Matters of lesser interest


It’s spring! Flowers capture the full attention of gardeners, and all else is secondary.

Indeed, as I wander through my garden I rush to the fragrant viburnums and daphnes, and redbuds and dogwoods that are now past their peak bloom when they should be just beginning. The early irises (above) flowered and faded in a week, typical for them but disappointing that they could not linger for a few more days. I visited the irises every day they were in bloom, except for a day when I returned home after dark.

I was concerned earlier in the week that the dwarf crested irises had disappeared, but now they have broken ground, and they will flower in a few weeks. Their blooms last for only a handful of days, but during that time they are splendid, and I’m careful not to be too busy to enjoy them for those treasured few days. The area where the irises are planted stayed damp for six weeks in the deluges of late summer, so I was afraid the small bulbs would rot. Thankfully, they have not.

There’s much more to the early spring garden than just flowers if the gardener is not too dazzled to pay attention. I particularly enjoy watching the leaves of Japanese maples unfold, usually in late April, but this year a month earlier. I was concerned that cold overnight temperatures last week would injure the foliage while it was most tender. I checked the maples before the sun set the evening before the freeze, and in the dim illumination of the porch light early the next morning. I had been confident that the maples and other tender leaves and blooms would not be injured, but still I was relieved to see in late afternoon that there was no damage.

In the spring fed damp ground along the forest’s edge halfway to the back of the rear garden, the skunk cabbages (above) and mayapples (further above) have suddenly emerged, and though the native colony of Ostrich ferns (below) has diminished over the years a few transplants into the garden have flourished and spread. Each year fiddleheads of this vigorous fern pop up through the stone patio, or in cracks in the driveway. They are easily removed and occasionally are transplanted to other open, shaded parts of the garden. In drier shade the ferns are much slower to establish and reluctant to spread, but they are sturdy and return dependably.

In most years the spring blooming leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) would just now be fading, but it began to flower in January and the last flowers called it quits in the heat of mid March. Now, there are heavy clusters of small grape-like fruits (below) that will turn to purple, and as soon as they ripen birds make quick work of them. The fruits of leatherleaf mahonia are much larger and more abundant  than the late autumn flowering ‘Winter Sun’, and often the fruits of ‘Winter Sun’ are ignored by birds.

In the early spring I take my time to stroll the garden, enjoying a bloom here, pulling a few weeds (or many) there. I take mental notes (most of which are promptly forgotten) on tasks that must be done when there is more time, and usually sit for a few moments on a boulder or a bench to enjoy one of the ponds, now alive with chirping frogs and fish begging for dinner. The bees are back, buzzing about the hollies that have bloomed prolifically this spring, and birds are everywhere. There is no time of the year more splendid in the garden than this.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Eric says:

    A pleasure reading your blog. You’re very lucky down there in Virginia, I think you are at least 2 or 3 weeks ahead of us (Boston), and I imagine your fall ends a few weeks later, too. Well, at least I can enjoy the longer seasons vicariously through your blog!

  2. Tiff says:

    When we lived in CT the very first sign of spring were the green tips of skunk cabbage breaking through the ground. I’d pretty much forgotten about how excited we would get to see that!

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