Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March along the High Line

One of the best ways to spend a sunny March morning: strolling the High Line, an inspired public park that runs for a mile along the lower west side of Manhattan.  Whenever I am in New York City, I try to incorporate a little ramble down this reinvented elevated rail bed. The High Line has become enormously popular since I first wrote about it three years ago. Back then, you could pretty much have the place to yourself in the early morning; now, there's a steady stream of walkers and runners sluicing their way up and down the walkway. Not everyone is happy with this success, but we sometimes have to look beyond our own private pleasures to the greater common good, I think.  And it was indeed good to see so many people weathering chilling temperatures and early hours in order to refresh body and soul.

And if you were very patient, you would indeed be rewarded by a peacefully unpopulated scene.

Ruby Giant woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) "Ruby Giant"

Just as the visitor might now have to recalibrate expectations to accommodate the larger volume of fellow park fanciers, our unseasonably cold and lengthy winter required some modification to what flowers were blooming in late March.  However, there was a wonderful scattering of early blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs, as well as animated stands of grasses.  Near the north end of the park, we were greeted by sprays of blue-purple crocuses popping up between the stones of the rail bed.

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) Emerald Sentinel "Corcorcor"

The High Line is all about contrast and complementarity: the hard shapes of the man made environment against the softness of the natural world; the melding browns, russets, and beiges of bricks and dried foliage; the stillness of the surrounding buildings versus the movement of the vegetation. One of the sites where this visual friction and fusion was most successfully realized occurred between West 21st and West 22nd Streets.  There, Broken Bridge II, a massive installation of sheet metal and mirrored slabs by Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui, enticed, fragmented, and refracted the adjacent cedars, sky, and buildings. I loved how the blue berries burdening the cedar branches were echoed in the blue chips of sky caught in Bridge's mirrors and were counterpointed in the angular, ocher-colored pieces of tin.  This awe-inspiring woven work complemented those that we had seen in El Anatsui's solo show, Gravity and Grace, at the Brooklyn Museum just the day before.

Between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, lines of the track-like pavement, softened by bunches of meadow grass, eased into the ribbed facade of the beige brick building behind. 

Brownies hairy alumroot (Heuchera villosa) "Brownies"

In the Washington Grasslands at Little 12th and 13th Streets, floppy clumps of dark reddish-brown heuchera called out to the straight lines of distant brick buildings.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) "Sunburst"

But it was also a day just to revel in the simple joy of spring as expressed, for example, by this backlit yellow witch hazel.  These golden flower flecks belonged, most appropriately, to the "Sunburst" cultivar, which indeed snapped as an explosion of light. 

Dawn viburnum (Virburnum x bodnantense) "Dawn"

Flowering viburnums were scattered over the southern portion of the High Line.  Even to my feeble nose, they smelled like spring. Oh, sweet anticipation!

Crocus and cornus
All days should start so happily.  Thank you, High Line!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Garden goal roll, 2013

In eager anticipation of the upcoming season of shovels, pruners, clippers, rakes, and trowels, I'm preparing my annual garden goal roll: what needs to be done, when it should be done, and where it's all happening. 


Place plant orders. 
 *  From White Flower Farm, 3 bleeding heart (Dicentra "Gold Heart") and 3 beebalm (Monarda "Pink Lace") Done in March.
  * From Swan Island or other dahlia nursery: some small yellow dahlias, like "Baby Yellow," for old side bed? Five "Baby Yellow" tubers ordered from Lobaugh's Nursery April 1.

Pot up those refrigerated amaryllis bulbs!


Prune and clean up shrubs damaged by winter snows.

Shape "New Dawn" rose canes.

Order new rose arbor for back door.

Top-dress daffodils with 5-10-10 when the leaf-tips emerge. As they flower, top-dress with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50. High-nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided. Jump-started with BulbTone (3-5-3) on March 31.

Start renovation of back property line bed Started April 28
 *  Remove some lilies of the valley.  Is containment possible with aluminum lawn edging?
 *  Plant bleeding heart (Dicentra "Gold Heart") Planted April 28, but not looking happy.
 *  Consider what else would improve this space. Something low and chartreuse?  Or grassy?
 *  Move Japanese painted fern to more visible location.  Again, clear out lilies of the valley?

Did any perennials in the dry bed along the northeast side of the house survive the combination of rabbits and winter? If so, is more room needed?  Maybe cut this bed a bit bigger?
 *  Plant beebalm (Monarda "Pink Lace") along the front.  Due to lack of space in northeast side bed, planted at back of house on April 28.
 *  Move the sedum "Autumn Joy" from behind the compost pile into this bed. Four divisions planted in northeast side bed on April 28.

Feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.Done May 5

Dose "New Dawn" rose with 1/2 cup of Epsom salts in 2 cups water. Done April 28

Trim "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle back. Done April 28


That stuff that you didn't get to last month?  Do it now.

Review spring bulb performance.  What needs to be replaced or amplified? Maybe add to the Pheasant Eye daffodils (Narcissus poeticus) to the dry bed along the northeast side of the house? Yes!  Also late blooming daffodils along bed at back of house.


Move potted amaryllis bulbs outdoors and feed regularly with liquid fertilizer.

Edge garden beds.

Prune into shape front foundation plantings and yews along side property line.

Scratch 1 1/4 cups of RoseTone around the roots of "New Dawn" climbing rose now monthly through the summer; be sure to stop feeding by August 15 in order to prevent developing new growth that will not have time to harden off before fall temperatures drop.

After flowering, shear Amsonia hubrichtii by 1/3 of its height to promote better form.

When it is 3 feet tall, cut Joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth. Done June 8

Stake dahlias when the tubers are planted and again and again as they grow. Stop dahlias by pinching stem back to four pairs of leaves.

Pinch back shasta daisies to 6".

And stake, stake, stake!


After flowering, prune the "New Dawn" climbing rose. 

Prune back 50-80% of "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle after bloom is over.

Late August/Early September

Separate Siberian irises to left of kitchen door (Eric the Red).

Time to order spring bulbs!  Order 12 or more hyacinth bulbs (white, deep pink, coral), at least 25 paperwhite narcissus bulbs, and 2 amaryllis bulbs for indoor forcing.

Columbus Day

Plant spring bulbs.

Dig in bone meal around peonies.

Lightly feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Move potted amaryllis bulbs indoors and chill in refrigerator.

Veterans Day

While daytime temperatures are still above 40 degrees, spray an anti-transpirant, like Wilt-Pruf or Wilt Stop, on "Sky Needle" hollies to prevent winter kill.

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure.


Winter-sow seeds.
Late December

Start planning plant purchases for 2014.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Springs: emotional, botanical, mammalian, religious, meterological, temporal, and astronomical

When does spring actually arrive in New England?  After a winter's worth of waiting, it might seem that the rather despairing answer is "Not soon enough" or, sigh, "Never."  And that would feel correct, emotionally speaking.  Meantime, we are bombarded with a range of different dates for the beginning of spring.  Take your choice! There's the meteorological start, defined by average temperatures, on March 1. Then, we spring forward into Daylight Saving Time on March 10. Our local groundhog's shadowless day forecast the start of this year's spring on March 16.  Want to hold out longer?  Go for the vernal equinox on March 20.  Or wait to celebrate with Easter on March 31. With March snowstorms rolling through, it's kind of a moving target.

To jack the seasons along, I've been cutting forsythia for indoor forcing. At last, the "Lynwood Gold" has produced so many branches that an armful can be cut without fear of leaving a plant with the appearance of a child's self inflicted haircut.

A little additional clipping of stems under warm water, a little sunshine, a little time, and behold--spring arrives on my schedule!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

And that's why they call them . . .

. . . snowdrops. Just peeking out from the icy package delivered by this week's snow storm are little green clumps of leaves and stems topped with tiny white buds.  However, a few more hours of driving, spitting, spraying snow, and they will be buried.

But in the meantime, this ice-dusted flower--released but not yet open--holds the promise of milder days ahead . . .

. . . as does this scruffy salad of snowdrop greenery. How great to see this chilly foliage poking up on the snow-covered hillside behind the house, particularly on a day when six more inches of snow is forecast: a gentle reminder that spring is on its way. Eventually.