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.




Bloomin’ Beautiful

My yellow magnolias are close to being in full bloom.  Barring some disastrous overnight temperatures, they ought to be glorious in a few days.  The weather we have had the past month has been so unusual; I keep thinking it is May, not mid April.  In celebration of the mild spring, so many things are blooming all at once.  Cherries, crabs, magnolia, PJM rhododendron, Bradford pears-there is quite the symphony going on.  I know I am preaching to the choir to suggest there is no other time in a garden quite like spring, but I like encouraging people to look around them at a time when there is plenty to reward the seeing.

This crabapple is just coming into bloom-not so often do I see it flower in tandem with the forsythia.  This is the weather jam at work.  We are having much cooler temperatures at night now than we did some weeks ago.  When spring is good, it is very very good; everything in flower is going into the cooler at night.  This plays such a big role in a spring being of generous duration.  I doubt I would put pink and yellow together like this; I would guess the township or county planted this traffic island a long time ago.  But I am fine with rowdy and exuberant in the spring; this display seems entirely appropriate for the season.  

There are lots of little spring things that warrant attention.  This Matrix blue frost pansy mix is stellar.  They look like each basic white flower has been individually dressed up in purple watercolor.  It is a much more subtle look than a picotee, or variegated flower. I am convinced that the most valuable tool a gardener has at their disposal is the ability to envision.  There are different kinds of seeing.  Many things in my environment I see, but don’t see with understanding, appreciation, inspiration or thoughtfulness; this kind of seeing takes effort. 

The surfaces of these two pots play off one another; the shiny glaze is in distinct contrast to the rough creamy clay.  The yellows and limes seem all the more limey, given the purple pansies.  Massing a dark color, and placing it in front of a light color greatly adds to its visual impact.  The warm brown of the fountain is repeated in the centerpiece of the glazed pots.  The flower colors pop all the more, being placed with a group of objects.  No composition comes with a handbook.  It is a matter of taking the time to see what is there to be seen.

These flamed tulips are hard to miss, but none the less I have watched them sprout, bud, bloom, and mature.  The flowers opened a creamy yellow; it has taken a week or more for that cream base to go white.  Anyone thinking of planting white tulips for a spring wedding reception needs to choose the variety carefully, and study the timing. I try to keep track of what blooms when for exactly this reason.  Even so, spring weather can be so variable your best laid plans could make your tulips too early, or too late.  The visual idea here-white enlivens and intensifies the appearance of other colors.  If you plant tulips against a brick or stucco or stone surface, consider the color combination-it will be much more important than each color individually.

This planting in a old galvanized pan is one of Rob’s one act plays. The hyacinth bulbs are barely showing bud; he likes every stage of the development of a hyacinth bloom-not just the flower part.  The alyssum in full bloom gives those green leaves visually contrasting company.  Though the time will come that the hyacinths fade, its short life is still very sweet.  I am always amused when a client tells me they will not plant whatever-say lilacs-as the blooming is short.  Most things in nature are a one act play of one sort or another.  The blooming of the maples-almost over for this year. 

My hellebores are long lived, and have only gotten better with time.  Their flowers emerge, mature and fade over many weeks; each stage has its charms. At this stage, exquisite.

These aging clumps of Helleborus “Ivory Prince” I would not describe as exquisite-they are interesting in a moody , fugue-like way.  I like them at this very mature stage just as much as I like them young. 

It would be easy to walk by this hellebore stage act without truly seeing it.  As I am very busy with work this time of year, it is even easier to skip the seeing.  But I am indeed all the poorer when I miss what is going on right in front of me. 


Bloomin’ beautiful.

And more bloomin’ beautiful.