February 29, 2016

Spring Ahead

The scene exactly one year ago.  We
had run out of places to put snow.
What a difference a year makes.  In early March of 2015 we were desperately looking for places to put snow around our house and driveway.  Our roof groaned under more than three feet of solidly packed snow (our skylights would reap our failure to take action).  Meanwhile, alongside the Convention Center in South Boston, a snow mountain 70 feet tall had taken up residence. Its lease would not expire until the middle of July. 
This year the ground
is bare and we are
days away from
having crocuses.
On the last days of February 2016, Betty and I created a stupendous pile of broken pine and oak branches from the month’s twin storms – rain- and wind-driven rather than snow – while treading carefully to avoid sinking into mud on the paths around our home.  In picking one branch I uncovered the dark green of crocus foliage; with flowers to follow by mid-month.  Snow?   Yes, we remember it snowing this winter.  Vaguely. 
This El Niño winter is giving us a much-needed head start on completing the landscaping we began last summer.  Then, the later-than-expected completion of our home and unplanned requirement for replacing a quarry’s worth of loose rock with usable topsoil meant that, by the time we were ready to start landscaping, the “good” trees we wanted were out of stock.  Rather than put in second-choice saplings, we left empty spaces.
You can still see the carnage caused
by a mid-February storm.  This is
our neighbor's property.
Now the problem, naturally, is that the nurseries we favor won’t have in their stock of trees and shrubs until mid-March.  We have a shopping list.  (Boy, do we have a shopping list.)  Betty spent the winter reading up on recent introductions of native plant cultivars.  As a result, what was once a quest for the perfect forest pansy redbud (cercis canadensis) has broadened into wanting to inspect a gold-leafed variation on that hardy native tree before settling on the one that will occupy a place of honor in front of our house.  Multiply that example by four trees, 40 shrubs, and an army of perennials, and you get a sense of what is our future by way of choices – and work once the choices are made.
Our "lawn" is a parfait of
chopped leaves and mulch.
There is also a “small” question about what surrounds those trees and shrubs.  The default choice at most homes is, of course, a grass lawn.  We’re holding fast to our principled decision regarding a lawn-free property.  Last summer we spread a thick covering of bark mulch over our topsoil, with packed-soil pathways separating beds.  At the end of autumn, we begged fifty bags of leaves from our neighbors and mowed those leaves into a fine mulch.  This spring, we’ll rototill those two mulches into the top few inches of soil, then top that parfait with leaf mold.  This is what comes from adhering to principles.

But early spring is also for dreaming.  If you're reading this and you live in New England, your best way of kick-starting those dreams is to head for the Boston Flower & Garden Show.  If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it is that no two editions of the Flower Show are alike.  Each one brings new ideas, new gadgets, new things to gawk at.  You'll come away with some new vision of how to make your garden a more interesting place.
Oh, and if you're at the show on Friday, March 18th, I'll be speaking at 11:30 a.m. on the lecture stage with 'Gardening Will Kill You'.  Betty follows at 1:30 p.m. with her 'Dirt on Your Hands, Soil in Your Garden' talk.

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