One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

May’s Magic Moments

May is full of magic.

It’s hard to keep up with all that’s going on in the garden lately, just as it is every spring.   This weekend, for example, feels sort of magical, as the sixty and seventy degree temperatures we’d been enjoying returned in time to bring us two lovely days.

I’ve been wanting to show you this garden arch  I created out of the break in the hedge between our yard and the neighbors.   To the right was a tree sapling, seemingly deceased.  To the left was an overgrown privet hedge in need of pruning.   To start, I found another sapling about the same size and shape as the first one and I lashed them together with a bit of twine.   Then I took the long arching privet branches and wove them into the two saplings.

Then there was a wild vine at the base of the first sapling, which I braided onto the arch I’d formed, using great lengths of sturdy old grapevine I found at the margin of our property.    There was still a hollow look to it, so I stuffed the arch with the stems of last years oregano patch (you can see the patch just through the arch), and then braided more grapevine around the whole mess until it looked about right.

Now it’s been nearly a month and both the bent and woven privet and the braided vines (not the grape vines, they aren’t live) have greened up and begun to take over the arch.

As it fills in, I’ll trim it and shape it, and now that the adjacent forsythia hedge has done blooming, we can give that a trim, too.

In a side note, check out our grass, and how it is already burning out as though it were high summer, thanks to the combination of warm days and scanty rain.   Our growing season seems all out of order this year.

Here’s a look at the driveway garden, which is full to overflowing with all kinds of green promise.   There’s daisies, mums, coreopsis, asters, irises, lilies, dianthus, primroses and all sorts of things already in bloom, including some very happy clusters of violas and pansies, forget me nots and primroses.   At the close end of the fence, on the far side, you can see the rising clump of heliotrope stalks, the flower buds formed and starting their climb toward the sky.

The columbine which has traveled with me since Eastham is in full bloom now and looking quite lovely.   I’m a little disappointed that I’ve not yet spotted any new columbine seedlings, as I have set out seed in a variety of places.   But the lilies’ recent appearance (and a few other seemingly magical discoveries) have restored some of my faith in the way things one doesn’t anticipate happening in the garden do anyway.

Like the way the allyssum seedlings (below) have colonized both inside and out of that garden border.

This garden bed is one of the first I turned my attention to last spring, when I went in and dug things up and divided and replanted them, rearranging the layout of the daisies and such.   Here you can see an iris in the foreground (more on that when it blooms), then some astilbe, a hosta and then some lilac foliage from the large bush that looms at this end of the foundation bed.

I confess I haven’t a clue what that brushy plant is around the pump in the background.   I know there’ll be the usual outraged clamors of “weed!”, but for now, I’m content to let this plant grow where it wants to.   It looks  cool at the moment and seems to coexist fine with other things here.   I may discover that its something that I want to keep, or perhaps I’ll decide to remove it when something better comes along.   But for now, here’s my amnesty program at work.

Last year, I planted a variety of calendula plants in this bed and was typically lazy about dead-heading (picking off the spent blossoms to encourage more bloom, S.O.P. with annuals) and as a result, the calendula have seeded themselves back into this bed.   I’ve never had this kind of success with these guys, so I’m pleased as punch.  It would appear I’ve found just the right spot for them to flourish.

Speaking of seedlings, the southern windows of the Nest are getting more crowded with each passing day.   Despite our unseasonably warm and early spring, I have little intention of setting more tender plants out in the garden until Memorial Day weekend, which is traditionally our latest frost in the area.

Meanwhile, the agastache seedlings are doing well – all twenty of them – and this week I made a bunch of newspaper seedling pots to transplant them from their starter cells.

In the photo (right), you can see them front and center, with a pot of annual marine heliotrope that’s limped its way through the winter which I hope to nurse back into gloriously fragrant bloom out on the deck this summer.

Next to that is my Easter cactus, which actually blooms in June or July.   The little greenhouse up front is hosting over two dozen seed cells which will hopefully burst forth with sunflower seedlings shortly.   Out of the frame are some seed pots with datura planted in them.

And in a variety of places around the yard (and in this patio pot), the sweetpeas I’ve sown are growing nicely and I find myself dreaming of their fragrant blossoms, which were so nice to pick for tiny indoor bouquets last summer.

And of course, unexpected (and nurtured) seedlings aren’t the only magical things going on lately.  Little butterflies and frittilarias have begun their flight patterns through the garden beds, dipping and swirling to avoid the more focussed buzzing bees.  And although they have yet to be spotted at our feeders in the side yard, on Friday evening, I heard a delightful and familiar song and spotted a bright orange and black oriole in the highest branch, singing his territory and advertising for a mate.

Yesterday, I visited my pal Mugsy and her family, who are all happily settled in at home after their recent travels.  They pointed out this cardinal’s nest, in the hedge just outside the window of their garage.

I was lucky enough to get some great shots, though I didn’t want to spend so much time peering out the window as to make Missus Cardinal uncomfortable.   I remember, after all, a failed nesting attempt outside the dining room window in Eastham years ago, which might have been short-circuited by the peerings of a gray kitty just inside.

I made another short visit later a little while later and discovered that Papa Cardinal was spelling the missus and taking his turn at childcare.    I was annoyed that I’d accidentally changed the camera settings in the interrum, as this momentary opportunity might have made a lovely picture had it been as clearly focussed as the distant grasses seen through the hedge.

I thought I had disturbed Mister C, who’s mouth was overflowing with little green worms meant to feed the one nestling who’s hatched so far, but it turned out there was a tufted titmouse flitting about who had the cardinal’s full attention.   I did get the briefest glimpse of the tiny newborn, all leathery and featherless and prehistoric-looking, but unfortunately, it was pretty unsteady on its feet and stumbled behind the green leaf in the nest photo.

There are three other eggs as yet unhatched, as you can see.

I don’t know if they are stillborn or maybe still likely to hatch.   I also remembered, trivially, that cowbirds are fond of laying their eggs in other species’ nests, leaving their care to the foster parents, who only realize too late that the baby they’ve cared for is not their own.   Who knows if that’s the case here.

A little while later, I looked again, and Mama Cardinal had returned to sit on those eggs (and the hatchling).   You can see here she’s got a bit of green worm in her beak, no doubt meant to feed the youngster.

What a treat to have such a clear and close-up view of the whole wondrous business.

Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something were pushing and drawing and making me breathe fast.  Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing.  Ev erything is made of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds,  badgers and foxes and squirrels and people.  So it must be all round us.  In this garden – in all the places.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1849 – 1924

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Comments on: "May’s Magic Moments" (8)

  1. I love all of your photos, Greg. That iris is absolutely GORGEOUS!

    I wanted you to know that I just finished reading “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, and I wanted to thank you for the recommendation. It was great! I couldn’t put it down!

  2. You have the BEST photos! I love coming here. I’ll bet the Downstairses are thrilled with your tenancy, as the yard is being transformed.

    Birdie, thanks so much! It’s always a treat when you visit. :D

  3. Wow the cardinal nest is so cool! And it’s hard to imagine that there could still be a frost. It’s perfectly summerlike weather up here too.

    Hopefully, we _are_ done with frost now…but even last night was a little chilly, so I’ll wait just another week or so to plant more tender things. Meanwhile, I’m glad to hear you’re having such lovely weather, since winter always gives you northern lads such a hard go.

  4. Kimberry said:

    Gorgeous, Greg! And those cardinal pictures are amazing!

  5. It was wonderful to read your post. This garden arch was a great idea. I admire your ability to transform places into something special. All the best.

    Thanks, Martin! :D

  6. Such a rich and beautiful entry! I especially like the arch. Heck, I want one too! I’ve got some vines growing under a tree in my back yard, so maybe…

    The cardinals are magical.

  7. Ah May…Worth the wait don’t you think? I like the soft, indefinite, in-between colors of the iris and the columbine. Good luck with the agastache seedlings. Getting them from this size to adults is always the hardest stage in their lives for me.

    After receiving your comment I did some reviewing of the agastache troops and they seem to be soldiering on nicely. They were sort of freestyling and tangly, so I rearranged t hem and made some little stakes for them. They SMELL great. Hopefully at least some will survive to blooming. I had one plant for about ten years that was always fun – the bees thought so, too. Fingers crossed.

  8. I like the flowers grown in your garden. they’re all beautiful. I’m hoping I can have seeds of yours.. I want them too..

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