In gardens, speedy is the pace for spring
- BARBARA BLOSSOM ASHMUN
- Portland Tribune - Features
Last night I went to a discussion about slowing down. The concept was very welcome, and for the hour and a half that we sat and talked about ways to slow down and enjoy that luxurious feeling of taking your time, I was completely sold on the idea.
But today I'm not convinced. It's impossible to slow down in the garden in spring.
Life is quickening everywhere I look! Red peony shoots punctuate the soil, green spears of Solomon's seal burst through the ground, tiny chartreuse leaves explode along the branches of the curly willow. The new leaves of 'Magic Carpet' spiraea flame orange. Pussy willows shed their furry caps, sprinkling the lawn with caterpillarlike confetti.
Flowers sparkle like fireworks. An 'Elephant Heart' plum tree is a froth of white, the 'Thundercloud' plum is pastel pink, and branches of Cornelian cherry dogwood are studded with tiny yellow blooms. Chains of creamy winter hazel blossoms dance in the breeze, and white and yellow daffodils sway to the same rhythm.
How can anyone slow down, surrounded by all this excitement? I can barely sit down to write this!
Every day more is happening. At first the small noses of Petasites push through the mud in the drainage ditch. Then dark pink stems bearing pale pink upright flowers appear, like weird little bottlebrushes from Mars. Soon huge, rounded leaves unfurl and hide the ditch completely. Petasites loves wet mud, traveling fiercely through the sloppy soil. So far, it hasn't run past the ditch, and I've got my fingers crossed that it will stay where it's welcome.
This is the time of year when a vigilant eye is crucial, as every little seed is germinating at once. I scan the soil for hawthorn, laurel, cress and dandelion seedlings, and yank them out mercilessly. Love-in-a-mist has germinated a hundredfold, so I thin the seedlings to a reasonable number. It's the same with lungwort, too many children, so I remove most of the innocent-looking starts before they take over the entire bed and choke out the saxifrages.
Weeding is a pleasure this time of year with the earth so damp and the small intruders so yielding. One tug and small annual grasses are history, one push of the trowel and young dandelions pop out. Even buttercup, so recalcitrant in August, slips out of the soil with just a little digging.
One other nemesis is a pervasive weed in the mint family that arises on stout square stems, growing five feet tall, with bright pink flowers at the tips. It's actually not bad-looking, but colonizes like wildfire, bullying its way through beds and borders. It loves wet soil and has made itself quite at home in the soggiest border.
Each year I take a little time to reduce its numbers, but clearly I will never win. A standoff is about as good as it gets. I dig down with a spade, turn the soil over, then very carefully pick out the thick white roots. They're brittle as icicles, and even the tiniest remnant that snaps off and falls to earth will produce more plants.
At the same time, plants I love are multiplying happily in the warm, damp earth. I welcome all the little hellebore seedlings that spring up beneath the mother plants - you can never have too many hellebores - and it will be fun to see what colors and patterns emerge in years to come.
'Onandaga' viburnum, with beautifully lobed leaves that unfurl with red tints, has run underground and sent up some new stems here and there. I dig up the young starts and pot them up for friends. Sorbaria, too, is running merrily underground and expanding its colony. I pull out the extras and offer them on an e-mail discussion group. The first call comes almost immediately, and a gardener arrives the next day to take the bounty home.
Life is so abundant this time of year, and the gardener is like a tough editor, refining the garden so that it shines and sparkles like a clearly written story. Let the plants you want to grow remain, and remove or give away the rest.
There'll be plenty of time to slow down in August. Spring is a happening time.