Found the first crocus this weekend, a fitting celebration of the Vernal Equinox and the official start of Spring. It’s blooming all by its lonesome in a patch of ivy and myrtle by the side of the barn, not far from where the snowdrops of last weekend have already faded.
As the week continued, our weather steadily improved. This was some comfort on Thursday, when I was out sick with renewed oogey-ness. There was a possibility of strep throat, but in hindsight, I’m thinking it was probably just the semi-annual sinus infection that comes for free with coastal living. Anyway, I spent Thursday morning home sick, but snoozing in the warm sun in a chaise in the backyard, a mug of tea close at hand, as I waited for my anti-biotics to begin their work. It was sort of nice.
I was back to work by Friday and as the lovely day wore on, we began to feel the approach of the Springing, even deciding to take our lunch out to the picnic tables outside for a little more time in the sun. By day’s end, I knew there was nothing for it but to buy some pansies for planting on the way home, as our temperatures made it neatly into the 70s.
Here’s the plants I chose, photographed with our snow shovels, an amusing juxtaposition, I thought. By weekend’s conclusion, only one was still outside, as a sort of insurance against a return of the S word.
Actually, I bought only one six-pack of actual pansies – that solid blue variety I’m so fond of with the little yellow eyes – but a whole flat of violas. I’m so impressed with how readily last year’s violas have survived and return to bloom again this season that it seemed smart to plant those guys around. They are inexpensive, eager and adorable and, I ask you, what’s not to love?
I started getting the beds themselves raked out and ready for planting on Friday evening, taking advantage of the later sunset to get some things accomplished and enjoy the stellar weather. How quickly this gardener agrees to postpone dinner until after dark when there’s a possibility of playing around in the dirt.
All too quickly though, the light was gone and it was time to eat. I was pretty excited to discover as the night came on that the peeper frogs in the nearby ponds had woken up and were singing the season on. It was a nice soundtrack coming in the open windows as I planted a tray of agastache seeds.
Garden beds always look a little rag-tag this time of year and they’re just waiting for someone to come along and wake them up. There’s the dried foliage of last year’s plants to clear away and dried leaves which have blown into crevices and around the base of bushes to be gently raked away. I also notice each spring here on the Cape that there’s a kind of crusty top to the soil, made up of sand and grit, no doubt blown about by the raging winds we’ve listened to all winter.
I like to use a hand rake – and pretty lightly at that (there’s the possibility of all kinds of bulb shoots just below the surface who could be damaged pretty easily with a rougher hand) – to loosen the soil and show a little of the nice dark earth below. It helps the rain to soak in and not run off, and also helps the sun’s warmth to get down into the dirt where all those roots are just waiting to be teased to new life.
The first raking out always misses some dried leaves and sticks, so as I go along and hand rake each section of the garden, I usually collect up handfuls of such debris and rub my hands together, grinding them up small and letting them fall back onto the garden bed. A little organic material is good for your garden health, adding nutrients and helping retain moisture. I usually finish off each bed this time of year with a fresh layer of top soil, anyway, so all the little bits get covered over and worked in.
This is also a good time to loosen up any grass seedlings that’ve worked their way into the bed during the winter (or maybe undercover of heavy, late-season blooming). The grass usually starts growing a little sooner than other things, if it ever stops hereabouts, and if I can get it out now before it gets a good hold on the bed, it’s easier to keep it at bay later and less likely that I’ll accidentally dig up things I want growing there later on.
You never know what the winter will leave behind, so I do like to work sort of carefully, paying attention to what stories the garden might have to tell. As I pulled away some old daylily foliage from around the new shoots on Friday evening, I found an explosive scattering of blue jay feathers, enough to probably indicate the bird being taking by one of our neighborhood hawks.
It’s the bluejay, you’ll recall, who likes to mimic the hawk’s cry to get all the other birds out of the feeding stations so there’s no lines to wait on. I can help wondering if the hawk happened to catch one of those little performances and said, “Oh, sure. But can you do this?”
It’s all a pretty likely scenario (Well, without the sarcasm maybe. I don’t know birds well enough to be sure, though.). There was, mercifully, no corpse, or (worse still, perhaps) parts of one and only enough feathers for a wing. I bet if I keep saving, by autumn my cat buddy and I will be able to build a whole bird.
Saturday – the first official day of this glorious new season – was a fantastic day. I worked in the morning, but after lunch, was right outside to enjoy the afternoon and get back to work on those beds, so I could get all the new plants in the ground before the rain that’s supposed to greet the start of the new week.
The Downstairses were trimming the giant privet out front and so had gotten a burn permit to address all the leavings of that project, so as I worked on the beds, I also joined them in raking up leaves and the many sticks and dead branches culled by winter winds and left lying about and we had a good burn going. The wind wasn’t too bad, although it wasn’t absent and I did get a little singed at one point, when the wind shifted as I approached the pile. Oops.
As I was working on those beds along the south side of the house, I discovered a great colony of assorted bulbs (daffodils and wood hyacinths, mostly, I believe) which were growing in large clusters behind the cedar tree by the back door. They were planted before the tree, which was very small when it arrived, I’m told, and now were preparing to bloom unseen. I dug a bunch of those out and relocated them through the bed, where we all may enjoy their show better.
Probably, it would be better to move them after they have bloomed, but it seemed a shame to leave them in the back there, so I dug large around them and watered them well after the transplant, in hopes that the shock to them will be minimal, and we can still see a nice showing from them shortly. It’s also possible they won’t remain in these current configurations long, either, once they have done blooming. A gardener’s whims are rarely predictable.
But once I’d figured out where some of those bulbs should go, I was able to start planting the violas.
I can hear you now. “Greg, aren’t you just planting the violas near the other spring bulbs to present yourself with opportunities to photograph some sweet flower porn for the blog?” To this accusation, I have no defense what-so-ever and I hang my head in mock shame. You are absolutely right.
However, I will say that I was also planting the violas near the crocuses as a marker of sorts. The crocus foliage fades away pretty quickly as the season rushes along and having the longer-lasting violas there to mark the outer perimeter of the crocus plantings also helps keep me from accidentally digging them up later on. Also, as the crocuses bloom, I like to underseed them with allyssum, as an additional protectant/deterrent.
There are few rules in the Midnight Garden, but chief among those is You Can’t Have Too Much Allyssum.
Saturday went much too quickly, with a Welcome Spring party at a friend’s home, so the tidying and planting project concluded on Sunday morning. The sunshine was not quite as warm and gooey as it had been earlier in the weekend, but the warmest days are understood to be unexpected gifts at this time of the year and I’m grateful we had such a great weekend for getting so much accomplished.
You can’t really see the violas much in this photo, but over the next few weeks, I’ll continue to check on them, watering as needed and deadheading their flowers. This will encourage them to put out some nice roots and create terrific little clusters of leaves, so they’ll to grow toward one another and create some nice drifts of color.
I’m always thinking of the sequence and timing of each plants bloom as I’m working in the garden. As I planted these guys, I was trying to figure out where they will be shaded by other plants nearby which will grow taller. They are pretty hardy plants, but a little protection when the hot summer sun arrives is welcomed by many of us. It kind of felt like I was planting the violas in little sixteenth-note runs through the garden, as I made little semi-circles around the base of other plants, or zig-zagged them diagonally through the bed. But I also had the Bach Cantata #4 we’ve been working on in chorale on my mind, too, so maybe it was that.
In a completely unrelated note, I may have come up with a title for the coffee table book of garden images I may some day put together. How does Where’s Waldo’s Coffee Mug? grab you?
Happy Spring, everyone!!