Monday, April 30, 2007

My fenway fearful

Fenways fearful, where flows the stream from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks, underground flood.

The rains last week forced my hand. I know that this is not the way that the suburban gardener is supposed to install a water feature, but the boggy backyard cried out for attention. The 1' x 2' patch of mud, on occasion, now holds standing water.

What's the cause? Our weather has definitely been wetter this year: we have received 15.71" precipitation to date as opposed to 9.63" at the same time last year. Removing the water-loving plants in the adjacent hedge hasn't helped either.

So, with nothing to lose, I stuck eight plants of Iris versicolor into this mire. No water filtration system, no pump, no lining material, no nothing but nature. But isn't this how plants are supposed to grow?

Fairest fields enfolded by water, set, triumphant, sun and moon for a light to lighten the land-dwellers, and braided bright the breast of earth with limbs and leaves, made life for all of mortal beings that breathe and move.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Despite the beautiful weekend weather, parental duties (Go Knights! Hoya Saxa!) kept me out of town and out of the garden. Some of my favorite blue-flowered bulbs began spring celebrations in my absence. A line of grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) interspersed with larkspur seedlings--a future blue--edges one bed.

On my little hill, a small wave of squills (Scilla siberica) is replacing the earlier tide of snowdrops.

After they bloom, I leave this area unmown until the Fourth of July. It's my twelve square feet of meadow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Split personality

Recent raw and rainy weather has confined gardening activities to plant inspections. What's in bloom? What's growing? Heck, what's cut through the soil and is greening up? The answer: be patient.

In the meantime, I've enjoyed this little joke on one of my Pieris japonica.

When I bought this Pieris, it had only lovely cream and green variegated leaves. Later, a small side branch appeared with all green leaves. Now, it's about half all green and half variegated.

This split personality looks like evidence of a hardy rootstock on to which a more delicate variegated shoot has been grafted. However, I'm not sure that's how these plants are propagated. The green-leaved portion of the plant is in deeper shade, more vulnerable to lime leaching from the house foundation, and probably receives more water. What's the explanation? Is it nature or nurture?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Irises reticulatae

In addition to the yellow Iris danfordiae peppered around the front yard, some other iris varieties are flowering.

A few Iris reticulata "Natascha" remain from the fifty that were planted in 2004. They have an icy blue color warmed by a yellow polka-dotted splotch.

This clear blue must be the dependable "Harmony."

These purple "'J.S.Dijt" are the odd ones out: they don't fit into the yellow and blue color scheme and their deep hue sucks up light. But they were planted first and have multipled more successfully than the others--the Iris danfordiae have to be replaced every fall--so they are here to stay.

I haven't figured out how to either grow substantial masses of these little irises or how to position them so that they read well visually. But I hope that people passing by enjoy looking at them as much as I do!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Harbinger of spring

Before tomorrow's predicted winter storm is a happy harbinger of spring . . .

Early orders! Huh?

Maybe the calendar says mid-April, but the current weather in New England does not shout "Go plant!" Nevertheless, the plant orders have started to arrive. Last week, a box of Iris versicolor came from Lilypons. Yesterday, it was dahlias from Lobaugh's. Today, Swan Island Dahlias is sending plants.

Okay, who is planting dahlias this early in Zone 6? One of my favorite old references, "The Complete Book of Garden Magic" by Roy E. Biles (1947), advises against an early rush to plant dahlias. Isn't that a job for May?

And I guess that I'll wait for the snow, sleet, and rain forecast for tomorrow to disappear before putting those irises in. Right?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April Fool-ish planting

The first of April brings classic signs of spring in New England: robins and snowdrops . . . and mud.

April Fool's Day or not, I decided today was time to begin planting the seeds of cold-loving plants. The huge snowstorm on the traditional pea-planting date of St. Patrick's Day had scotched the regular schedule. Yes, there are still piles of snow languishing along the margins of parking lots and streets and the bag of composted manure that I bought yesterday was frozen, but it's warming. I'm sure. Definitely.

Yesterday, I dug about 20 pounds of that good manure into the garden bed. Indoors, I began soaking sweet pea "Old Spice" seeds in water in order to soften their casings.

You can also cut the casings with a nail clipper but my surgical skills are not that dependable and any number of patients might be lost during the operation. Here, some soaked seeds have split open.

Today, the seeds were dropped into a shallow furrow along the trellis. They were planted about 1/2" deep, in order for them to have the darkness needed to germinate.

At the lower edge of this picture, a few dark red sprouting stalks of my favorite peony are just visible. Now the race begins: will the sweet peas be able to sprout and scale the trellis before their sunlight is blocked by the burgeoning peony?

Also pulled from the confines of the refrigerator were seeds collected from last summer's larkspur.

This spring, the fall-sown plants that usually survive the winter so well were a mat of dead, brittle foliage. Their sorry remains were torn up, 20 pounds of cow manure and several buckets of compost were dug into the bed, and about 3/4 of the seed was tossed onto the soil. Seeds that are left over will be used to correct the inevitable unequal distribution of plants.

Doesn't look like much now. But, happily, there are months of growing season ahead!