CHANGE IN THE GARDEN
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.