May Days

the spring garden (7)If you are a gardener in my zone, there is nothing quite like the experience of May. The winter lets go reluctantly. Early March was warm and friendly. Late March, April and the first two weeks of May were chilly enough to put on a jacket, and zip it up. When I went to work yesterday morning, the air temperature was 37 degrees. These are personal observations. The dormant trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs have been responding to physical changes in the temperature and day length in a different way.  Once all of the signs suggest it is time to bud out, leaf out, or emerge from the ground, the plants go for broke. They don’t much respond to daily changes. An apple tree in full bloom has next to no defense against a string of below freezing temperatures. For sheer drama, the spring is hard to beat.

American dogwood It is so hard to believe this is already the 23rd day of May. For 23 days, I have been observing the process of spring.  The hellebores and crocus emerge early.  They are long finished blooming.  The daffodils have had a very long run, given the past month of cold nights. Only a few straggling blooms remain.   The tulips were challenged by the warm and then the cold, and then the May snow-it was not their best year.  The magnolias have already shed most of their flowers. My American dogwoods are in full bloom-how incredibly beautiful they are this spring. All of the evergreens are pushing that lush lime green spring growth that makes my gardening heart beat a little faster.  The azaleas and lily of the valley in my north side garden are blooming in much the same fashion as they have for the past 22 years.

the spring garden (8)The few perennials that I have are growing with abandon.  The lady’s mantle, catmint, and delphiniums are especially robust. That growing with abandon is a good description of the spring season.  I do not have a fancy landscape or garden. It is an ordinary trial and true urban garden. It is shot through with early spring weeds. There are places where the design is less than stellar, or not apparent. Woe the design move that is not visually apparent!  There are more than a few places that need updating. There is no time to think about that now.  The spring is the time to enjoy each and every plant emerging from the strangle hold of winter.

spring garden (23)To my delight, a modest stand of sweet woodruff, and campanula porscharskayana has completely covered the ground. The leafy remains of some old daffodils are grassy good contrast to the plants covering the ground. The weeds in the path – they are growing with abandon too. The obsession with pulling my weeds and cleaning up will come later. I am wholly engaged in watching the plants do what they do.

the spring garden (2)I have only 3 plants of variegated lily of the valley. None of them have particularly increased in size over the past 3 years. This plant has two stalks this year-how great is that? These three plants, growing in spite of being overrun by ivy, may be small, but they are an important part of my experience of spring.

the spring garden (14)The joy of designing is different. It so much more about architecture, flow, and sculpture.  It is much about line, direction, mass, texture, color, and function. Though I am designing for clients, and have done so regularly since the beginning of March, my spring is all about the plants.

the spring garden (13)I live in an urban neighborhood. Some landscapes and gardens are well designed.  Other properties have nothing much that could be attributed to great design, but every one of their plants is growing just the same as mine. If they falter from neglect, that sorry situation will become apparent later. I take several things from this.  Nature has its own independent agenda. And, those gardeners who are more interested in plants than design have my respect. At this moment in the season, I am right with them. Even though the grasses and hardy hibiscus will not be fully grown and in their glory until much later, watching the process by which they broach the spring is every bit as interesting as their flowers.  The spring means good things for every square inch of ground from which a plant might grow.

the spring garden (16)The parrotias are leafing out so fast, the leaves are wilted from the effort.

the spring garden (10)The ferns and hostas are in that gawky adolescent phase.

spring garden (29)The Princeton gold maple leaves are the most shocking shade of chartreuse imaginable.  Later in the summer, that lime green will fade to green.

spring garden (26)Everywhere I look something is growing.

spring garden (16) - CopyA seedling Helleborus argutifolius has taken 4 years to grow to blooming size.  A mild winter means I have had the please of three blooming stalks for over a month now.

spring garden (10) - CopyWhat great May days we are having.





  1. Pam Csatari says:

    Thoroughly enjoy your blog and consider it a blessing.

  2. virginia skold says:

    What a surprise to see variegated lily of the valley.

  3. Your writing is astonishing. You have a voice like none other.

  4. elicia dowd says:

    Thanks for sharing!
    Where I live in Southern NH, my land is mostly rock (granite) and my inherited garden beds soil is very sandy, but I am determined and love getting my hands dirty. Your blogs give me inspiration, I will prevail.
    Have you had any luck with lavender? My neighbors and I have taken on the task of planting perennials at the end of our streets cul de sac – there are 4 of us and we each are taking a 1/4 of circle to plant seeds and/or wild flowers. Its sunny all day, dry and soil again, sandy (good drainage). Thinking that lavender may be a good choice.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Elicia, I do not know anything about what grows in New Hampshire. You need to consult someone who gardens where you do. all the best, Deborah

    • Jean Calaci says:

      I garden in Southern NH, near Elicia. Lavender grows here, but not exuberantly. Try Nepeta, Geum, Alchemical Mollis (usually prefers some shade, but I grow it in sun, too), Phlox, some Geraniums like Rozanne, Nh purple or Cantabrigiense. For annuals, cornflowers and zinnias. If you are patient, peonies are very satisfying here. Good luck.
      Deborah, I so admire what you do and I really enjoy your writing. I hope I can visit your shop someday.

  5. Four years! Congratulations! One must possess abundant patience in this gardening thing. Love love love your blog!

  6. Love your description of the ferns- gawky adolescent phase. So true!

  7. I needed this so much Debra! I have been focusing on the dying pachysandra borders hit with Volutella blight, maple seeds sprouting in the thinning ivy, in wild abandon, and a old garden, which needs so much redo and replanting…instead this morning I will inhale the perfume from the lily of the valley, anticipate the blooming soon of the over 30 buds of the Japanese peony, and the stunning show coming from the over 20 blooms of the white wisteria which hasn’t bloomed since I planted it over 15 years ago! Gardening is so bitter sweet! Finding your blog has been so good for me..I have found my humility, patience and restraint again! Thank you!

  8. Nancy Szerlag says:

    Thanks for the delightful tour of your spring garden, Deborah and the reminder to enjoy the magic of spring.

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