The Spring Garden

May Day (3)Despite a run of very warm weather, and the tomato plants I have seen sitting outdoors for sale, it is still very much the spring season here. One of my favorite things about gardening in the mid west is the fact that the seasons change.  I like all of them.  Spring is a special favorite, as it comes on the heels of the dregs of the winter.  Speaking of the dregs, we have a forecast for 37 degrees overnight. Our last frost date is the end of May-some 2 weeks away. This is no hardship.  The spring season, even on the coolest of days, is a delight. My variegated lily of the valley is proof positive of that. My tulips are on hold, in full bloom. The dogwoods are just about in full bloom, as are the lilacs.

DSC_0457The spring flowering trees are at their best when the spring is cool and moderate. Some years ago all of the flowers on my magnolias were frosted off, and the new shoots sustained damage as well. Our past winter was terrifically cold-especially in February. As a result, my magnolia flowers are so so this year. But I have seen lots of crab apples, cherries, red buds, and Bradford pears striking in bloom. The spring flowering trees-I would take a chance on them. My dogwoods are just beginning to bloom. Spring blooming trees are a marvel, and there are so many kinds to choose from. I see very few young flowering trees when I drive through neighborhoods.  And not so many stands of tulips either.

spring season (5)I ascribe this to the notion that many people feel the spring is especially ephemeral, and is shorter than the other seasons. However, the spring is just as long as every other season. The spring does not begin with a flowering phase.  The long process by which plants emerge from the ground and break dormancy is every bit as beautiful as a patch of daffodils in bloom. That pale limey green I call spring green is as visually lush as the new growth.

DSC_0219These dwarf spruce are not so dwarf any more, after 30 years in the ground.  When the new growth emerges on the tips of every branch in the spring, the visual effect is spectacular. The hellebores have been in bloom for at least a month. The warm weather pushed every plant full speed ahead.  At times there was too much to look at, and not enough time to look.  A good friend in the nursery business told me years ago that his gardens are designed to peak in late summer-this is when he has the time to appreciate them. I want it all.  Every season. This is why I make a special effort to enjoy the spring, even though it is a very busy time of year.

May Day (4)This patch of creeping jenny, campanula, and sweet woodriff is lush and fresh.  That quality applies to every inch of the spring landscape. All of the failures in the garden now are winter failures. Everything in the spring garden is growing robustly.  Regular rain sustains all that growing. There hasn’t been enough time for bugs and fungus to take hold. The time for disappointment comes much later.  The spring is about promise and possibility.

spring season (2)My yellow magnolias are rarely in bloom longer than a week or 10 days, but each one those days is heavenly. I look forward to them with great anticipation. The spring garden has an expectant atmosphere. How ephemeral the flowering makes the experience of that blooming all that much more sweet.

spring season (1)My perennial garden is finally beginning to fill in.  The delphiniums should be so beautiful this year.  They have just about filled the tomato cages that I hope will keep them aloft when they flower. Would that the catmint would keep this shape.  By midsummer it will fall to the ground, splay out, and need shearing.  This moment is a good one.

Mother's Day 2014 (41)Rob plants lots of spring pots, many of which feature lettuce, bok choy, chard, and herbs. This pot is good enough to eat. That luscious quality speaks to the best of what spring has to offer. There is no other fresh like spring fresh.

DSC_0433This new garden we did for a client last year has a few early flowering perennials-notably euphorbia polychroma and anemone sylvestris.  My client planted yellow and white viridiflora tulips, and white triumph tulips.  What a charming spring garden she has.

May 11  2015 009 I can hardly believe I have seen basil for sale outdoors already.  It despises cold soil, as do tomatoes, and many of the summer season annuals.  The best way to tell if you can plant for summer is to put your finger in the soil.  If it is very cold, wait to plant any tropical plants. A week of consecutive night temperatures above 50 degrees is a sign you might consider planting tropical plants. I am not ready for geraniums, or calocasia, or caladiums.  I want my spring as long as I can have it. The best way is to ignore the siren call to plant for summer when it is too early is to cultivate a spring garden, and enjoy the spring around you while it lasts.

Loathe To Let Go

May weather in Michigan is likely to be too cold, or too hot.  As in, one extreme or the other, irregularly and unpredictably.  Yesterday saw the temperature reach 80 degrees, for Pete’s sake.  This untoward weather was attended by lots of phone calls from clients worrying that the summer was about to pass them by-could I plant their flowers right away?  We do try to get everyone planted as quickly as possible-most people understand this, and are good natured about it. I tell clients the best thing I do for them is to isolate all the world noise, and concentrate on their place.  I schedule plantings in an order suggested by the cold tolerance of the plants that need to be planted.  I have some clients for whom I have been planting for 25 years-these clients are first up.  Those clients aside, I change up plantings dates.  If you were so kind as to be planted the second week of June last year, you get an earlier date this year.  I grew up in and love a democracy-enough said.    My crews are great.  They unload the trucks, fill the pots, prep, plant topiaries and centerpieces-they do this rather than talk to me.  They wait until we are done, to talk to me.  I am crazy about them for this; they know how to set up and get ready-and leave me be to sort everything out.  I myself like to plant late, in thoroughly warm soil.  I am loathe to let go of the spring.  My tulips at the shop have been so beautiful-for at least a month.  But they are fading fast in the heat.   

The spring pots are just beginning to hit their stride.  Improvements in pansy and viola breeding has produced plants with great heat tolerance, and vigorous blooming.  I am personally still stuck on the violas, and not yet focused on the summer season.  I like the seasons-each one, in turn.  The rhododendrons outside my office at home are breathtaking right now-pale pink blooms with a flush of yellow at the throat. Those impossibly long stamens-what an elegant flower graces the rhododendron.  They speak to spring.   I am listening.

We planted up a number of galvanized troughs such as this one.  Spring plants have distinctive color and shapes that are all their own.  The kale will eventually bolt and go to seed when the hot weather arrives and stays.  Peach melba heuchera and Citron alyssum make a fine spring pair.  Lavender violas blushing peach-I know of no other flower that has coloration like this.  For the moment, the spring season maturing has my attention.

Spring white, lavender and purple-I am not ready to trade this in for a more summery look. I tour the pots and plantings at the shop every day, first thing.  I tour my own garden, last thing, every day.  It is not enough to see something briefly in a garden.  I like every bit of it to settle around my bones, and take hold.  Repeat trips in conjunction with my stubborn point of view; an unexpected change -this best describes my gardening life. 

The lettuce pots are beautiful right now. I know this will sound hopelessly archaic, but I eat iceberg lettuce and tuna every day at lunch.  Any lettuce, any mesclun roadside weed lettuce mix-a treat. The water that endows all the lettuces-I especially enjoy that which is crunchy and juicy.  Spring-eminently juicy.  Spring flowering plants are a treat to all of us who are winter weary.  Thus lettuce figures prominently in my spring container design work. Juicy and fresh-lettuce is just about the best thing spring has to offer.  

I like telling time by what is in bloom.  I have no need for an armillary, or a watch.  I have grown and tended many perennials-what I like about them the best is how they represent the season.  In spring- the hellebores, phlox divaricata, epimediums, European ginger, Solomon’s Seal-the simple violets.  Harbingers of the spring season. 

I apologize-the light at 7am is dim, and I thought I could skip hauling the tripod outside.  Though this photograph is not the sharpest, the idea is clear.  These tall thin long tom clay pots are home to burgeoning spring violas-delightful.  Spring like.

Spring in Michigan is short and sweet.  Very sweet.  The tulips-what could be better?  This tulip mix-so celebratory of spring.  Though I am racing miles ahead of the late spring season to design for summer, I so treasure our spring season.   

This pot-a strong arrangement of purple faced pansies, white violas and scotch moss in a very beautiful low bowl-this kind of spring statement sustains me.