Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Daffodil dilemma

Why so few daffodils in the garden this spring? Except for a stand of white "Mount Hood" bulbs, which are regaining strength as a side benefit of the regular fertilization of the evergreens around which they are planted, the daffodil showing has been pretty sparse.  I'm seeing problems: a bit of bud blast and lots of plants sprouting only leaves.

The American Daffodil Society provides some explanations for daffodils that fail to bloom and offers tips for growing daffodils.  Too bad that I didn't get the memo earlier.  Fertilize when the leaf tips emerge?  Missed that. Separate the bulbs every few years? Wouldn't dream of doing that. Water while growing? Skipped that.

The real dilemma of daffodil cultivation lies in the fact that a certain amount of care has to be performed after any trace of the plant has disappeared from sight. So, for example, how do you ensure that the low nitrogen fertilizer cast so freely in the fall actually comes in contact with any bulbs?  And who wants to wait six months to find out?  I'm not too good with being patient and definitely irresponsible about tagging and labelling plants. 

In the meantime, to trick myself into thinking that we're actually busting at the seams with daffodils, I scavenged a big selection for an indoors vase.  That works for now.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Springing dahlias?

It's mid-April. and I'm embarrassed to confess that only this weekend have I made my first spring foray into the garden.  The last few weeks have been busy with travel and family activities--I'm not complaining, mind you--so my time hasn't allowed digging around in the dirt.

This weekend was perfect gardening weather--breezy, sunny, and just warm enough to ease these old bones. Pruning, clipping, and weeding commenced.  In the weeks ahead, it will be all about compost spreading and fertilizing.  The days are light longer, so at last my after-work routine can incorporate some evening shovel time.

Anyway, as I was picking up the evergreen boughs that I'd spread over the dahlia tubers planted along the back of the house, I was amazed to see a row of tender green sprouts. I guess that I have my answer about outside over-wintering dahlias in Zone 6! Yes, it can most definitely be done. The tallest of these is about 6 inches.

I usually plant dahlia tubers on Memorial Day weekend--a good six weeks from now.  But as long as we don't have any final frosts and the rabbits don't develop a craving for these lovely green sprouts, this spring jump start could have dahlias blooming in June. Now if only I could catch up with my seasonal chores!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bookending visits to a sunken surprise

Last fall, I wrote about the happy discovery of a sunken garden on the grounds of the Radcliffe Institute.  Back then, the blooming season was creeping to a close, so I promised myself to pay another visit when the seasons had turned.  Once again, quite by chance, I found myself in the neighborhood earlier this week and decided to check in.

A few clusters of daffodils were spread along the banks of the walkways.  New growth--masses of Siberian and bearded irises--was just popping up.  One or two white tulips had launched, but the major volley was still in reserve. All the beds had already been mulched and signs of winter pruning were evident.  The garden is certainly tended with both talent and devotion.

Along one side, a row of white flowering bushes were in bloom. Again, I am bemoaning that no plant list is available.  What are these? Pearl bush (Exochorda sp.), perhaps?  They have an open, urn-shaped plant form and the petals are shorter and fewer than white-flowering magnolias (Magnolia x stellata)--which were just winding up their bloom season nearby. 

Maybe on a future visit, I'll be fortunate enough to run into the gardener.  In the meantime, I'm storing up my questions.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Walking the woods

I wrote previously about our town's decision to preserve a small patch of park situated across the street from my house. Over the years, this land had been used to route utility lines, served as a surreptitious dumping ground for builders' debris, and provided a measure of privacy for teenage drinkers. The natural topography, an elongated hollow, is sprinkled with boulders. 

Our group of neighbors, in thinking about developing a plan for the stewardship of this two-acre parcel, realized that we needed to know more about exactly what it contains.  So this past rainy Saturday, we met with some members of our town's shade tree commission to walk the woods.

Our first discoveries were masses of Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) and oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), mixed in with some heathy servings of poison ivy. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to eradicate Japanese knotweed, and I saw some frighteningly huge clumps of the dastardly stuff.  The experts' advice was to try to contain it to the lower, damper area. Pull, pull, and then pull some more.  Pull early--before the flowers are set--and pull often.

Because this parcel lies in a residential area, a number of garden plants have been transferred by birds and animals spreading seeds: a solitary and singularly out of place barberry (Berberis sp.), for example, and a little line of lilies of the valley (Convallaria majalis).

Several groupings of crabapples (Malus sp.) reminded me of the very old tree that once grew in our backyard.  Could these be its descendants? Or perhaps it's the native species? I just learned that these crabapples were planted by our local garden club some forty years ago--and to think that they are still growing! 4/12/2012

This wash of blue and white squills (Scilla sibirica) was one of several well-established colonies.  They have clearly been flourishing here for decades.

We also encountered some native plants, like these Eastern skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus), battling for turf with Japanese knotweed.  

A copse of cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) should be beautiful when sporting white lace cap flowers.

Perhaps the hardiest natives were this mallard couple, who paddled their way around plastic bottles, crumpled bags, and other trash to loudly feast on duckweed. Hopefully, they are a nesting pair.

Our next step is an organized clean-up of plant invasives, building debris, and garbage, scheduled for later this month. No one ever said reclamation would be easy!