March madness

There’s so much to do, and so little time.

The winter’s heavy snow is a memory (even the parking lot mountains have melted), but left behind are broken and bent branches, uprooted evergreens, and snapped trunks as reminders. Now that temperatures have warmed the time is upon us to begin the clean up, in addition to March’s usual chores. Each year I fret that I have grown too old, my body too weary to undertake these tasks once more. Today is no different, but I’ll press on, knowing that I’ve no intention of paying someone else to do it for me, and I’d drive them crazy looking over their shoulder, so who could I convince to do it anyway?Snowdrop

The extra hour of daylight with the time change gives me a bit of time each day after work, but thus far I haven’t been very productive with it. Most evenings I wander through the garden with the purpose of making a mental to-do list, but end up flopping onto the wet ground to enjoy the snowdrops (above) and hellebores (below) close up instead.Hellebores

Several weeks earlier I wondered what would become of the hellebores (Helleborus, also commonly called Christmas and Lenten Rose) under a thick blanket of snow. In my garden they will often bloom midway through February. Would they bloom under the snow, would the flower buds be crushed, or the plants die of crown rot in the prolonged moisture? As the snow melted my question was quickly answered by fat buds, and blooms opening on the first sunny days.Dusky purple hellebores

The foliage was flattened and tattered, but that’s not so unusual, many years I prune the older leaves in late winter. The emerging leaves and flowers are as welcoming and delightful as ever. Even the tiny seedlings that steadily increase the collection year after year have survived and are blooming. I’ve long forgotten the number of hellebores first planted, but there are dozens now, some named varieties (though I haven’t a clue what), and others anonymous seedlings, but beautiful nonetheless.Double flowered hellebore

Hellebores are truly carefree, requiring only a well drained site in part sun to shade. They are not particular about soil type, mine are planted in unimproved clay that is alternately dry and saturated, but tends to be bone dry for extended periods with tree root competition. The area by the side of my home is heavily shaded by mature poplars and red maples, and is a thoroughfare for the neighborhood deer population, but the hellebores are not bothered at all.

Besides an annual trim of worn leaves, I can’t recall any labor that hellebores have required. References say they are heavy feeders, and encourage topdressing with compost or an organic fertilizer occasionally, and no doubt this should prove helpful for those who are properly motivated, but I find it impossible to keep up with such chores, and they thrive despite my neglect.Hellebore

Long before the ground was snow covered I realized that I had avoided this corner of the garden for too long. A cedar obelisk toppled over more than a year ago, and the time was never right to clean up the mess. Now, the snow has crushed it so that disposal will be much easier. I find there is often a benefit to sloth.Hellebore

A once vigorous clematis began its climb on the obelisk, but rambled up into a Burgundy Lace Japanese maple that retains nearly red leaves through the season despite being given too shady a location. In addition to sloth, I have been accused of thoughtless plant placement by no less authority than my wife, who is forever observing that the stone paths are disappearing beneath the hostas and mahonias, and often the nandinas also. I cannot offer a reasoned defense, so back to the clematis that has died, or perhaps I killed it to keep from engulfing the maple, I don’t recollect, but the tangle of vine that I carefully avoided in autumn has nearly decayed along with the wooden structure that supported it.

The only time I venture near is when the hellebores are in bloom, so I have resolved to pay greater attention this spring, and perhaps plant a few treasures that will provide a reason to visit this corner of the garden more frequently. With the troublesome obelisk and clematis disposed of (assuming I get around to that in the near future) the area should be more inviting, not a reminder of tasks avoided too long. March, as it is clear to see, is a season of contradictions, warm spring days and blustery cold, misery and beauty, labor intensive tasks, and time to smell the hellebores (though they have no scent that I can detect).


2 thoughts on “March madness

  1. I have the same concern every spring that my body won’t allow me to labor in the garden as in previous years and yet here I go again! I find that staying in shape with swimming and yoga definitely helps keep me limber and less likely to suffer too much joint and muscle pain, etc.

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