Garden Diary - March 2004

First Week:

An afternoon in the garden shows me just how much there is to do. And winter's leisurely "time out" means I must again readjust to all the bending, stooping, streching that gardening entails. Lots of little bulbs and the earliest perennials are in bloom, and if I want to show them at their prettiest it is important to tidy up. Today's activities included a start on the seemingly endless pick-up-sticks that a woodland garden offers. They went into the outside curves of the intermittent drainage creek, where storm waters surging downstream tear away at the banks. Piled up, laced together, the occasional punky small tree weighing the smaller branches down - it helps to slow the force of the water. A layer of old leaves to top it off means my efforts to heal the erosion look reasonably natural. And there are enough fallen branches, from twig to branch to large enough to have been dangerous when it came down, to keep me quite busy.

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, bane of my existance, is already looking green and vigorous. This introduced exotic weed grows as a winter annual, flowering in its second season and then dying. So where the ground was soft enough to tear them out roots and all, I went after it. Parts of the creekside gardens are thawed enough for such activity, other places are still icy/ solid beneath the surface. Just as dandelions do, if garlic mustard's main root remains in the ground, it regenerates. I have sufficient to weed out that I don't want to have to go after any of them twice. So, perched on my little Toadstool, a small cushioned seat on a monopod that allows me to sit and weed, I made a start on getting out those large-enough-to-flower plants of garlic mustard that were lurking near the hellebores. My Toadstool came from New Tribe. They're the same folks who manufacture and sell the Weed Wrench woody plant puller. Too bad it doesn't work on garlic mustard and other soft weeds. Does a great job on multiflora roses, other invasive shrubs and self-sown small trees though.

I've been eager to get outside and start working in the garden before this, but when the weather has been good I've been away, and when I'm home it hasn't been nice. Until today that it. But the bits and bobs of sunshine has coaxed all sorts of plants out of the ground. There's a plethora of snowdrops, from the familiar Galanthus nivalis and various cultivars such as 'S. Arnott' and 'Mighty Atom' to apple-green leafed G. woronowii. The larger, gray-leafed G. elwesii, with a pair of green markings on the inner tube has also been in flower for a week or ten days. And this is the exciting time of year when things appear between one day and the next. Spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum, is in bloom, with fat white, green-tipped bells. Winter aconite, Eranthis hiemalis, has bright golden yellow, buttercup-like flowers in several places in the woods. And the uncommon white flowered species, E. pinnatifida, which I raised from seed sent to me by a friend in Japan several years ago, is also in flower.

These little beauties of spring make their growth so early in the season that the soil is cold and nutrients are not readily available. What's more, these spring flowering bulbs go quickly dormant. So I like to give them a little boost, to help them store up reserves for next spring's display. While I use granular fertilizer at planting time, any surface application now means the bulbs will be dormant by the time it gets down to the roots. For these reasons my fertilizer of choice is a liquid, something the bulbs can instantly make use of, even absorbing the nutrients through their leaves when the liquid gets splashed around. My preference is Blossom Booster, manufactured by J.R. Peters, Inc. in Allentown, PA, under the brand name Jack's Classic. The analysis of this particular water-soluable plant food with micronutrients is 10-30-20. Less nitrogen, more phosphorus and potash is just what bulbs prefer. While I was at it, as well as the white winter aconites I sloshed some on Adonis amurensis, a wonderful early woodland perennial that also in flower now. Adonis has cheery yellow buttercup-like flowers, and thread-fine, ferny foliage. Like the bulbs, adonis will also go dormant in late spring. The earliest hellebores, Early Purple Group, with their deep purple flowers accented by white stamens, also got a nourishing drink. But only those I'd managed to tidy up by trimming off last year's ratty, tired, brown leaves. That way I know any plants that have been cut back have also been fed, rather than confusing myself with "did I prune or did I feed?"

Last Week:

Now that the end of March is close upon us, what changes there have been since last I wrote in this diary entry. Robins strut and step across the lawn, black-capped males that have made the advance journey North to stake out their nesting territories before the lady robins arrive. Maples show the first tracery of color as their buds redden and swell against the sky. Skim-milk blue flowers of Scilla mischtschenkoana seemingly open between one day and the next, pooling over the ground. The intense purple to translucent lavender flowers of the little woodland crocus, Crocus tomasinnianus, open wide in the sunshine and welcome the honey bees. All sorts of shoots peer forth from the ground, adding their urgency to spring clean-up chores.

Last fall when I was planting bulbs in the garden and also potting some for forcing I tried something new. As well as potting several tulips, daffodils, or hyacinths in 6- to 8-inch diameter containers I potted some individually. I used a type of extra-large cell pack (in a rather vivid turquoise blue) that came from a big box store with super-size impatiens. Each compartment was filled with an open, free-draining potting mix, and then a single bulb of 'Pink Pearl' hyacinth or 'Peach Blossom' tulip was perched on top. They were watered, and kept in the unheated garage all winter. Now the hyacinths are in flower, and the tulips well-budded up. Last weekend I re-did the tool shed windowboxes, placing six of the intense, rather Pepto-bismol pink hyacinths in a row towards the back of each window box, and filling inbetween and in front of the bulbs with deep purple and pale lavender violas. Very attractive, and a technique worth repeating since the super-size cell packs take up less space in the garage than window boxes full of bulbs.

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