My love affair with leaves is rekindled each spring. As the fern-leaved Japanese maple unfurls, each delicately cut leaf dangles from the branch like a pale green parasol. Tiny red clusters of flowers add sparkle.
'Magic Carpet' spiraea opens with a zing - orange foliage covers the branches. Columnar 'Pow Wow' barberry becomes a beacon of round golden leaves. 'Dreamcatcher' beauty bush (Kolkwitiza) and 'Eyecatcher' weigela turn luminous with yellow tints.
Sultry leaves are just as dramatic. 'Royal Cloak' barberry, 'Red Fox' katsura tree, and 'Royal Purple' smoke tree come alive with rich, dark foliage. I love the exciting transformation as brown twigs brighten with colorful leaves like fireworks.
Where weeks ago there was nothing but bare soil, now quilted hosta leaves glow golden and blue green. I adore them in tall pots where the slugs don't bother to climb, especially in simple black containers that support the showy leaves without distraction.
Divide to multiply
In April, I get busy moving plants around. Even though I wish for sunnier days, I make the most of the damp soil to lift, divide and transplant perennials. It's a chance to refresh the soil with compost and fertilizer, to add extra splashes of color to the garden, for free.
When I first planted 'Strutter's Ball,' a luscious daylily with pink-purple flowers, it thrived on the south side of a chaste tree (Vitex). But as the tree grew wider, it eclipsed the daylily. A few cuts with the long-handled loppers eliminated low overhanging branches and revealed how big the daylily had grown.
Digging all around the huge plant with a deep-bladed spade, I lifted it, and sliced chunks off the edges with a long, serrated bread knife. After mixing compost and organic fertilizer into the original hole, I replanted the biggest piece. Then I moved the nine smaller sections to frame a newly renovated bed south of the sweet gum tree, where three recently planted rock roses were waiting for companions.
This is the tip of the iceberg. Dozens more daylilies wait their turn to be lifted, divided and replanted or given to friends. It's one of the reasons I love perennials - they're investments, over time. How many other things can you divide and multiply at the same time!
Potting up dahlias
The rumble of a UPS truck in spring gets my heart beating faster. Have the dahlia tubers finally arrived? The first box landed on the porch on April 5, all the way from Van Bourgondien (www.DutchBulbs.com) the only vendor I could find who offered the Karma Dahlia Collection. You've heard me rave about the Karma Chocolate dahlia I grew last summer, thanks to Chocolate Flower Farm (www.ChocolateFlowerFarm.com) in Langley, Wash. That exuberant dahlia whetted my appetite for more of its kind.
I took my booty to the greenhouse. Tearing open the plastic bags, I unearthed hefty tubers of tangerine 'Corona,' pink 'Prospero,' red 'Naomi,' hot pink 'Fuchsiana,' orange 'Sangria' and another 'Chocolate.' Planting each in an ample container with potting soil enriched with slow-release fertilizer, I watered them and set them in trays on a heat mat to enjoy warmth until outdoor conditions are friendlier, probably mid-May.
Hopefully the dahlias will sprout and set substantial foliage indoors. When it's warmer, I'll transplant them to big ceramic pots with good drainage where they'll be pampered further in rich potting soil.
The joy of bagged rock
Gardening is a mixed bag of creativity and grunt work. I like to think that heavy lifting in the garden is my home gym (no rebuttals, puhleeze) but the thought of loading wheelbarrows from a pile of gravel delivered to the driveway was beyond me. I found a better solution at Oregon Decorative Rock (www.OregonDecorativeRock.com) - gravel in 50-pound bags, along with advice - including which material works best for each situation, and how much rock will cover the area in need.
I selected pea gravel to refresh the floor of the greenhouse, and crushed rock for a base underneath containers sitting on soil. Within 10 minutes my car was loaded and I was on my way home.
Sliding one bag at a time into a wheelbarrow was as easy as slicing each one open wherever I needed the gravel to fall. Although it's more cost effective to buy a big pile, a trip to the chiropractor would offset any savings. I want my love affair with the garden to last for many more seasons.
• Clark Public Utilities Home and Garden Idea Fair, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 23 and 24; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 25, Clark County Event Center at the fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield, Wash. (Interstate 5, Exit 9) Free admission, fairground parking is $6 per vehicle. Hundreds of home and garden exhibits, giant plant sale landscape displays and guest presentations. For complete information visit www.ClarkPublicUtilities.com.
• Aloha Garden Club Annual Plant Sale and Garden Faire, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., May 1, Aloha Huber Park Elementary School, 5000 S.W. 173rd Ave., Aloha. Trees, shrubs and perennials at rock bottom prices; proceeds benefit grants and scholarships in Washington County. For more information, call 503-649-3375.