Garden Notes : Preparing for spring
When Islanders read one-size-fits-all gardening advice - books, magazine articles, seed packet information - we must keep in mind our ocean effect. On the mainland, and especially in urban heat islands, spring often seems to arrive quite early; but not so much here, although early snowdrops and croci have been blooming for over a month in favored Riviera-like spots around Martha's Vineyard.
Ocean waters, which surround us and warm up slowly compared with ambient air temperatures, influence our coastal climate. Then too, there is the infernal March-ness of March. In light of the recent abrupt shifts in weather conditions I feel, not smug, just relieved that my last column cautioned leaving buffering leaves and debris in place. I trust "in like a lion" means "out like a lamb," but the adage mentions nothing about "when." In the meantime, rein in impatient desires. There are other, equally useful chores to do.
Photo by Susan Safford
Get going in the tool shed, cleaning, oiling, sharpening and organizing. Take a look at the lawn spreader and mower: perform routine maintenance. Prune raspberries, fruit trees, and climbing roses. Weed out any winter accumulations of weeds in vegetable and ornamental beds, once the ground has thawed and dried. Avoid this if soil is still frozen or soggy. Spread tarps or plastic sheets, dark or clear, on vegetable garden soil to warm it for early sowing. Spread mulch around plants, taking care not to smother small bulbs like croci. Continue to put out food and water for birds.
Pour the gardening urges into raking the lawn; liming and feeding lawns and borders with organic fertilizer; doing touch-up pruning of shrubs and clematis vines; and sowing cool season vegetables - leeks, onions, cole crops, lettuce - inside or in cold frames. Divide snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) after bloom. Scout and prepare new locations so that when the deed is done the divisions are replanted quickly.
Speaking of one-size-fits-all advice, there is no general prescription for pruning the clematis clan. I enjoy two shrub clematis here in my garden, Clematis tubulosa x C. virginiana 'Mrs. Robert Brydon' and C. heracleifolia. Their pruning is easy and unambiguous: prune back hard in March. The very best advice I can give is to engrave in one's brain and garden journal the identities of the clematis one buys. Then refer to a comprehensive clematis guide for the plant's category and care. Follow the pruning and cultural directions religiously and be rewarded with bloom and decent growth.
Homegrown meets Sunday, March 15, from 3 to 5 pm at Agricultural Hall.
That vernal moment
Some things seem eternal and others will never happen again. This morning I was sharing the pleasant sunshine with sadness as I cut back rue plants and dead-leaved the hellebores. Amid the raucous cawing of crows came the call of a mourning dove. A while later I found the first weed flowering, Draba verna, in the vegetable garden. It is always a contest between this little sandplain plant, a dandelion, and spitting cress: which is the earliest to be found in bloom? I think of it as the vernal moment.
That moment always does return. It proves the circularity of one kind of time. But the mournful thoughts were of a long-ago shipmate and much-liked friend for whom the vernal moment never came again: "passed over the bar" - proof of the linearity of another kind of time, life-time. I find I take solace in circular time to help me with the linear kind.