Tilting at windmills


Recently I’ve been working a bit late, so my garden strolls have been too infrequent. Each time I pass the snow damaged cryptomerias and evergreen magnolias at the back of the property I’m disheartened, and apt to sling a choice word or two skyward.

Gardeners cuss the rain (if they are inclined to cuss at all, and what non-cussers do in their exasperation I don’t know), or drought, snow and ice, heat and cold, and every circumstance that doesn’t suit them at the moment. I suppose the tirade is satisfying for an instant, but the weather will do what it does regardless of my ranting and raving, and all the foul language I can muster won’t change a thing. Cussing is impolite, I know, but there is little danger that the neighbors will be offended since my exhortations are no more than emphatic mumblings, unintelligible as well as ineffective.

Pleasant spring weather has arrived, at least for a short while, but temperatures dipping into the twenties in another week, or snow showers or sleet would  be no surprise, and in fact are quite ordinary for March and the first half of April. I hope not to see a repeat of the seventeen degrees the third week of April from a few years back that nipped the new leaves of Japanese maples just as they were unfolding, and at their most vulnerable to the cold. Undoubtedly, there will some further tragedy before winter weather is completely put away.

Which does not mean that the gardener should not be going about his business. The time for planning is past, and now is the season for action, cleaning up messes left from the autumn, preparing the ground, and planting trees and shrubs.

Veggie gardeners will have started their seeds weeks ago (usually too early in their anxiousness to hurry spring along), and if not, it’s not too late. If you’re concerned that it is, the garden centers will be fully stocked with lush seedlings in another few weeks. I have discovered, and reaffirmed over a number of decades, that I am not a capable seed gardener. I am bound to neglect seedlings so that they perish soon after germination, and the entire seed tray is lost.

Though the time to plant woodies is here, it is too early for the veggie seedlings to go outdoors, and along with annual flowers that are usually grown in heated greenhouses, these should not be planted until the threat of frost is past. I know that the wait is killing you, but there is no sense rushing things that will be irretrievably damaged by one cold night.

Along with woody plants this is the prime season to plant many perennials, and if you will purchase a pot full of roots with only a bit of top growth then there is no danger that the stray frost or freeze will cause a problem. Tough perennials like hellebores will tolerate any amount of cold, and if they’re planted today you’ll be able to enjoy their blooms for several weeks longer. 

If you waited until too late in the autumn to plant spring bulbs, blooming daffodils are available in the garden centers, and though these have been forced in heated greenhouses to bloom a bit early, there is no danger in planting a few outdoors for a splash of color along the front walk. After the flowers fade in a few weeks you should allow the foliage to fade over the following weeks, and the blooms will come back for many years.

There is no better time in the garden than the season ahead, and with each passing week I will become less agitated as the temperatures warm and flowers burst into bloom.

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