That’s more like spring

I think that I’m a happy person. Of course, I also think of myself as laid back, and people who hear that chuckle in disbelief, so perhaps I’m not qualified to judge.

I consider myself a lazy gardener. I’m quite content to put important tasks off as long as possible, sometimes until the time to do them has passed and the chore no longer needs doing. Many clean up projects can be accomplished through decay. Wait long enough and leaves, piles of sticks, and an assortment of odd this’s and that’s will magically disappear.

Procrastination won’t work in April. Flowers are popping out everywhere, but so are weeds, and the old foliage of grasses and perennials must be cut before new growth begins, and broken and dead branches must be pruned. In my one acre garden there’s no shortage of chores to catch up on from late March into April, and by mid month it’s time to plant. Often I don’t know what’s to be planted or where until I see it in the garden center, and then I must have one of these, and a handful of those, and the plan falls into place.

This year there are a couple areas begging for planting, and though you might not see space for more, I have imagined the additions for months. The larger area is shady and dry, and in my twenty years in this garden it has never been satisfactory. An aging Forest Pansy redbud (a splendid tree with deep purple foliage well into the summer before it fades)  arches over the space, but the neighboring forest has encroached over the years so that the area is too shady, and it does not bloom well, and loses branches regularly as it declines. I will soon have to decide if it is to be put out of its misery, and then it will be replaced by one of the Rutgers hybrid dogwoods that bloom in May, perhaps Venus with extraordinarily large flowers.

The dogwood (or the redbud if it remains) will be joined by aucubas with bright gold splotched foliage, several varieties of spring blooming camellias, and large leafed hostas to fill the spaces between. I have been hesitant in years past to add more aucubas, camellias , or hostas since they had proven to be favorites of the neighborhood deer, but since I have had excellent success with spraying  a repellent I am overjoyed with the prospect of completing my vision for this too long neglected area.

A second smaller area, below a serpentine stone wall that retains the lower edge of the large swimming pond, has been prepared and is waiting for plants. Excavation for the pond left the area poorly drained and with compacted soil, and though large slabs of stone allow the mower a path to the lower section of garden, the ground had to be lightened and raised to be adequate for planting. Now I must decide on the plants, ones that are low enough not to hide the wall, but something that will tumble over the stones and will withstand being run over by the mower occasionally. Today I don’t have a clue, but I’m certain that I’ll be inspired with a visit to the garden center.

Thank goodness the heat has passed and cooler temperatures have returned. I am in no rush for spring to end, nearly before it has begun, but the early magnolias, then the cherries have been hurried past bloom and into leaf. Redbuds have flowered only a few days earlier than is normal, but then the native dogwoods bloomed a few days afterwards, as early as I can ever recall. I’ve seen azaleas blooming. Azaleas! What will be left for May?

The light yellow, almost cream colored magnolia Elizabeth began blooming several days ago, during the ninety degree days, and already the leaves are emerging and the flowers are dropping. In past years I had never noticed its sweet, citrusy scent until the still, warm evening the flowers first opened. There are plants with fragrance that is not so obvious that they are only noticed on still evenings when the temperature and humidity are right. Some years I never notice the scent of the late February blooming witch hazel ‘Arnold’s Promise’, though it is one of only a few flowers in the garden at that time.

The fragrant viburnums can hardly go unnoticed, so long as you venture within fifty feet of them. Even if the weather was not so lovely it would be worth a visit to experience their delightful blooms and sweet scent. The spring flowering viburnums are excellent plants for the forest’s edge where there is sufficient sun for part of the day, but plants that are not sturdy will often fail because of the competition from shallow tree roots. There are a range of sizes, from compact three foot plants to the tall, open growing Burkwoodi.

The fragrant viburnums will be closely followed by the semi evergreen Pragense, with similar blooms, but no scent, and the large, scentless snowball flowers of Maresi. Maresi, and the nearly identical Shasta, which grows with more horizontal branching, and so is wider and not as tall as Maresi, are exceptional shrubs. The flowers will cover the plant soon, followed by pleasant foliage that turns nicely to crimson in the fall. Some care should be exercised to give Pragense, Maresi, and Shasta adequate room (allow for a width of ten feet), so that you need not butcher them as I so often see when they are improperly placed too close to a walk, or blocking a gate as they have grown large.

Today we have explored only a small part of the garden. Most of the disasters caused by the winter’s snow have been cleared, and enough of the regular clean up has been accomplished that you are able to walk the stone paths without stumbling over debris. An excellent crop of spring onions must be pulled eventually, but they are a bit easier once they have attained more girth, so that task will be saved for another day. I am quite satisfied with the progress I have made after a slow start. I think that this week I will be ready to visit the garden center, and for that I am happy.


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