April 30, 2013

The 'Hurry Up' Season

It seems like just a few weeks ago, I was starting to rake leaves out of dormant perennial and shrub beds around our property.  I would clean one bed per day and feel I was doing a good, thorough job of getting my garden in shape.  Over several days I cut back the grasses that had provided winter structure.  Each time I completed an area I would step back and admire my handiwork.
I did not know it, but those were the good old days.
A hundred square feet of lawn
disappeared as part of the
"Hurry Up" season
This past weekend, Betty and I re-established the edge of our shrub bed and moved multiple cubic yards of mulch into it.  We stripped off a hundred square feet of grass out to the drip line of a nicely maturing Forest Pansy Redbud, we trimmed winter kill from a dozen shrubs, and we put up 140 linear feet of fencing around our vegetable garden.  And all that was just on Saturday.
This morning, the epimedium have
burst into bloom... and so need
to be mulched
Welcome to the Hurry-Up Season.  Spring in New England takes its time appearing.  There were still patches of snow on our lawn in mid-April.  Then, in very quick succession came snowdrops, squill, daffodils, forsythia, hyacinths, magnolias and, just this morning, epimedium and bluebells.  Spring is suddenly racing ahead at a full gallop.
Ten days ago, two mountains of
mulch appeared at either end of
our driveway.  Half of it is gone.
Hosta is making its appearance known, thrusting up little spikes that, in a few weeks, will become giant leaves.  And, as soon as the sixty-plus hostas in our ‘hosta walk’ have shown themselves, it will be time to sink down the soaker hoses that keep the garden lush through the summer months.  There is a second mountain of mulch in our driveway that could not be spread until the perennials made their presence known.  Now, with salvia, columbine, coreopsis, brunnera, dicentra, and a dozen other plants in our borders staking out their spaces in the garden, that mulch needs to be carefully placed in beds for weed control.  Oh, and those same returning perennials need to be reined in so as not to intrude on their neighbors; and the peonies – now growing an inch a day – need to be staked.
Did I forget to mention our lawn?  Once the last of the snow melted, the grass was properly raked to get it ready for the new season and remove the accumulation of winter debris.  The grass greened up nicely and now it is starting to grow.  I have added ‘sharpen the lawn mower blade’ to my to-do list.  There is also a smattering of dandelions in our lawn.  We don’t use broad-leaf herbicides to get rid of them (it would also kill off the beneficial clover and nice-to-look-at squill and violets that help give the lawn a lush, exotic look).  Instead, each afternoon I survey the lawn for dots of yellow, and then pry out the offending dandelion, root and all, with a screwdriver.
All winter long, we piled up brush
from winter storm damage...
All winter long we piled brush from storms in one spot.  In March and early April, we cut down damaged trees and pruned ornamentals, adding to the pile.  By mid-April, the brush pile was ten feet high.  Last week, it took eight loads in a pickup truck to get it to our town’s transfer station.
...Eight truckloads later, the debris
was gone; all in a day's work
The vegetable garden looms large on the horizon.  As soon as the fence was up, the ‘cold weather’ crops were planted.  Now, each week in May will mean another clutch of seed packages that beckon to be put in the ground (and then thinned, watered and weeded).  The ‘benefit’ of the garden – fresh vegetables – is weeks away.  For now, it is all work and postponed enjoyment.
You can pack a lot of plants into a
Prius.  This was our haul on
Sunday from Andrews' Greenhouse
in Amherst.
Sometime during the month of May, dozens of container gardens will also come to life.  To make that possible, containers need to be brought out of the basement (a few weigh up to fifty pounds each), assessed for damage and cleaned.  Then will come multiple shopping expeditions at garden centers to find exactly the right mix of annuals (and a few perennials) to give each container a distinct personality.  Planting each container can consume an hour.  The 16 flats of annuals shown at right were purchased Sunday morning.  They'll be used in Betty's container gardening programs during May.
The good news is that in early June the pell-mell rush slows to a more stately pace of garden maintenance.  There will be time to actually sit back and enjoy what we have done.
That’s the pleasure of gardening in New England.  When you finally see your handiwork in its full, joyous bloom, your mind miraculously wipes clean the aches and sweat that are the hallmark of May.  You sip a beverage of choice and enjoy a breeze perfumed by nature.  You admire what you have wrought and think to yourself, ‘this is why we did it.’


  1. Neal, It amazes me how we can go from an absolute blank canvas to Pow! About ten days ago I didn't see anything while walking. Now there are at least five types of violets, four varieties of trilliums and numerous other things I can't identify just yet. Of course I am waiting for the roses!

    It is always a treat to see what is happening in your beautiful garden. I'll look forward to more photos as spring unfolds.

    1. I favor perennial wildflowers (others call them weeds) and am always amazed at the new additions brought in by nature (via wind and birds.) I do have some traditional early birds ... daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth and dandelions are always first, along with the forsythia. I've just planted a planter of morning glory seeds that will be moved outdoors mid-May. Most of the lawn is still covered in wind-damaged pine branches and last fall's needles. But I'm happy here; the birds seem to like it this way.