I am lucky. Gardening has always been a slightly guilty pleasure for me. I used to think that it was because I never had enough time in the garden. Now I am positive that I would feel the same way even if I had all the time in the world.
As a little more light and a bit more warmth creep into the days, I steal bits and pieces of time to sneak outside with Arthur the cat and do garden chores. The earth is cold and the garden is a mess, and I can just see the tops of the crocus and daffodil shoots emerging from the ground. The sins of last October have come back to haunt me—I never finished fall clean up. Fortunately , hat gives me a good excuse to go out now. While I work, Arthur supervises, chases squirrels and dreams about the glorious day last summer when he faced down the giant groundhog that passes daily through the yard. Both of us are in the rejuvenation mode
Late winter is a good time for pruning. My perpetually overgrown wisteria has been infiltrated by the equally rambunctious tendrils of Japanese honeysuckle. The wisteria vines are naked while the honeysuckle remains evergreen, so this is a perfect opportunity to pull out the latter. Of course it doesn’t really matter how much honeysuckle I pull out, because it always comes back. At least this way it won’t engulf the garage. The wisteria will take care of that function on its own.
I have never liked ordinary Rose of Sharon shrubs. The double white form is lovely, and I have many friends who dote on their garden variety Roses of Sharon. My friends will never convert me. Sad to say, I inherited several healthy Roses of Sharon from the previous owner of my house. I am sure that I owe this legacy to the fact that I committed some unspeakable crime in a previous life. At any rate, the only way to render my Roses of Sharon halfway attractive is to keep them from getting leggy. I prune them with relish.
The hedgerow between my property and my northern neighbor’s lot was completely overgrown when we arrived here two years ago. Each spring it has gotten better and I have achieved more control. The battle is not yet won, however. There is still a bumper crop of bittersweet wending its way through the privet. With no green leaves to hamper my efforts, I can seize this pernicious vine and pull it down.
Last summer a number of Tiger Swallowtails made it their business to beat a path to my yellow butterfly bush. If I cut the bush back now, chances are I will have a bumper crop of blossoms next summer. That in turn should make my yard into a virtual butterfly sanctuary.
When I am not pruning I turn my attention to the pressing problems of mulch and debris. The winter mulch should remain on the beds awhile longer, but it can be tidied up with a rake. Debris, including the skeletons of last year’s annuals and perennials, the sordid little piles of unraked leaves and the array of twigs, seedpods, etc. scattered over the property, are in the process of being consigned to the composter. Eventually this too will become mulch.
Now is also the perfect time to actually create the new beds that I failed to establish last fall. Ridding myself of recycling at a furious pace, I alternate layers of newspaper with layers of compost in the designated spaces. Eight weeks from now the process of decomposition will have started. After the last frost I will plant perennials through this cover. By next fall the soil should be friable enough to allow bulb planting.
I have been looking at rose catalogs since right after Christmas. Now it is time to actually look at my existing rose bushes. All appear to have survived the winter, though one looks questionable. There are many canes on all the roses that are obviously dead. It’s a good idea to clip them off now before the plants even think of breaking dormancy. As I inspect and clip, I take stock of the shapes of my bushes. Those that are too gangly or misshapen or have too many crossed canes get a more thorough pruning. This year I vow to buy a few elegant metal tuteurs for the gangliest of the roses. You can certainly get three pieces of a bamboo for next to nothing at the garden center and tie them into a tripod for the same purpose, but somehow a tuteur is much better for personal self-esteem. The roses don’t care, but some days I do.
So I have begun the annual ritual of setting things to rights. I come in from outside with my nose running, my hands dirty, and my cheeks ruddy. Arthur comes rocketing through the door and settles into an upholstered chair, warming his fur in the light of the nearby lamp. The calendar still says winter, but we have marked the beginning of spring.
by E. Ginsburg