Spring: Is It Ever Gonna Get Here?

Reader Contribution by Cindy Murphy
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GRIT  blogs have been alive with spring posts lately.  Stories of inspiration, poems, beautiful photos of beautiful plants, and lots of springtime projects.  It is spring, after-all! 

But to tell the truth, I haven’t been in much of a springtime mood.  I’ve never been an aficionado of spring, particularly early in the season.  Why is it twenty degrees and two feet of snow in December always feels warmer than forty degrees and rain in April?  It just takes me a while to warm up to spring … and this year, spring has taken its sweet old time coming.  Day after day of nonstop rain, and temperatures in the 30s and 40s prolonged my agony.  I knew things were happening out there – buds on the trees beginning to swell, the grass changing from tan to green, and perennials springing back to life – but I couldn’t bring myself to get out in the yard.  After coming home from work at the nursery cold, wet, and dirty, the last thing I wanted to do was remain cold, wet, and dirty working in my own gardens. 

The chionadoxa, one of the earliest bulbs to bloom, was in full swing mid-April.  ‘Glory of the Snow,’ it’s called, and it seemed aptly named this year.  Soon after I noticed it flowering, I woke up one morning to this:  

Though it melted quickly, it seemed spring would never arrive.  A few days later, driving down a country road, I saw a most welcomed sight after all this wintry weather.  In a spectacular display designed by Mother Nature, the entire understory of a swampy woods was lit by lemon-yellow flowers of American Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  Beneath them, the ground was covered with darker yellow marsh marigolds.  There is nothing like nature to give inspiration.  The scene made me feel compelled to dive into working in the yard again … a nice batch of marsh marigolds had just arrived at the nursery, some of which I was sure would look lovely at home.  In the least, nature’s display prompted me to get out and see what’s going on in my gardens.    

Down in our ravine, my American spicebushes were getting ready to open.  I’ll have to remember to cut some branches soon to make spicebush tea

Oh, that’s where Quetta left her Frisbee!  Since she lost it, she’s resorted to chasing sticks and squirrels….

….and not doing a very good job with the squirrels.  It wasn’t enough they gnawed off every last one of the crocuses.  Oh, no, no, no…now they’ve moved on to the daffodils.  I’m sure the one bud remaining on this clump was left just to torment me.   

Nearby, heads are bowed in respect to their fallen comrades. 

I just love the way water collects on the leaves of Lady’s Mantle.  Even on newly emerged, tiny leaves, the rain droplets look like sparkling gems.

Tiny, purple violets bloomed.

Most people consider these a pesky weed, but I let them grow in the gardens, and even in the lawn.  They’re hard to control once they take firm hold, but in this area under the river birch, little else will grow in the heavy, compacted clay.  The violets moving in on their own are nature’s perfect solution.  Over a century ago, these little “weeds” were big business, ranking only behind roses and carnations in popularity at florist shops.

Along with violets, another weed has a place in my gardens.

These common mulleins are in their second year and will bloom this summer.  Mulleins are biennials, forming a rosette the first year, and flowering the second.  In July and August, a 3-5 foot stalk with bright yellow flowers will shoot up from each rosette.  Mulleins in the garden always remind me of Old Herbaceous, a novel by Reginald Arkell (great book if you like gardening and British humor).  It’s a story of the head gardener at an English Manor.  One summer, on a whim, “Old Herbaceous” let this weed in grow in his Lady’s garden for the structural interest it provided.  To his horror, the Lady of the manor scheduled a garden tour for members of high society.  Here he was, a respected head gardener with common mullein – a weed – growing on the grounds!  It turned out to be the hit of the tour; guests praised his ingenuity.  I doubt I’ll receive such praise from my neighbors, but the bees and gold finches are always quite pleased with my decision to let it grow.

The mayapples are emerging.  Don’t they look like tiny closed umbrellas?  On childhood walks through the woods with my Dad, he showed us how to find the flowers and fruit by peeking under the “umbrellas” once they unfurl.  Other woodland “Dad plants” in the garden are wintergreen and low-bush blueberries – all of them planted out of nostalgia.  Dad is gone, but memories of our walks together remain alive in my gardens.  

In the vegetable garden, the asparagus starting to sprout.  The lettuce seeds didn’t get washed away by the torrential rains and is starting to grow.  Or is it the spinach?  Maybe arugula?  I didn’t mark the rows and forgot where I planted what.  It also looks like I didn’t get my rows as straight as I thought.        

In all of these spring photos, you’ll notice leaf litter among the plants.  With five 60 to 80 foot maples in the yard, there is an abundance of fallen leaves in autumn.  Though the leaves get raked off the lawn, they stay where they fall in the ornamental gardens and get piled into the vegetable garden.  There, they’ll do what fallen leaves are intended to do:  decompose and enrich the soil.  A draw-back to this though, are maple seedlings.

There are tens of thousands; hundreds of thousands; maybe even a million of them – I don’t know; I haven’t counted.  Most are from just one Norway maple, and is one of the reasons why Norway maples are considered an invasive species in some areas.  The native sugar and silver maples in the yard aren’t nearly as prolific.  Pulling the seedlings is kind of addictive, actually, especially when one grab nets a dozen or so.  Ten to fifteen minutes a day of pulling, and I’ll probably be done sometime around … uhm, mid-August, I’d guess.  I’d better get busy …

Keith has already been busy outside this spring, taking down the rickety, rusty metal shed.  The old slab is now ready for the new building.  It’ll be something between the utility shed he wanted and the beautiful potting shed I’ve dreamed of having.  We comprised.

Speaking of compromises … what about the weather?  I wasn’t asking for much; something in the 60s with a little sun would be fine with me.

I got my wish the last weekend of April; we had actual spring weather for May Day!  A lot has changed since these photos were taken two weeks ago.  The chionadoxa are done blooming, and the mid-season daffodils have filled the color-void they left behind.  The squirrels have left these later-blooming varieties alone (so far), but I noticed one of the mayapple “umbrellas,” was bitten off just as it was staring to unfurl, and left conspicuously laying on the ground.  Hopefully, it left such a bitter taste in the guilty party’s mouth that he won’t “taste-test” anything else for a while.

I bought a few pots of marsh marigolds for the bed with American spicebushes … although I haven’t planted them yet.  They’ll have to remain in a tub of water until the ravine dries out a bit; right now it’s a swamp down there and me without waders.

I have pulled buckets and buckets of maple seedlings.

I finally got my potatoes planted and the asparagus stalks shot up like rocket-ships seemingly overnight.  My “is it lettuce, spinach, or arugula?” question has been answered; the plants are up far enough now to figure out it’s arugula.

Up too is the shed (although it didn’t go up as fast as a rocket-ship or the asparagus). But it’s got windows!  Just one of the compromises Keith made.

The warmer weather didn’t last long.  It’s turned colder again, with highs in the lower fifties and only intermittent sun.  I’ll take it!  At least it’s not 40 degrees and raining! It seems spring as finally arrived.

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