Budding

Don’t take your eyes off of May. You may miss a fleeting moment that will not be available to see again for a very long time. Nor will next spring look quite like this one. This spring moment is a unique moment. Enjoy this spring like it is the only one you have ever experienced.  This seems a proper response to nature’s May extravaganza. The spring is an opera of the grandest sort. This once yearly production is a month long celebration of the opening of the garden. That age old and dramatic play with a cast of many thousands has a beginning in March. By April, one can feel the momentum building. I swear I can feel the ground shuddering, ridding itself of the frost in the ground. OK, maybe I can’t, bit I imagine that I do. No matter how road ready one is for spring, come the beginning of May, there will be much too much to absorb.  One dramatic moment after another leaves a gardener blinking, and struggling to keep up. That complex constellation of spring stories is attended by no end of subplots, addendum’s, asides, unexpected turns and twists. Following the progression of spring is an unforgettable exposure to the natural world.

How many thousands of words would your essay about spring amount to? I will sheepishly admit to a novella, but for the fact that the spring comes too fast. Watching the spring play out is the best program it has ever been my pleasure to watch. So mostly, I watch.The cast is huge. The costumes are gorgeous. The spring orchestra has too many members playing their individual instruments to count. The volume is turned up. Every scene is juicy.

The plants in my garden responding to the call of spring are many. This 14th of May, some of my plants are fully leafed out. Others are just coming out of the ground. The ornamental grasses and hardy hibiscus have not made a move.  They like the warm soil of early June. My clematis are fully budded up. The hostas and ferns are unfurling. Evergreens are sending forth their new growth, known as candles. That the new growth on evergreens is known as a candle speaks to the season when the sun returns. The roses are leafing out, and growing on. The lilies are up. The delphiniums are almost 2 feet tall. The boxwoods are carpeted in their lime green new growth. The dogwoods are loaded with flowers. The azalea and rhododendron buds are swelling. Intoxicating-all of it.

The Princeton Gold maples are just about fully leafed out. The lime green color of the leaves is both fresh and luscious. Not one of the three 2 story houses in close proximity to mine can be seen. This has become a fairly shady garden, thus the yews along the fence, the pachysandra European ginger and beech ferns on the ground –  all of which are bouncing back fast from the winter. I spend more time looking at or being in this garden than any other place in my yard. In the summer it is quiet but for the sound of the water, and private.  In the spring, it is growing in every dimension and direction.  I take this picture almost every day. As the lens is focusing on what is there, so am I.

My picea abies mucrunatum candle in the most astonishing fashion. That lime green new growth is a feature of the spring growth on most evergreens. If you are accustomed to thinking that evergreens are dark and dour, watch the fireworks in the spring.

The dogwoods are breathtaking. I have not seen them bloom so profusely for a good many years. An upper deck means I have a view of them at eye level, and  from the top down. Changes of grade in a garden enable multiple views. There is nothing particularly extraordinary about any of the plants. Nor is this a show garden. Nature works the spring miracle everywhere equally. It is all there, everywhere, to be appreciated.

The Boston ivy at the shop leafs out slowly over the course of a solid month. It still has a few weeks to go before the walls will be completely covered in green.  The space between this east facing wall and the concrete driveway could not be any wider than 6 inches.  I do not recall planting one ostrich fern in that gap, much less all of these. I am sure how they spread happened over a period of years, but this spring I suddenly notice how thick and lush they have become. I am sure the heat of the summer will test them, but right now they are lovely.

Should anyone wonder where the phrase “grass green” came from, please reference the above picture.  It is a spring green color quite unlike any other plant. Mine has responded strongly to all of the rain we have had in the past month. Later I will appreciate how soft it is underfoot. How the transpiration from all of the leaf blades will provide natural cooling on hot summer days. The green color will darken. But right now, I am enjoying this simple version of spring.

Too soon, the spring growth will harden off, and this moment will evolve from an experience to a memory. I intend to keep looking as long as it lasts.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Mind Your Freeze and Queue

I have had this photograph saved on my computer for so long that I no longer remember where it came from. If this is your photograph, please email me and bawl me out for posting your picture without attribution or permission. But I will take the chance, and post it anyway. Why so? It illustrates dramatically how nothing in the garden happens on a reliable timetable.  The trains may run on time, but nature takes her time deciding when one season ends, and another starts. These tulips covered in snow speak volumes about what it means to garden. I might write 10,000 words about the unpredictability of nature, and how no gardener can will a season into being when they are tired of the last one, but this photograph tells the entire story with one image. Gardeners may plan and scheme, and favor their own agenda, but nature bats last. She is known for knocking every one of her moves out of the park. Tulips in full bloom covered with snow are a a lesson. I like lessons. Can you not hear her bat hitting the ball? Michigan gardeners are in that hazy phase between the spring and the summer gardening season. I understand the impulse to push the boundaries, and forge ahead, but in fact our current gardening season is not in any way the summer season.  Spring is in full swing.

Mind your freeze and queue? We had temperatures at or below 32 last night. At 7am this morning, the temperature was still 32. The overnight forecast tonight is for 34 degrees-not exactly balmy. A hard freeze will damage the blooms on fruit trees, the tender shoots of hostas, and any seasonal plant native to tropical regions. It may damage budding clematis, and the new shoots on roses. A nighttime freeze in May is not unheard of in our zone. Frost free dates are plentiful after Memorial Day, in Michigan. Memorial day is a few weeks away-just saying. This means the wet and cold spring weather is current in the garden queue. No gardener likes to be stuck in the seasonal queue.  We are all impatient, and ready to let loose. You might try to cut in the line leading up to to the summer season, but why rush? Summer is a good ways off for us. This means you have time to enjoy and appreciate the spring. Our small greenhouse is stuffed full of plants that do not like cold soil, or cold nights. We anticipate that our gardening clientele are ready. We do not heat this house much, but it is protected from very cold temperatures, wind, and hard spring rains. We are very careful to advise any customer who buys from this house that these plants will not be happy outdoors right now.  The warmer days, and warm nights, are yet to come. The soil warming up is a true sign of summer.

A Solenia orange begonia in full bloom wreathed with lobelia and creeping jenny does my winter weary heart a world of good.  Truth be told, the longer this basket enjoys the protection of a greenhouse, the better it will look once it is moved outside. I have never been much in a hurry to rush the summer season. Tropical/seasonal plants are native to warm places. Those warm places feature warm soil. A tropical plant subjected to cold soil and cold temperatures will suffer. By no means will they grow. They circle the chilly spring season in a holding pattern, and languish. They suffer set backs that may never be made up. My solution?  Enjoy your spring as long as you can.

Our greenhouse features a lucky sourcing of cut dogwood branches-they have been glorious for over a week. We had a fresh batch delivered today. We do have tropical ferns and streptocarpus that require a warm environment. We can keep cold sensitive plants in this space until the threat of frost is gone. If you fall for a lemon tree or a myrtle topiary, move them indoors when cold weather is a threat. If you have a rosemary or lavender, both of which are cold tolerant, don’t test them.  Lavenders and rosemarys grown in greenhouses are not particularly  acclimatized to very cold temperatures.

There are plenty of plants that thrive in colder environments. This fuchsia topiary will come out of the spring in a very strong way, and  endure the summer. Other plants that are happy to bridge that wide river between spring and summer are pansies, petunias, dianthus, dusty miller, alyssum, violas, million bells, sweet peas and cold tolerant herbs-look up transitional container plants on your own. There are lots of choices for chilly spring conditions available. I know the need for some color and life motivates every gardener.  Plant away with those annuals and perennials that shrug off the cold. But I would encourage you to enjoy your spring. Stretch it out. Summer will come soon enough. That fresh coming to life of the garden you see everywhere now is the treasure that is spring.

Rob plants lots of lettuce tubs in the spring. We bring them on in our greenhouse. They fly out of the shop, once the weather warms up. This tub is spending the night indoors. It will be too cold to leave it outside.

The predicted night temperatures tonight tell a story about spring. Spring is not so sweet. It can be very cold and windy. I wore my winter coat to work today. Such is spring in Michigan. It is predicted to be so cold overnight, tonight. The truly warm is yet to come. Be patient. If you cannot be patient, beware. Our spring weather than turn on a dime. The beauty of this moment? Spring is everywhere I look. In full bloom. This pair of arched espaliered crab apple trees is in full bloom at the shop now. So beautiful.

The spring season is all about the growth, and the greening. I try to take the time to appreciate this moment.

My clients Rich and Dan have a river of grape hyacinths in bloom right now. This is a spring moment that is truly extraordinary.

My grass at home is long and the most intoxicating shade of spring green imaginable. I am savoring the spring scene.

To follow-more love of the spring season. This spring container that Rob planted with lavender and violas looks terrific right now.

The window boxes in the front of the shop full of pansies are so beautiful, and appropriately in the spring queue. What a glorious day, today.

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Spring Beauty

Once our season finally and resolutely turns away from winter and embraces spring, there is enough fresh heaven to make any gardener’s heart beat faster. The early blooming ornamental trees light up the springtime sky with masses of flowers overhead. The flowers of the magnolias, crab apples, cherries, apples, and dogwoods bloom with abandon.The lime green flowers of maple trees against the blue spring sky sing spring. The buds on the bare branches of deciduous shrubs swell, break dormancy, and begin to leaf out. The garden coming back to life is pure joy to the heart of a gardener. The wild flowers have been holding forth for at least a month. That substantial group we know as spring flowering bulbs are in the thick of their bloom. The lilacs are beginning to bloom; bravo, beloved syringa! Everywhere a gardener looks, there are plants growing and blooming. Intoxicating, this moment.

Our April may be and usually is rainy and cool. All the plants drink up the April weather. Every plant has its own schedule – no surprise here.  Plants are very specific about what conditions they want to survive, grow and bloom. At this moment, every plant in the landscape is making their much anticipated yearly debut. Every individual voice is contributing to that symphony we call spring.

PJM rhododendrons tolerate our hot summers and frosty winters better than the big flowered and big leaved rhododendron maximum that grow like weeds to 15 feet in the warmer woods and gardens in Pennsylvania.  I will confess I have a few of those big rhodies in my garden. I coax them along. But the PJM hybrid grows and blooms reliably.  The flowers are an electric shade of light purple. If you like your spring served up with a side order of splashy, plant some.

One of spring’s most breathtaking moments is an espaliered fruit tree in full bloom. Melissa and her sister own a celebrated landscape design/build and maintenance company in my area. She bought this espalier from Detroit Garden Works years ago, and has spent a good many more years training this tree to embrace her chimney at home. She put many years of thoughtful pruning to make this expression of spring what it is – sensational. I have never seen better. The big idea here is that an espalier of this caliber can be grown by anyone who is into the garden for the long haul.

A mass of yellow and white tulips is as cheery as it is striking. Though the bloom time is fleeting, I cannot imagine a spring without tulips. This is a very dressed up and showy spring moment, whether you plant 60 or 600.

The dogwoods are just now coming in to flower, and they are spectacular this year. Only one year in 3 or 4 do mine bloom this profusely. As long as the weather stays cool, the blossoms will hold. Cool spring nights lengthens the life all the early bloomers, much like a floral cooler extends the life of cut flowers.

The peonies are not blooming yet – they will be the star of the June garden. But they are in season as cut flowers. These Coral Charm peonies bring the spring indoors. I was able to watch them open from the bud stage top the full blown flowers for over a week.

The Branch Studio has a new line of contemporary pots and garden tables. Nothing says new better than a wall of Boston ivy leafing out, and ostrich ferns unfurling. Weeks ago we planned to photograph them in front of this wall as it was emerging. This early spring moment is to be treasured.  Though I am as anxious as anyone else to be outdoors enjoying warm weather, the spring season is as much a time to appreciate the process of the greening, as it is a time to plan and plant.

This block of Himalayan white barked birch planted 15 years ago is beautiful in every season. The spring show is about the catkins, or flowers.  Hundreds of tiny flowers are arranged around a drooping spike. A catkin is as subtle as can be, but many thousands of them create haze of green that hovers above all of those stark white branches. A quiet kind of spring beauty, this.

For a gardener who is looking to make changes in the design of their landscape and garden, now is the perfect time to focus intently on the part that plants play in creating structure and shape. The bare bones are greening up, and the perfect time to plant is just ahead.

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Saucer Magnolia

The saucer magnolias are in outrageously heavy bloom everywhere I go, and everywhere I look. They are over the top beautiful this year, much to my delight. They ornament the spring blooming landscape in a way no other flowering tree could hope to rival. Every saucer magnolia in bloom now I can spot from better than a block away, the blooms are so profuse. They blanket every branch with 6″ long petals and sepals that look like a saucer, and flutter in the slightest breeze. When the saucer magnolias are good, they are the visual equivalent of a torrid romance. So much drama! The entire canopy of the tree is dressed in the most glorious shades of pale and rose pink. The texture is incredible.The saucer magnolia in bloom, formally known as magnolia soulangiana, is a spring moment like no other.

Perhaps it is a good thing that a heavy bloom on this magnolia is not always a given. All that saucy sweetness might be cloying in too big or too long a dose. Trees that profusely flower-I can never decide if I like that or not. With perfectly moderate and cool days and nights, magnolias may bloom for a week to 10 days. Any weather too hot, too cold, or too this or that will cut surely cut short the display. The saucer magnolia flowers are notoriously susceptible to an early demise from a spring freeze. As freezing night temperatures in March are not unusual, years with no flowers, and more frequent years with sparse flowers are the norm. So when nature is cooperative, I truly enjoy the spectacle of it all. Planting a magnolia out of a south facing full sun location can help delay the bloom long enough for the threat of frost to pass.

Saucer magnolias in my area have quite hefty trunks, indicating a planting from many years ago. That speaks volumes about the hardiness and the suitability of the tree for this area. Though the flowers may frost off before they open, the trees are completely hardy to zone 4. They are a mid sized tree that matures to about 25 feet tall and equally as wide, meaning it is easier to place them on a small property than a shade tree. The tree itself is every bit as ornamental as the flowers.  The bark is a smooth and pleasing shade of gray.  Old trees have colonies of lichens ornamenting that bark. Mature trees have very sculptural overall branch structure. The glossy leaves are large.  This is a tree that has great texture in bloom, and in leaf. The yellow fall color is spectacular.

I have seen magnolias devastated by scale, or marred by fungus, but by and large they are fairly carefree. They like the middle of the road. Soil that is not too dry or too wet. They like a good amount of sun, but they don’t fuss if there is a little less. They will endure in less than perfect conditions. They mean to oblige. This makes them a perfect choice for a gardener looking for an ornamental tree of substance. Though some might fuss about the petal drop, I find that pink litter on the grass to be an excellent reason to have some grass underneath them.  The effect is magical.

There are many other varieties and hybrids of magnolias, many of which are garden worthy. I plant them whenever I get a chance. They are as sculptural in their structure as they are ethereal in flower. If this is not enough to persuade you to plant a saucer magnolia, consider this.  A 2 gallon size saucer magnolia is available to you at your local garden center right now at a very reasonable cost.  Plant a small magnolia, and stand back. Sooner than you think, this one magical magnolia week of the year will be a week you will treasure .

This beautiful old saucer magnolia in flower is already shedding petals. Lovely, this.

This picture I took on the fly from my car, which I stopped in the middle of a very busy road. The person behind me was irritated, but when the saucer magnolias are good, I take time to enjoy them. Never mind his honking. The spring is a time to take the time to enjoy.

I do not have any saucer magnolias at home. Their mature width is tough in a landscape as small as mine.  I planted the magnolia “Galaxy”.  They have a more upright habit of growth, and tend to be single trunked. That shape suits my landscape better than a saucer magnolia. That moment when their intensely rose pink flowers are backed up by my Norway maple in full bloom is an experience of spring that makes my heart pound. This said, I am sure the spring season energizes every gardener. I am so glad that other gardeners close to me have the saucer magnolias of considerable age and in full bloom for me to enjoy. My landscape is happily a relative of what goes on in my neighborhood and comunity.

Galaxy magnolia in bloom overhead

Hello spring.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save