Budded

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If you garden, March is an acutely disappointing month.  If March feels like an illness to you, it is. That late winter gardener’s fever–entirely predictable.  The hope that spring is almost here when it is in fact many weeks away-a normal symptom of said illness.  Once March arrives, no matter what constitutes likely and reasonable, I am over the winter.  I have eyes, ears and a nose for spring.  Though I have written this in countless ways for the last month, this time I really mean it!  The thought that spring is near has been much on my mind- for weeks.  What the gardening heart hopes for bears no remote resemblance to reality-that conflict would be a good definition of a Michigan March.  Hope versus reality-game on.

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My yard is a trashed by the winter.The grass is the color of hay.  That hay has been pounded into the ground by the corgis, so the color is actually dirty hay.  How many gallons of paint do you suppose a paint manufacturer might sell if they names a color dirty hay?  Well, ok, gardeners might warm up to it.  But the idea of dirty hay is pretty unappetizing.  Just like March in Michigan.

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The isotoma around my fountain at home looks dead.  The leaves are brown and black, accented by a glaze of rot.  Who knows if or how much of it has survived this winter.  Some of the coldest days of the winter are courtesy of this March.  How it looks right now-horrifying.  The clematis are but brittle sticks, and the boxwood are burned.  My moss stuffed cow-known as Lady Miss Bunny, has dead weeds sticking out of her side.  Dead rotting leaves are sprinkled all over the yard.  Could my garden possibly look worse than it does right now?

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The European ginger?  The leaves are limp, and lay flat on the ground-exhausted.  I so understand this feeling.  The look of it-I try not to look.  Many of the leaves have those large black patches gardeners know as decomposition.  I do not dare clean them up yet-we have night forecasts in the 20’s for the next week.  Most of the snow was gone, meaning really cold night temperatures could hurt.

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My hopes for March are always unrealistic.  Last year’s March was warm-enticing.  Though it satisfied my need for an early spring, it made me uneasy.  April confirmed that unease.  Freezing temperatures over an extended period of April days was destructive to early spring flowering trees, maples, and birch.  No spring for us, last year.  The 2012 spring disaster- every gardener in my zone remembers.  The nights covering vulnerable plants to no avail. All of the hellebores blooming collapsed in pathetic heaps on the ground. Such shock-realizing that our spring would be erased by deadly low temperatures.  Gardeners far away wrote to me, their voices charged with grief and irritation very much like mine.  Gardeners in my zone and in many other regions have been waiting for a glorious spring for close to 2 years.

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March is anything but a spring month; March is in fact the last of the winter season.  We have has snow more days these first 2 weeks of March, than not.   A single oddball 62 degree day made me believe the winter was over-I truly believed that the crocus, eranthis and hellebores were but days away.  But one day does not a spring season make. The utter cold has returned; just this morning, four inches of fresh snow.  I m shoveling, not gardening.  March is a month marked by the tumultuous transition from one season to another.  Sometimes that transition is easy and sensible.  Other times that transition is so slow, boring, and treacherous,  one could weep.

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The trees and shrubs have no such angst.  They go dormant given the day length and temperatures.  They set buds for spring season, months ahead.  They prepare.  They have no expectation of mercy.  They wait.  The urge to emerge revolves around a complex set of conditions.  Natural relationships that culminate in the OK to grow.

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A bud is an undeveloped shoot.  A leaf or a flower shoot.  Once formed, that bud may lay dormant for months, waiting for the moment when conditions favor growth.  When woody plants form buds, the exterior of that bud is tough-encapsulating.  Breaking dormancy is a very vulnerable state-best not to do so, unless there is a reasonable expectation of success.  Nature provides mechanisms by which that tender stage we call growth is protected from its enemies, until the time is right.   Many plant buds are covered in scales.  These modified leaves protect the life brewing within that bud from cold, wind,and physical insult.

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Many buds are covered in a gummy substance that further protects them from untoward conditions.  These magnolia flower buds have a remarkably rigid hinged casing that is covered in soft downy hair.  This magnolia is always the first plant to bloom in my yard. The buds are swelling, meaning that spring will arrive. Everywhere in my zone the buds are beginning to swell.  They anticipate spring in a very different way than I do.  They intuit the natural shift of the season. They respond to that subtle change in conditions, in a slow and subtle way.  These buds may swell, but they won’t break dormancy until there is a more extended period of moderate weather.

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The buds can hold a very long time, if the weather does not take a more friendly turn. Most perennials have naked buds. What you see in this picture is the remains of my asparagus.  The spring shoots are still safely ensconced below ground. They have little defense against bitter cold. They stay dormant, buds and all, until they have the all clear. The leaf buds of the roses, encased in the same waxy substance as the stems.  They are ready, but holding their cards close.

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The cream colored knobs on this yew-the flowers that will hardly be noticed.  The flowering stage is remarkable, the day a gust of wind throws a cloud of yellow pollen into the air.  At the tip of each branch, an elongated bud known as a candle.  Named for its resemblance to a candle, this growth tip is comprised of the countless needles which will populate the new shoots.  These needles lay flat against the stem, until the spring weather encourages them to spread out and grow.  The buds do a better job of predicting the arrival of spring than my winter weary heart.

 

 

Budded Up

   

I was in bed long before midnight New Year’s Eve.  I never worry that the new year will get held up at the checkpoint unless I am watching.  Buck and I had a quiet dinner.  I turned in early; that sleep was deep. Did anyone enlist my help or interview me about the a year coming to a close, and a new year on the horizon?  Why would they? I am just one person making my best effort to garden my way through a life.  Just one gardener in a group of many tens of thousands.  Sure enough, the year, the season turned over without a hitch.  I had coffee at 5:20 am, as usual.  Everything seemed this first day of 2012 as it did the last day of 2011.

It will take two weeks for me to reliably make the change on my check date to 2012.  I may spend some time wringing my hands over my one year older age.  And then there will be the dreaded winter.  But in spite of the cold and the grey, there are signs of life in the garden.

A bud is a protuberance.  It is a growth sent forth from a previous structure.  Many trees, shrubs, and evergreen perennials put forth budded structures in advance of winter.  In early fall, the dogwoods bud up in anticipation of spring.   It is easy to tell the leaf buds from the flower buds.  I water my dogwoods copiously in the fall in anticipation of that budding, but they respond to another voice.  My dogwoods flower heavily every other year.  The spring to come will be a on year-a dogwood extravaganza.  The buds tell me so.

The forsythia start setting their flower buds not long after they bloom.  Late summer or fall pruning means you are pruning off the flowers to come in spring.  Lilacs and rhododendrons need pruning immediately after they bloom.  The summer and fall they devote their energy to next year’s flowers. The budding-a sure sign of the miracle of nature.  These fat buds will swell in the spring, giving rise to large and showy flowering trusses.  The flower heads must be 10 times the size of the bud. 

The magnolias and pachysandra bud up early in the fall.  You can spot their spring intentions in October, should you look.  I did walk my entire garden today-New Year’s Day.  My holiday obligations are done.  I have some time to myself.  Though the temperature was barely above freezing today, I was reassured, warmed by what I saw.  My garden has made plans for the spring.

All of my yews show signs of budding.  Those brown knobs contain the structure and the energy which will open up, and push new growth in the spring. In a good year, 8 inches of growth will begin and grow from each bud.  Each plant buds differently.  The structures, colors and forms are individual.  This means there is a lot to look at, even in the winter.  The winter is a tough time for me.  It seems to last at least a lifetime.  Todays tour tells me different.  Every tree and shrub has bet on spring.  I cannot really explain this, but I take great comfort from from the buds.   

 In embryology, the term budding refers to the process by which the living past gives life to the future. So simple, this sentence.  So beautifully complex and mesmerizing, the process.

 The new year finds sustenance from the compost of the previous year. Every plant has a plan to bud.  To emerge, in the spring.  It may seem that the winter is a long, quiet, and silent season.  But there is plenty going on out there. 

The roses look a little worse for wear, but for those bright red buds.  How they manage to look so juicy and alive in spite of the winter weather is nothing short of astonishing. 

  

A tree of heaven has many undesireable attributes, but that shiny brown leaf bud directly above last year’s leaf scar is quite beautiful.

This mass of forsythia is in a quiet stage of life, but inside a whole lot of yellow is brewing.

Budding

I am writing this Friday post late Saturday afternoon; sorry, it has been a busy week.  The warm weather has brought in  friends and clients -for a spring hello, and for spring work.  I am so glad to be back to work designing. Every project has its own 3″ by 5″ card-they go on my bulletin board wall.  This way, I can see everything I have going on at a glance. I get messages; “please put me on the board for….” -I like this. Green cards for design.  Blue cards for design going into the build phase.  Lavender cards for spring plantings.  Pink cards for summer plantings.  Yellow cards for parties and events. This may seen archaic to most, but it works great for me.   Having a stack of design and build cards-each design project benefits the other.  Design is very much about rhythm and regular engagement, and I am engaged on a number of fronts.  Everything is budding-I am sure you have noticed, as I have.     

This green flowered primula “Francisca” was discovered by Francicsa Dart on a traffic island in Canada in 1995. Green flowers look good for a long time-as their petals photosynthesize just like leaves-the info from the new issue of “Gardens Illustrated”.   Many older green flowered primroses have been propagated too long, with attendant viruses that weaken them. This primula is an exception- remarkable for its robust growth.  Budding is about anticipation, and expectation; people and plants share this come spring. This late wait- just one of a list of rewarding things a gardener has to look forward to.  This late winter wait is a vast improvement over the post holiday wait-I’ll take it.

The forsythia in the outlot has budded and swelled in the twinkling of an eye; this is its habit.  The recent night temps in the twenties has not damaged the emerging flowers, but it has thrown them into a cryogenic state of inanimation.  I am sure this terminology would make any biologist laugh-but whatever.  These buds are at a standstill. If I cut and brought these branches inside, they would pop overnight.  Watching them move ahead, and then screech to a halt outdoors-a good lesson about how good timing helps any new venture.

My hellebores have sent up buds very cautiously-there is something in the hellebore internal clock which hedges the bloom time bet. How plants interact with weather is incredibly interesting, and beautifully complicated.  No stalks will push these buds skyward until conditions seem optimal.  After all, the purpose of the flower is to make itself available for pollination, set seed, and thus insure the survival of the species. An inauspicious start out of the box doesn’t speak well for a good finish. That those flowers thoroughly enchant me; I am sure nature is rolling her eyes.  Make what she will of my naivete, I like the enchanting part of spring blooming.    

I am so fond of willows-in any and every form.  Their most amazing moves come right about now.  Their branches tell you when the spring sap is rising-branches dulled and browned by winter come alive-before the leaves bud.  Willow tree branches will go intensely yellow green, and glow, in early spring.  These trees light up, when the season turns-like no other plant.  This is a gift to the garden.

My rhododendron flower buds have been in place since last season. All winter they impassively withstood every insult the Michigan winter had to serve up. They are still tight and tightly closed.  It is much too cold for opening day. A few 60 degree days does not impress them-they need to be sure winter has let go-before they let go.   

No one could fault Rob for lacking a sense of humor.  These budding bulbs are made of wax, and have wicks.  Planting them in wood trays and candle holders in natural and preserved moss; this represents a wickedly funny hope for budding.  I have seen a lot of second takes at the shop this week.  This budding out is all about how just about everyone is searching for any sign that the winter is over. Some have succumbed-and taken them home for spring dinner parties; our warm weather is dicey at best, until June 15.

On every gardener’s mind- is it time?