Sunday, March 10, 2013

Let the Gardening Season Commence!

Did you hear the groan of my bones as I bent over for the first clearing cuts of the new season, followed closely by a chorus of satisfied breaths that brought fresh air to the deepest part of my lungs? Did you see the look of adoration spread from my eyes to my smile as I surveyed my backyard garden that has slowly begun to awaken from its winter's nap? Did you feel the raw skin in the webbing of my uncalloused pruning hand or the invigorating soreness in my lower back and hamstrings, all tender after too many sedentary months?

Yes, today, March 10, ten days before the start of spring, I cut the metaphorical ribbon on the 2013 gardening season. In reality, I cut more than that. I cut Cornus and Miscanthus, Helleborus and Clematis, Hydrangea and Baptisia.

Each squeeze of my secateurs or pull of the rake wiped more of winter's sleep away from the garden, revealing spring in greater detail.

A new round of burgundy foliage is emerging from the crown of Ajuga 'Mahogany', which forms a thick groundcover in the patio garden. This Ajuga is semi-evergreen, never losing the magenta midrib. This is my first year growing this variety; it seems to take an increasingly purplish cast in winter while new growth more closely resembles the dark brown hue of its namesake.

The early Narcissus have recovered well from our recent snow and cold snap, barely showing frost damage on the very tip of their blue-green leaves. These daffodils are the most resilient of the spring bulbs. There's never a doubt that they'll mark the return of spring.

The same cannot be said for tulips, the finicky symbols of new life. Though I've decided to consider tulips an annual, I planted just a handful last fall. So far, it looks like the tulips from years past may give us an unexpected show. The tulip pictured above is 'Banja Luka', one of my favorites, so I'm excited to see it return in large numbers.

I cleared away last year's Hellebore foliage, with the exception of one stem whose beauty I had to spare. While most of the old foliage had browned in the last month, that of one 'Buckthorn Group' Hellebore (top photo) retained a glossy, deep chocolate tone, veined with chartreuse, earning it a horticultural pardon. Helleborus 'Melody' (bottom photo) sent up new growth in January, and is looking a bit ragged after the snows.

I've been unsure whether my 'Nova Zembla' rhododendrons were going to make it through another year. They haven't exactly been thriving in the conditions I've given them, but they're covered with flower buds and even sending out new growth along the lower branches. I'll take that as a sign that they're feeling more at home. The deep, dark magenta blooms that will come later are well worth the patience I've shown them.

My most challenging pruning task this morning was cutting back the Clematis ternifolia, or sweetautumn clematis, that grows along the southern deck rail. This is a vine that need very little encouragement, easily growing 10 feet in length in part shade. If I didn't cut it back in late winter, I'd worry about it strangling house guests and neighborhood children.

I've forgotten the variety of Heuchera planted beneath our red maple, but it's one of my favorite early spring plants. An interesting color texture emerges in the leaves that survive the winter, creating the appearance of dappled sunlight even on a cloudy day. As the season progresses, it returns to a brown/green veined, frosted look.

The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Roseo Marginatum') is deceptively ready for spring, holding tiny red buds barely visible from a distance, blending with the tight, overlapping texture of its branches. Soon these buds will unfurl into green leaves edged in white and pink.

Nearby, the velvety buds of oak leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia 'Snow Queen') swell between the dried, curled leaves of last season, atop a stem that bears the scars of their kin. Their texture reminds me of felt on deer antlers. Inside, new foliage that epitomizes the color spring green awaits its day in the sun.

Yard Waste

The revelation of this year's garden required the removal of what remained of last season. For now, it will gather in the back corner of the garden, to be bundled for municipal collection in early April. We don't have the room for significant composting, so we return our garden to the local landscape recycling center to be turned into mulch and compost for others.

I only spent a couple of hours in the garden before I had to return my focus indoors, but it was a welcome return to the soil. More than ever, I've felt a bit undone this winter without my hands in the soil. I feels beyond wonderful to be back.

Let the gardening season commence!

1 comment:

  1. Chris, what beautiful prose poetry! Our gardens are very similar, and I relate to every word and sore muscle. Diane