Garden Notes : Dirty hands and fresh air - finally!
We happily mark the vernal equinox under fair skies, mild winds, and a gorgeous crescent moon, and welcome spring back into these parts. I saw a mourning cloak butterfly drifting over a thicket last week, and now hear a faint Christiantown pinkletink chorus. The three-day northeaster (had it been snow it would have been some blizzard!) was quite a storm and left residual flooding here and in many other parts of the Island.
As it is, the flooded areas contribute to a short-lived phenomenon, the ecological niche brimming with life called the vernal pool. Pseudacris crucifer, known by their island name as pinkletinks, are but one denizen of vernal pools, though surely the most vocal. Vernal pools are incubators for many other amphibians: salamanders and other frog species, insect larvae, fairy shrimp, and even nesting wood duck pairs. Those who have one on their property are truly fortunate, as vernal pools are veritable fonts of life.
There are small climate differences throughout the Island. The daylilies here are just showing their leaf tips, although there are sure to be places where growth is farther along. Daylilies are one of those perennials that seem to increase fairly rapidly. Since they are likely up and showing everywhere, now is a great opportunity to lift and divide them, if necessary. The soil is workable and growth will be set back hardly at all. If you are not sure where the excess divisions are to go - along driveways is a favorite - they hold well in recycled nursery pots off to the side somewhere under a bush, until the inspiration comes about where to plant.
Winter damage is still revealing itself in unwelcome ways. With trees and shrubs, especially broadleaf evergreens, split and cracked limbs are found to be moribund as the season unfolds. Controlled dismay and cleanly pruning off the damage are the best responses. Today's discovery: a Rhododendron carolinianum, three feet tall by four feet wide, and for three seasons covered with blossoms and growing well, is all a-wilt, every leaf hanging. I have yet to discover why; I suspect voles. Whatever the cause, I hope that the plant has the oomph to sprout from the crown, since it was purchased as a balled-and-burlap ('b&b') shrub.
Established gardens acquire a problem that newer ones can only wish for: congested clumps of many bulbs that have increased themselves. These would double or triple the display if they were assiduously spread about. Trouble is: by the 'correct' time of year for this task - after bulb foliage has died down - other activities, gardening or otherwise, will have probably intervened.
Once the foliage has died down, not only are the clumps hard to find, but also relocating them without damaging other bulbs is more difficult. It is even more of a guessing game if one is buying new bulbs to add variety to areas already planted, for these are shipped in fall, months after we last saw what was already there.
My solution is to use golf tees, those little pegs, and to outline planting areas between other established bulbs. They are unobtrusive and in areas of lawn they can be pushed down below the level of the mower blade. Some tasks must be done when they can be, not when they should be: I also move bulbs while I can see them. This goes against the expert advice, except in the case of snowdrops, for which the advice is always to transplant "in the green." I have a buzillion of these to do and though I aspire to carpeting drifts, I doubt I shall ever achieve the look.
Ready for spring?
Many of us are thankful it is finally time for yard-work, gardening, and just being outdoors a lot. Lawnmowers almost always need a sharpened blade, clean spark plug, and oil change. Oiling and sharpening edge tools saves much wear and tear on our hands and wrists, and produces the kindest cuts on plant material. Shovels, spades, and edgers benefit from having their edges filed, the more often the better. Sprayers - brats that I often feel are the bane of my existence - always have some fiddly thing that needs to attending to before getting on with the horticultural oil spraying.
Speaking of which, those same broadleaf evergreens with the snow damage are often found to be harboring scale insects on the undersides of the leaves. Horticultural oil and insecticidal soap, sprayed according to proprietary directions, usually keep those problems, like hemlock woolly adelgid, under control.
Visiting with Lynn Irons last week reminded me that women produce, globally, one half of the food that is grown. Her productive backyard homestead is bursting at the seams with the results of her industry; she sent me home with some of the surplus from her greenhouse and coldframes.
It is worth recalling that as the Soviet system of collectivized agriculture was crumbling behind the Iron Curtain, the tiny backyard plots and gardens tended by babushkas kept those countries fed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, while women are the mainstay of small-scale agriculture, the farm labor force, and day-to-day family subsistence, they have more difficulty than men in gaining access to resources such as land, credit, and the inputs and services that enhance productivity. Read more on this and other food-related topics in the current issue of the journal Resurgence, www.resurgence.org
Members and all supporters of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society are invited to the spring potluck supper and social Saturday, April 3, at 6 pm at the Agricultural Hall, Panhandle Road, West Tisbury. The entertainment to follow is the film "Working the Land."