely hardy plants last year, and it appears that all of the divisions “took”. With their small pale yellow flowers and groundcovering ways, the coreopsis will step up and provide much-needed camouflage as the daffodil and tulip foliage turns ugly. From the looks of things elsewhere in front, I will have more daisies of various kinds than I know what to do with. This is a good thing, because I have already promised divisions of those daisies to a gardening friend.
If you have hydrangeas, check them. They should be showing signs of new growth along the stems. I have a “peegee” hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora) that has done a good imitation of a dead plant since last fall. Just as I had resolved to get out the spade and consign it to the compost heap, I noticed signs of buds along some of the stems. Another near-corpse of a hydrangea that I was enticed into buying while on a trip to a far-off garden center last summer seems to have at least a few green shoots. It’s enough to restore my faith in optimism and laziness, those special qualities that have made me the gardener that I am today.
Self-sown seedlings abound, sometimes in unlikely places. No one can stop forget-me-nots, and they have seeded themselves with wild abandon in my beds and lawn. And since forget-me-nots recognize no manmade boundaries, my neighbor has been similarly blessed. The area around my front porch is pleasantly sprinkled with self-sown “johnny jump ups” (Viola). In my front border, I can see the deeply dissected foliage of California poppy seedlings. I planted the original ‘White Linen’ California poppies two years ago, and I have not had to plant any since. This year’s crop of seedlings looks very healthy. I have also noticed numerous tiny larkspurs in the back yard, not to mention bleeding heart seedlings that are sprouting bravely from between the cracks in the stone steps.
If you have had any plants in the past with a tendency to self-seed, look around you. Their descendents are probably lurking on your premises. As a rule of thumb in the early spring, I pull out only those things that I know are weeds. Everything else gets the benefit of the doubt for the few more weeks that it will take for true identities to be revealed.
I have also been on the lookout for plants that have defied conventional garden wisdom and overwintered successfully. Here and there in my beds are snapdragons that are up to three years old. All are healthy, happy, and bursting forth, having withstood the minor rigors of the past winter. My daughter’s gladiolas, in defiance of USDA hardiness zone information and my personal distaste for gladiolas, are beginning to send up leaves. Last year a long-forgotten caladium, tucked in near the house, did the same thing.
I am pleased to see that one of my hardy geraniums is preparing to go on a rampage through the bed where I first installed it several years ago. Before the rampage begins in earnest I will divide it and plant the divisions in places where such voracious tendencies will come in handy. I am hoping to do the same thing this year with some pink oenothera that my predecessor planted in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. Every year the oenothera astounds the neighbors with its beauty and vigor, and every year it manages to increase, despite the fact that it grows in nearly barren soil and receives no help from me. I am banking on the fact that it will grow like gangbusters in more congenial conditions.
Of course, amidst all this optimism comes the fact that nothing increases faster than chickweed, onion grass and common dandelions. Chickweed has surged across my property like a malignant tide, all but screaming the words “resistance is futile”. Onion grass is even more egregious because it is relatively tall and extremely obvious. I combine the pleasant task of looking for desirable self-sown plants with eradicating all the chickweed, dandelion and onion grass that I can get my hoe or my hands on. Because I am an optimist I try to look at the bright side of things. My self-sown violas are among the prettiest things around, and if I ever get really hungry, I can make a salad out of the onion grass and dandelion greens. If only I could turn a profit by selling the chickweed.