Category Archives: Garden Musings

Dear Diary…Spring’s Emergence 2024

the Astonishing Magnolia x loebneri ‘Ballerina’…undamaged by late frosts.

I’ve always thought of this blog as a gardening journal, so here’s my thoughts on Spring 2024.

I don’t know what it’s been like in your neck of the woods, but the weather pattern here in southern New England this spring has had us on edge. We keep expecting something extreme to happen, like a mid April snowstorm. Actually,  it’s been a good weather pattern  for the garden…lots, lots and lots of rain (could use more sun!) and consistently cool temperatures since mid March.  No unexpected frosts, well, err, until last night, when I thought the predicted low temp was 40F. There was actually a light frost…no serious damage…just a tinge on the tender new foliage on plants we were hardening off.  It looks like we’re in store for possible dips in temperature this week, so last night was a reminder to provide overnight protection.

This consistently cool but not freezing weather means that the early flowering trees blossoms lingered, undamaged by late freezes or a sudden summery hot day.  The Hellebores have put on a grand show for more than 6 weeks now.   The Epimedium are beginning to offer blossoms…some emerge a little earlier than others, but they will carry on into early mid May.

Helleborus ‘Grape Galaxy’

Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Yubae’

A few Jeffersonia dubia seedlings appear (from last year’s dropped seed). A rare find for us!

Some little plantlets near this fancy Podophyllum…not sue if they are seedlings or plants generated by bits of root, disbursed by the voles.

For the past few years, we’ve decided to forgo a fall cleanup, and do a staggered one in the spring. It’s true the gardens aren’t neat as a pin, and yes it’s hard to leave those dead stalks when so much new growth  is surging. What I have noticed though, due to this delayed removal of lingering dead leaves are many more self sown seedlings…from Woodland Peonies, Hellebores, Podophyllum, Corydalis in new color variations, even Jeffersonia dubia!  I will lift some of these seedlings when they are mature enough, but I also think encouraging these  early perennials to naturalize is important too!

Epimedium ‘Black Sea’

I do hope we get a 4 solid weeks of spring temperatures this year (my optimistic wish is for a range between 45-70F) .Please, please  Weather Goddess do not let this chilly early spring weather turn quickly into hot summer temperatures.

A lovely double white Hellebore, still sending out blossoms.

How is spring enfolding where you garden? Pleasantly, I hope.

“Persistent” Perennials

Glossy evergreen European Ginger with fallen Acer foliage in early November.

I’m already missing the technicolor foliage of early November, but so it is and it’s not ALL brown out there. During this morning’s garden stroll my gaze caught sight of  various shades of green, silver, and even gold…not only from conifers but from perennials with persistent foliage.

Helleborus foetidus

It’s good to remember there are perennials that retain handsome foliage into winter. Some are considered semi-evergreen as their leaves may finally succumb once the temperatures drop into the low teens.  In order to extend their attractiveness, consider planting in a protected spot, perhaps close to the house or at the base of larger evergreens.   

Of course there are the Hellebores. There is Helleborus foetidus which begins to set bud in mild December weather, and the legendary Christmas Rose (the hybrid clones ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ can begin flowering by Thanksgiving).  The many Helleborus orientalis clones retain their leaves but won’t set buds until March in our area.

Cyclamen coum

Another shade lover is Asarum europeanum commonly called European Ginger,  with its glossy dark green round foliage persists all winter. By spring it will need a cut back to welcome fresh new growth.  It doesn’t increase that quickly but is hardy in zones 4-8.

Hardy Cyclamen bloom in autumn, but their attractive foliage persists through winter. They love dry shade and actually do well at the base of trees with root competition. The two species to try are C. coum and C. hederifolium, both of which are hardy in zones 6-10.

Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’

A walk about the garden offered Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’,  other wise known as Lords and Ladies, which pops up in the October garden from summer dormancy and remains until late spring.

Rhodea japonica foliage in December.

Rhodea japonica (Japanese Sacred Lily) is grown for its evergreen lustrous dark green strap-like  foliage . We’ve had this in the garden for 20 years, a testament to its hardiness.

Very happy Epimedium ‘Domino’ foliage.

Many Epidemium are considered semi evergreen here in southern New England. ‘Domino’ , pictured above, looks especially sturdy despite last night’s temperatures in the mid 20’s.

More shade area candidates: Disporopsis pernyi is commonly referred to as Evergreen Solomons Seal.  It will form nice thicket in a shady protected bed. Of the persistent ferns, I especially like the Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern).

Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'

Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’

Don’t forget that Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) and a number of Sedum species keep their foliage year round.  There’s golden leaved Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’ which takes on amber tones.  Another evergreen little creeper is Sedum album ‘Coral  Carpet’. Cold temperatures will bring out coral red tints to the dark green succulent leaves.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

Many gardeners have a disdain for Yucca, but I celebrate its ability to put up with hot sunny dry conditions, produce bayonet stalks with white lily flowers which attract hummingbirds and pollinators, and  for the their architectural form in winter.  Yucca ‘Color Guard’  boasts  yellow variegation that glows.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Other candidates for a sunny well drained spot are some of the Euphorbia (Spurge).   Euphorbia myrsinites, above, perpetuates by self sowing in poor gravelly soil.and is hardy in zones  5-9.

I do try year after year to winter over outdoors the Euphorbia x martinii hybrids such as Ascot Rainbow’ ,  not always with success. They are listed as being hardy in zone 6, but I stress this is only in a protected spot with great drainage. The ascending stems will bear showy flower bracts come early spring (flowers are formed on last year’s stems), but that is only if they do not get blasted by arctic winds.  Plants may not die, but the top growth will need to be cut back hard. The plants will break ground with new foliage growth in the spring.

There are many evergreen Euphorbia native to the Mediterranean  which are hardy to zones 7-8.  We are in zone 6B (I won’t say 7 yet).  I think with climate change upon us, we may soon be able to grow more Euphorbia species here in Southern New England.

Please share which persistent perennials you have in your garden.

The Spring Cleanup Dilemma

Happy Hellebores

Last autumn, we gave ourselves permission to skip the “fall cleanup” for a good reason. Leaving perennial stalks and foliage provides a habitat for overwintering pupae or hibernating adult beneficial insects, such as native bees, lacewings and parasitic wasps. Also, the fallen leaves can be a great winter mulch. The question I’m asking myself now is… when is it okay to begin the spring cleanup, and what should I not disturb?

The naturalists are telling us to wait until we are well into an extended stretch of 50+ degree temps before cutting back stalks. Arghh!! Here in New England that could be mid-May! I don’t think this wait needs to be a blanket rule. Every garden situation is different.

A month ago, I had removed the decaying hellebore stems.

I noticed during the March garden inspection that the Hellebores were showing signs of fungal problems from leaf spot, downy mildew and gray mold, especially on the old foliage, no doubt from being buried under wet leaves. Note: most of our Hellebores are planted in the garden under our ancient swamp white oak tree. In this case,  the blanket of wet oak leaves was not helping. I didn’t want the emerging flower shoots to succumb to fungal diseases, of course, so the leaves were removed and the stems cut back.

A carpet of decaying fine textured Japanese Maple leaves

Emerging Corydalis solida and a Woodland Peony that planted itself!

In a different garden area,  a carpet of fallen leaves from a Katsura Japanese Maple wasn’t causing any problems that I could see. The Snowdrops and Crocus pushed through early on,  and the Corydalis solida are not having any problems. My take on this … the smaller, fine textured foliage of the Japanese maple is allowing more aeration under their cover. I suspect that I won’t have a problem leaving things be, for now. I will wait to cut the stems of nearby Japanese Mint Shrub, Leucosceptrum japonicum. However, I did cut back the Epimedium foliage so we wouldn’t have to look at the fresh new flowers shrouded among old brown leaf stems.

Japanese Mint Shrub stems are going to stay for now.

Our sunny pollinator display beds presented more of a problem…many plants in this bed grow tall, i.e. Silphium, Eupatorium, Helianthus, Rudbeckia, and their split and broken stems were scattered at all angles…the dilemma being that this is pollinator garden after all, but it was such a tangle! I decided to whack down the stalks, but made sure to leave stems with praying mantis egg sacks which of course I could see. I placed the cut stems in a pile about 20 yards away at the edge of our woodland near the compost piles. Hopefully any larva or emerging adults will realize they are close to their host plants.

This year is going to be a study on how this partial spring cleanup plays out. Will I even notice the fallen leaves once summer comes and plants are flourishing? (Probably not. ) Will I still see all the beneficial insects that have found refuge in our gardens in past years? I think so, but it will be a year to pay attention.

What approaches are you taking to have a happy garden as well as preserve a healthy habitat for our beneficial wildlife? Please share.

3 favorite plant shopping spots in San Diego County

Pyrostegia capensis, aka Flame Vine, enticing us to enter Solana Succulents Nursery.

For the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to travel and spend time in San Diego CA during January where our grandson Taylan lives with our son Phil and daughter-in-law Annique.  Each time we come out, we schedule visits to nurseries in search of new plants to bring back and grow in MA. 3 of our favorite stops are Solana Succulents in Solana Beach, Botanic Wonders and Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista.

A very old and bonsai-pruned Titanopsis

Solana Succulents is owned and operated by Jeff Moore, an author of several books on Aloes, Agaves as well as “soft succulents”, which is a phrase now used  to describe a wide variety of succulents that are less tolerant of cold temperatures than “hardy” selections, and are generally not prickly or spiny. Jeff always has a treasure trove on display, including hard to find little gems supplied by individual collectors. Solano Succulents carries fun and unique handmade pottery to showcase specimen succulents and bonsai, and has a particularly attractive feline greeter.

Solana Succulents’ official greeter.

Some or our stash from Solana Succulents.

Botanic Wonders display and selling greenhouse.

Al Klein and Anthony Neubauer of Botanic Wonders in Vista have created a mecca for those in search of rare succulents. Plants are especially well grown and displayed, with an emphasis on Cycads, Cacti, Aloe and Euphorbia. Botanic Wonders also carries some beautiful plant pottery created by local artists. We were especially  smitten with the vessels Susan Aach creates.

An amazing free form vessel created by potter Susan Aach.

Just had to score some of those amazing miniature Aloe at Botanic Wonders.

New to us, this trailing/prostrate Medinilla sedifolia just coming into bloom at Kartuz Greenhouse.

Kartuz Greenhouses is a tiny backyard operation that is a source for unusual tropical plants with an emphasis on Begonia and Gesneriads. Mike Kartuz, a Massachusetts transplant who settled in Vista in the late 1970’s, was a well known figure in the Begonia Society.  Sadly, we learned on this visit that Mike had passed away last summer (2022) at the age of 95. The business is continuing to operate and is run by the very knowledgable and capable Rosa. Rosa worked with Mike in the greenhouse for many years. We hope she continues propagating some truly collectable plants.

some of our finds from Kartuz: L to R Hibiscus splendens, Hoya obscura, Begonia ‘San Miguel’ and Begonia ‘Essie Hunt’. We also bought a number of  dormant plants, which are not photogenic at the moment.

We hope to find time in our final week for a few more nursery visits. Watch for a secondary post with more new acquisitions.


Amaryllis and their Aftercare

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’

So you’ve purchased or were given a gorgeous Amaryllis, and you love it. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are fabulous winter bloomers from the southern hemisphere. There are many species and cultivars and they can be bold and showy or delicate and ethereal. The long lasting flowers can show off for several weeks, and top size bulbs can produce multiple stems.

Amaryllis ‘Evergreen’, with smaller spidery flowers

The big question is: What should you do with your Amaryllis after the holidays to keep these plants happy and encourage them to bloom in the future?  Here are some tips.

  1. When the last flowers fade, remove the flowering stem(s). Do not let seeds form, as this will draw strength from the bulb and may inhibit flowering.
  2. Leave the green strap-like foliage on the plant to provide nourishment to the bulb and continue to give it bright light. Once warm weather arrives, you can put your plants outdoors in a spot that gets morning sun. Water only as needed. Your bulbs should be in a well drained soil mix. Do not keep soil constantly wet.

    Be sure to leave the upper third of the bulb above the soil line when you pot up.

  3. In mid-late summer (August) introduce your plants to dormancy.  They need a 2-3 month period of darkness and cool 45-50F temperatures, and during this spell, withhold water.  This is the challenging part: some of us have basements that remain dark and cool, but most of us do not.  Another option is to use your refrigerator, and this is where a spare fridge is handy.  Place the potted Amaryllis inside, minus any dead foliage.  Or, unpot your Amaryllis bulb, cut off any greenery and place in a bag with some wood shavings or dry sterile potting soil and leave to chill for at least 6-8 weeks.  In mid-late October, remove your bulbs out of their chill cycle, pot them up using a well drained soil mix and water once. Move into a sunny warm spot and do not water again until you see signs of green shooting. Sometimes it takes awhile to wake up the bulbs. Bottom heat can help.

More tips:

4. The choicest varieties need to be purchased from reputable bulb vendors in the fall.  If you want blossoms in time for the December holidays, choose bulbs that have the distinction that they were grown in the southern hemisphere, rather than having been imported from northern regions such as the Netherlands. Give yourself 6- 8 weeks lead time.  Often, these southern hemisphere grown bulbs will be labeled specifically as “Christmas Amaryllis”. Bulbs imported from Northern Europe will still bloom this winter, but they take longer to come into flower. No worries…it’s still delightful to have them burst into bloom in midwinter!

5. After the big chill, be sure to pot up in a sterile, well drained potting mix with the top third of the bulb above the soil surface.  Use a pot that’s only 2-3″ wider than your bulb(s). You could plant multiple bulbs in a large pot for a dramatic display but pack tightly, and a large container will require ample space in a sunny spot to grow on. Remember Amaryllis bulbs do not mind being pot bound. It may be 3-4 years  before it is necessary to move up into bigger pots, and/or divide.





Winter Wreaths: Thoughts and Tips

A 26″+ diameter wreath featuring selections of Elkhorn Cedar, Hinoki Cypress, Korean Arborvitae and Curly Willow.

I purposely titled this post Winter Wreaths, not  “Christmas” Wreaths. This isn’t a political statement but a simple acknowledgment that Winter Wreaths have pagan roots. At the Winter Solstice, the early Northern Europeans created wreaths to symbolize the circular rhythm of the seasons. Winter wreaths made from freshly cut greens will last well into February. There’s no need for red bows and Christmas tucks when you use beautiful plant material.

Detail of a wreath featuring Elkhorn Cedar, Cryptomeria and Hinoki Cypress.

Wreath making is a family tradition worth keeping. For years now, I’ve offered “The Day after Thanksgiving”  Wreath Making Workshop here at Avant Gardens (an alternative to mall shopping) using cuttings and branches gathered from our garden and nursery. Of course it helps that the many conifers we planted years ago have matured to give us ample material to work with (and I’m able to get in some much needed pruning at the same time!).

Many Hinoki Cypress branches in various shades of gold and green, some bearing delightful cones. (Note the leaf undersides facing up.)

So what are some of my favorite conifers to work with?  Early on I learned that Spruce and Fir, often used in commercial wreath production, did not prosper here in southern New England;  both prefer cooler summer climates. However, the many selections of Cedar do thrive: Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cv.), Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Korean Arborvitae (Thuja koraiensis glauca prostrata) and Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata)  offer a variety of texture in shades of gold to darkest green. If you live in warm winter climates, you  have different options…I want to make a wreath using various  asparagus ferns and semi tropical evergreens.

Notice I placed some of the conifer branches so that the back side faces reveals a delicate tracery, and a lovely silver color in the case of Korean Arborvitae and Elkhorn cedar.   Last year our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana had an amazing blue berry set. Alas, this year was disappointing; there was no fruit to speak of and I worry about the poor birds who relish them. What will they feed on instead?

A wire box wreath form is covered with moss plus gathered dried fern leaves to create the base.

Our holly cultivars regularly produce a great berry set thanks to our pollinating bees. We grow ‘Blue Princess’ (Ilex x meserve cv) and  the smaller leaved Ilex x pernyi ‘Dr. Kassab’.  We have the native American Holly in the woods  at the back of our property, but they are a tad more prickly. I also use other broadleaf evergreens such as Boxwood, Inkberry, Laurel, Andromeda and even Ivy, but take note. Broadleaved evergreens desiccate quickly, especially indoors. To compensate I use a wreath base wrapped with moist sphagnum moss. Keep the moss hydrated and your holly wreath will stay fresh much longer.

Working clockwise, bunches of branches and stems bound on using 22 gauge wire. It is important to pull the wire tight as you work.

More and more people are finding the informality of foraged plant  material preferable.  Use woody plant stems with a wilder character, such as curly willow, rose hips, winterberry, or various colored osier dogwoods.  Search for moss and lichen covered twigs that may have fallen to the ground after a windstorm. Collect dried grasses and seed pods to add a variety of textures.

Let it be wild. Resist the urge to make your wreath too balanced and neat.

if you haven’t done so already, and are inspired, take a walk about your property to see what branches you can gather. Don’t hesitate to experiment; that’s what wakens your inner child and makes your wreath an original.

Note:  Please, do not harvest greens and cuttings from public spaces or private property without permission.

Going Native, but Maybe Not All the Way

Meadow in Summer, at the edge of the woodland

The garden style I’ve always preferred is informal, a little on the wild side, where there’s not a lot of fussiness and certain plants are allowed to self sow and naturalize. Managing such a garden requires a knowledgeable caretaker, someone who can check growth on plants that are too exuberant, and know which varieties play well together. It is a style of gardening that is now in vogue, especially when it is composed of native plants.

This winter, I attended numerous virtual lectures and symposia that discussed how to create and manage native plant landscapes. It’s most encouraging that this native plant style is now being employed in many commercial and urban landscapes, as it provides a wildlife habitat along with visual aesthetics. The cardinal rules for success: Understand your site and soil composition, monitor the landscape the first year to insure that plants establish, weed out unwanted invaders, and practice ecologically sensitive pest management.

Popular “native” plant ensemble: Echinacea, Vernonia, Amsonia, Schizachyrium

There is one question that many proponents of planting natives have trouble with…defining which plants can be truly considered native. Are these plants native to your county,  or your geographic region (i.e. southern New England), or can we include the whole country (and the US is a big one)? There are so many gorgeous native plants (think Amsonia, Aruncus, Phlox, etc.) that hail from the Ozark region, an area that includes parts of  Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Illinois. Southern New England and the Ozark Mountains share similar hardiness zones and so many Ozark natives are happily growing in our gardens. But let’s be honest…the Ozark’s are 1400 miles away, from us, anyway.  So, how should we define the range limit of what can be considered a native plant?

A corner of our garden with native and "foreign" species". We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

A corner of our garden with native and “foreign” species”. We lost the variegated Cornus alternifolia, a native, but the Clethra barbinervis, native to Japan, has thrived and provides nectar for our honeybees.

At Avant Gardens, we have always grown selections of ornamental native plants. We also have and will continue to grow ornamental hardy plants native to faraway places: Japan, China, Croatia, England, Spain to name a few. They bring us joy and add to our gardens immensely. I hesitate to  be religious about the native plant movement because I do not what to exclude Elkhorn Cedar and Hinoki Cypress, Japanese Dogwood and Tree Clethra, Hellebores and Perennial Geraniums. And before I hear a lecture,  I fully understand the need to eradicate invasive non native plants!

a form of “native” Hydrangea arborescens: ‘Haas Halo’

I think that we can find a compromise on choosing both native and non native plants for our properties. The suggested goal is to devote 70% of your property to plantings specific to your region to create a native habitat. Now, this percentage assumes that you live on a large enough parcel, but some city dwellers’ homes might take up 70% or more of their lot size. For argument’s sake, let’s allow that  if one’s property is generous in size, with a house footprint of 10%, one can still allot a large space to locally native plants and still be able to find home for some treasured foreigners.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please share.

Fall Container Report 2021

As we approach October, it’s time to evaluate which planters held up well in this surprisingly wet year. Perhaps my favorite planter this year was an afterthought…what to do in a 36″ bowl that gets less and less sun each year. It was in an area that doesn’t get much attention to boot, but as you can see it didn’t suffer at all.

This combination of different Snakeplants (Sansevieria) and Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon nigrescens) with variegated ivy and Dichondra worked astonishingly well. Sophisticated in a way, but totally unfussy! Will have to consider a future repeat performance.
It’s been 20 years since we’ve grown Brugmansia (Angel’s Trumpet), but since we have had so many inquiries recently,  we decided to give them another go. (I vaguely remember that they were a magnet for whiteflies, and banned them from the greenhouse.) In June I ordered 5 different varieties from Logee’s, (yes, a late start for a summer display, especially starting with 4″ pots), but with regular doses of the  miraculous Neptune’s Harvest fish/seaweed fertilizer, they all took off. The mystery selection shown above differed from the name tag description, but it sure was quick to flower. In fact it is in its second flush right now.

This is what we learned: Brugmansia grow very fast in tropical weather conditions (we’ve certainly had  heat, humidity and a fair amount of rain this season).  We know that hybrids of the species versicolor have flowers that first appear yellow then age to shades of pink. Two of the 5 selections grew to large proportions but as of Sept 27 are only now forming flower buds.  Two others provided flowers within  3 months time.  Logee’s ‘Pink Champagne’  (pictured above) has a subtle coloring that is best enjoyed up close. The larger proportioned  ‘Angel’s Lemon Zest’ (below) has also rewarded us with repeat flowerings.

I should say that this year we’ve enjoyed simply growing on specimen plants in individual containers, and either arranging little groups or featuring  on pedestals of their own. The little Goldfish Plant, Nematanthus  gregarius, is an easy “succulent” for shadier spots. Consider it an indoor/outdoor plant..most of us have a windowsill that will accommodate this little guy for the winter,  and then next year it can renew itself outdoors again all summer.

A 20 year old pot of Haworthia reinwardtii and a 3 year old Aeolinanthus repens spent the summer outdoors, and will return to a western window inside for the winter…super easy plants to keep happy!

And now for the before and after pics.  All in all, plants held up well, although this was the year the Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ really sulked. It didn’t die, but it didn’t luxuriate as in previous summers…too humid?A few succulents exceeded their bounds and needed a cut back.
Here the Dichondra was cut back in Sept. when it got dingy looking.You can never go wrong combining succulents with Phormium.Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ likes to be fed a lot, and it will  reward you with blooms all summer. Begonias may have liked the humidity but not constant wetness. Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ above, one of the best, never complained. Begonia ‘Escargot’ , below,  survived, but was more challenging to keep  happy.

Please tell us…how did your containers fare this summer? Still looking good? Which plants impressed you the most?

Cool plants, cool pots…a visit to Solana Succulents

We just returned from a “too quick” visit to the San Diego area. On this trip we had the joyful distraction of our adorable 6 month old grandson, so there was not a lot of time for plant exploring. We did however get to check in at one of our favorite haunts, Solana Succulents.  This little succulent oasis is owned by Jeff Moore, whose book Aloes and Agaves in Cultivation, is a reference we use often.

I love nurseries where there are one of a kind treasures everywhere you look, and this is the case at Solana Succulents.  There are always new plants to discover,  and on this day we were introduced to  Eulophia petersii, commonly called Corduroy Orchid (center foreground), awaiting transplanting to a more decorative pot.

The dramatic black and white coloring of this Dyckia caught my eye…

as did this Hylocereus undatus, the dragon fruit cactus.

Another thing I love at these little specialty nurseries is the choice pottery that are featured in their displays, and often for sale. The containers themselves are unique sculptural elements. Elevate this art form with a perfectly matched plant and you have created arresting eye candy.

A textured tan and turquoise rectangular planter featured a choice caudiciform Ficus. Call it minimalism or abstraction, but there’s no denying that the plant and pot together command attention.

Perhaps we intuitively picked up on this art form  on our first visit to California years ago. We’ve been collecting cool vessels for planters for quite some time and feature an assortment of small and large fine pottery to showcase individual specimens or ensembles. These sculptural elements are little luxuries that please the eye and enrich the soul.

Hopeful Anticipation

The Hellebore hybrids are consistent early performers that really show off when early spring temperatures moderate.

We are several weeks into spring 2021, and so far, no surprise snow storms! Actually, we have even had a few days when it felt like it was the middle of May. Oh it’s so easy to get giddy when the skies are calm and blue and the temperature reaches 70F. Still, this New England gardener has had more than a few stinging memories of drastic temperature swings, when garden and nursery plants were nipped in the bud (literally and figuratively).

Jeffersonia dubia taking in the early morning sunshine on April 8th.

This unseasonal warm spell we just experienced did push growth on the earliest blooming perennials, and buds of many trees and shrubs have begun to swell (in our protected front garden our Katsura Japanese maple is beginning to leaf out weeks early). Except where voles and chipmunks have unearthed and/or eaten roots of choice Epimedium and Hakonechloa, it looks like there are fewer overwinter losses. The chipmunks especially love creating their tunneled habitats in the stone wall raised beds that Chris has built around the property. We’ve come to resign ourselves that we just have to share the gardens.

Chipmunks’ burrowing tunnels exposed the roots and created air pockets around dwarf Solomon’s Seal and Epimedium, and we are not sure who to blame for the gnawed below the crown of the Japanese Forest Grass.

One thing that has us already concerned is that 2021 has been unseasonably dry here in southeastern Massachusetts. You may not be experiencing a lack of precipitation in your region, or have no need for concern yet, but with last week’s warmth, we already began dragging hoses around to soak our planting beds.

This leads to the question, “What type of growing conditions should we plan for this year?” Last summer was horrifically dry for us (at least our succulent collections were happy).  Although there is still  time to catch up on rainfall totals, it would be wise to add a protective layer of compost/mulch on garden beds to help conserve moisture. Also, selecting adaptable but more drought tolerant native plants is advice that no one could argue with.

Aster ptarmicoides (Upland White Aster), native to the midwest, is a durable plant for the front of the sunny border.

Gardeners are optimists. In April,  we anticipate regular rainfall and kind growing conditions for the year ahead. That being said, those of us who have been at this for a while know to have a backup plan in place in case our positive outlooks become challenged. Yes, that adaptability thing…plants, human expectations…it is key in being a happy gardener.

How did your garden fare this winter? What are you most hopeful  for this season?