Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April the Idiot

“April comes in like an idiot,
babbling and strewing flowers.”
–Edna St. Vincent Millay

Well, I’m not sure it’s so idiotic, but April certainly is strewing flowers! Or, if not flowers, then lots of shoots that will eventually bloom. Here are some of the pleasant surprises in my garden beds lately.

The hyacinths are nicely budded out…
Hyacinth 'Ostara'
The ‘Pink Giant’ Chionodoxa (a gift from my friend Stephanie for a certain BIG birthday) are just about ready to go…
Chionodoxa 'Pink Giant'
And the ‘Ice Follies’ Daffodils have been going strong for a while now.
Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
Hooray! Mr. Squirrel did NOT find all of my lily bulbs. It looks like most of them are coming back, except for a couple I was pretty sure he had carted home for dinner.
I am also breathing a sigh of relief over Ligularia ‘The Rocket.’
Ligularia 'The Rocket'
I had planted one of these in the same spot a couple of years ago (the only part of my yard that is moist enough for it), but it did not survive the winter. This time, I mounded soil over the crown for a little extra protection, and it looks like it worked! It’s hard to believe these tiny little leaves will soon be several inches across.

Aquilegia seedlings are bursting forth everywhere, mostly because I helped with some of the “strewing” in this case.
Aquilegia seedlings
I hope these will look like their dearly departed mother, Aquilegia ‘Cardinal.’ She was a real beauty.
Aquilegia 'Cardinal'
But Columbines are notoriously promiscuous in their cross-breeding. With my luck, the babies will all take after the common blue variety from the other side of the yard.

Perhaps my greatest thrill (doesn’t take much for us gardeners, does it?) was finding these poppy seedlings—about 16 at last count.
Shirley Poppy seedlings
I’ve been trying to establish a patch of poppies in my garden since we moved here almost five years ago, but with no luck. Mr. BrownThumb suggested scattering the seed over the ground in February (even over snow, if need be). I had dutifully been planting them after the last frost, as suggested on the seed package. (For the record, I recently did an informal survey of poppy packets in three different garden centers. Only one suggested planting them during the winter.) Thanks, Mr. BT! It looks like it worked!

Now I’m just crossing my fingers that they will come out the right color. They’re supposed to be Shirley poppies—nice soft pinks, reds, salmons, and whites. The last time I got this variety to grow, all but one came out bright orange, and I don’t do much orange in my gardens. I ripped them all out (after they bloomed but before they set seed) except the one pink one, and of course it didn’t multiply. Maybe I cursed myself to several years of bad poppy karma?

Yes, there are lots of pleasant new developments in the garden every time I venture outside during this idiotic, flower-strewing month. But there are a few less-pleasant developments as well…
I guess these devilish not-so-dandy-lions were bound to show up sooner or later. But did it have to be so early? And right where I just mulched to prevent them?

I’m also disappointed that no tulips are blooming yet. Yesterday, I pulled out my garden journals from 2005 and 2006 (the last years I tried keeping a journal: in both cases I started out with a bang, then quit by the end of June). Back then, my species tulips were blooming away by now. This year, the buds are just beginning to emerge. I’m not sure what to attribute the difference to, but I am certain they will soon add their rainbow splashes of color to the landscape.

And then, no doubt, I will be the one babbling and gushing over them like an idiot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Return to Mulch Mountain

Saturday was the day. One of the big, red trucks of spring came and deposited four yards of beautiful mulch at the end of our driveway. And I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day either. Sunny, temps in the 50s… I had a great time shoveling, hauling, and spreading the rich, earthy stuff into all the garden beds. I even got one of the Sprouts to help…for about 15 minutes. Photobucket
Sure I’m sore now, but it’s a “good sore,” as they say. And it’s a sore accompanied by a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I think of all the benefits for my flowers—weed deterrence, moisture retention, soil nourishment. It’s worth every ache and pain.

For the past seven or eight years, I’ve been using the free mulch offered by our village’s public works department. It’s ground from all the wood they gather in tree pruning and storm clean-up, as well as from discarded Christmas trees. There’s a three-yard minimum and you pay just $10 per yard for delivery. You can also go any time and pick it up yourself, at no cost. I used to do this all the time before I traded my fuel-slurping SUV for a teeny little gas-sipper. Now I can’t haul enough to make it worth the trip.

I’ve always been very happy with this mulch. It’s well aged, so it’s about half-composted by the time it comes to me. (It sits in HUGE piles in the public works yard. When it’s delivered, you can still see the steam rising off it from the composting process at work, and it actually feels hot to the touch.)

My plants—and the earthworms—seem to love it. It’s not treated with chemicals, like much of the bagged stuff at the Box-mart, so it continues to break down and feed the soil once it’s in place. Some sources say it robs nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down, but my arborist neighbor assures me that this is true only if you mix it into the soil.

I usually prefer to spread mulch a little later in the season, when the ground has had a chance to warm up and when I can tell more easily where my plants are. However, the delivery schedule fills quickly and you take what you can get. Right now, it’s a bit of a guessing game where the perennials are, though I have markers on most of them, which helps. (My neighbor, Maya, still laments the first spring in her home, when she “mulched to death” many of the perennials left by the previous owner. She’s since replaced them many times over, though.)

I also have to be careful in areas where I have self-seeders, so I don’t smother any potential seedlings. I’m already seeing lots of new Corydalis and Aquilegia babies. I put down 3-4 inches elsewhere, being careful not to place it too close to stems and trunks. Coreopsis, dianthus, mums, and a few others especially dislike having soggy feet. I leave a wide girth for them so they won’t rot.

Last year I only ordered three yards and did not have enough to cover one last bed in the back. I spent the whole summer pulling garlic mustard, thistle, and hordes of other nasty weeds that wander in off the field behind us. It’s well worth the extra $10 for that reason alone.

Did I get all four yards distributed? No, I’m about halfway. And here’s what the pile looks like today, thanks to yesterday’s lovely weather:

Ah, spring. Do ya think you could make up your mind to stay put for a while?