Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring has (sort of) sprung

Yes, spring is here, but it’s taking it’s own sweet time. My tulips are up, finally – I just brought a huge armful to my nephew’s birthday party, and the magnolias are heaving with blooms, but I’m still sporting a sweater and I’m not rocking flip flops and shorts anytime soon.

So yes, this weekend there will be annuals on some of the nursery tables, but if you’re looking for geraniums you still have a few weeks to go. And for those of you itching to plant tomatoes, take a few deep breathes and start sowing lettuce or planting thyme and sage instead.

It is however, the most brilliant time to start to plant perennials. For those of us who have irrigation systems it’s time to switch them on, as it’s been a surprisingly dry spring, and if we’re trying to plant, we definitely need to be able to give them a nice long drink the moment they meet the soil.  I have a front porch full of small plugs that I am planning to install on Tuesday with the help of Gerardo and his planting crew. And since they are small plants it’s imperative that I make sure they have good soil and decent water to get them off to a good start.

It’s quite an impressive pileup of baby plants that greet me when I walk out onto the porch to feed the bird feeders and then toss a handful of hulled sunflower seeds to my sweet, single, surviving chicken. I’ve never done an install of just plugs at my own house, but I’m trying to plant in masses more, and it’s the only way to make an impressive show without spending an equally impressive pile of money.
Unfortunately gardening sometimes is a choice. Time or money. And, since I don’t have unlimited funds, I’m banking on having more patience.

I’d like to have the ability to spend oodles of money for big, full-grown plants, but starting out with things that are a tad younger can be equally impressive if you just wait for a year or two. I have flats of foxgloves and poppies and nepeta and salvias and agastache and phlox and echinacea. Woo hoo. And we are planning to get them all in the ground in one go.

I’ve been inspired by all the massive swathes of perennials that I see in garden books and magazine spreads, and in the gardens I help install out here, but my wallet can’t quite manage the requisite quantities when bought in the one, two and three gallon sizes. So I’ve downgraded to a size I can afford to plant in groups of 20 plus. Sixty echinacea will hopefully make a grand impression, as will the 50 phlox flanking them. I have never planted this way before in my own garden but after years of planting three of this and 5 of that, I’ve come to see that the wave of the future for my garden is volume, volume, volume.

Of course, it’s harder to find plugs of unusual plants, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not going to grab up the rarities that cross my path, which is why the entire tray of white flowered ajuga that showed up at Marders a little too small for the perennial tables didn’t go back to the growers but found it’s way to the trunk of my car instead. As did a mass of the half priced primroses from what is called the Belerina series that are on the past-bloom 50% off table. These are hardy, so next year they will be quite lovely when they pop up in my partial shade areas.

There are more of the lovely little Japanese primroses call sieboldii that have blooms shaped like snowflakes that I have my eye on as well, but as I have some of them already, I’m waiting to let customers see the blooms first so they too can enjoy them before I sweep them all into my own greedy little arms. I also am longing for more forget-me-nots that got dug up (unintentionally) when tulips were installed with a little too much enthusiasm two years ago. I noticed they were missing last spring, but promised myself that I would try to grow them by seed before I invested in plants so I’m scattered the requisite seeds in early spring and have my fingers crossed.
However, I’m not that hopefully.

As I have a garden that needs a few days a week to manage, and I still haven’t won the lottery and thus am forced to earn a living to pay for my plant addiction, I have to have help. And help can sometime be a little less discriminating then it should be. This is how I lost years and years of well-established Creeping Jenny. And all my baby hellebore seedlings. The new rule in my garden is no hoes, no rakes and no blowers. Everything that gets removed has to be removed by hand and has to be approved, visually, by me, before its little feet are removed from the soil.

This means I have a lot of baby seedlings pushing their tender little leaves up towards the sun. I already know that some are foxgloves, which is fantastic. And also, that some are the dreaded Impatiens biflora otherwise known as Jewelweed.  Jewelweed is actually not that terrible (rubbing it’s crushed leaves on your skin immediately after contact with poison ivy has actually prevented the rash and if you keep dabbing mosquito bites with its juice for long enough the bite won’t swell and itch) but it does grow to be five feet high in my garden and smothers other, more desirably seedlings.  So I’m teaching the hands that help me to learn the difference.  And how to get down on your hands and knees and really weed. They’re really not that enthused, as they would prefer to rake the soil clean with their hoes and dress it up with a lovely layer of nice clean mulch. But as I’m after a more Miss Haversham goes on a binge planting effect, it’s a skill that I am requiring they learn.

Wish me luck, and if you stop by for some forget-me-nots leave a few on the tables for me.

Paige Patterson needs to invest in a pair of kneepads as she has now been on the planet for over a half century.

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