Nowadays, pale yellow is in vogue in and around the garden

With its delicate, pale yellow blossoms, corylopsis is a fine alternative to forsythia, a traditional provider of bright yellow in early spring. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Trends come and go. Style setters react to what has become customary with something new and different. In the season when garden plants exhibit a lot of vivid yellow, it seems the style setters are calling for a move to paler yellows and creams. Many spring yellows are proclaimed “strident,” “brassy,” or “loud.”

At the popular garden web site A Way to Garden ( Margaret Roach grows no forsythia, and favors instead the precocious pale yellows of Hamamelis, Lindera, Corylopsis, and Cornus mas for her plant sunshine. Dan Pearson, the noted British gardener, extols the subtler and paler narcissi, including species, in his recent post, Golden Fanfare (

If a garden without forsythia is unthinkable, but something softer and more muted is desired, a few cultivars are available without the brazen intensity of Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis.’ This is not a neat, concise topic: Michael Dirr devotes almost seven full pages to Forsythias in his “Manual of Woody Plants.”

The following are selected cultivars of Forsythia x intermedia and may suit those who object to some forsythias’ brassy tones. The trademarked cultivar ‘Gold Cluster’ is noted for light yellow flowers and burgundy fall color; likewise ‘Spring Glory,’ with sulphur yellow flowers; ‘Tremonia,’ deeply cut leaves with pale yellow flowers; and ‘Densiflora,’ with light yellow flowers. Dirr seems to damn these with faint praise, in part, I think, because intense and deep coloration has been a criterion for excellence among forsythias.

Following Dr. Dirr’s suggestion in “Manual,” I found Arnoldia’s “The Story of Forsythia”online ( and recommend it for learning about the introduction and development of the species into western gardens in the 19th century.

Do I dare mention the so-called “white forsythia,” Abeliophyllum distichum, on a page devoted to pale yellow spring flowering plants? A topic for another time: it is not yellow and it is not forsythia.

Dan Pearson’s topic is various narcissi whose season over here is much later than in his garden, including some we never experience as native species as he does in the British Isles. He writes “… I tire quickly of the wake-up slap of gold in our parks… I have an enduring love of the smaller narcissus… the best [have] N. jonquil in their veins and [are] also scented.” Pearson is partial to N. pseudonarcissus, the wild species; ‘Topolino,’ also very close in appearance to the wild daffodil; ‘W.P. Milner;’ ‘February Gold;’ ‘February Silver;’ ‘Tête-à-Tête;’ ‘Jack Snipe;’ and ‘Jenny.’ Not 55 mph plants (quoting Brent and Becky’s Bulbs catalogue), these cultivars require a closer look, but they all fit with Pearson’s subtlety.

Not to worry: in another decade we’ll find the style-setters reversing themselves and calling for “intense,” “strong,” and “deep golden” yellows for spring gardens.

In the garden

Weeds and weed control loom large on the list of gardeners’ concerns. Weeds seem to have super-natural advantages in growth and persistence not shared by the plants we actually try to encourage. There are different avenues in my weeding program.

Now—seriously, right now—is the best time in the whole year to get onto weeds! They are small and the soil is moist, making cultivating or pulling them out easier. If you mulched your soil, the conditioning effects of the mulch will have helped magically.

I admit that my ornamental borders are not maintained in a state of perfection; the focus of my efforts is on the vegetable garden. I prefer clean cultivation, as I find that mulch in my garden promotes slugs, earwigs, and other pest problems. The exception is the potato patch, where we have found that deep mulch yields more and better potatoes, fewer potato bugs, and less work.

The weed-control tools I find to be the most useful are as follows: a five-tined broadfork; a push-pull (stirrup) hoe; a long-handled four-tined cultivator; and two hand-held cultivators — the Cape Cod weeder and three-tined claw. With these, one can do just about anything, in silence and without recourse to the gas pump.

The broadfork, which comes in several tine arrangements, can open just about any soil and incorporate just about any cover crop, mulch, or soil amendment into it, without destroying soil structure. In a home garden this size it almost completely replaces the Troy-bilt and the Planet jr. wheel hoe. Since beginning to garden with the broadfork I find my soil is easier to work, has fewer weeds, and seems more fertile.

The push-pull, with its sharp edges coming and going, is the tool of choice for quick tidying of surfaces between plants and rows. It is fairly precise although capable of instant plant decapitation, if one’s attention wanders. The push-pull can also incorporate a top-dressing into the top inch or so of soil. The four-tined cultivator is perfect for slipping under and lifting a well-rooted perennial weed, such as goldenrod or buttercup, rooting out invading raspberry shoots, or lifting spent plants like old kales at the end of the season—all without bending over. The hand cultivators are there for minor touch-ups.

Slow Food MV

Slow Food MV is hosting Helena Norberg-Hodge, who will show her film, “The Economics of Happiness,” at a get-together at the Chilmark Community Center on Saturday, April 7. Tickets for the event will be available at the door, $5 for the film or $10 for a soup dinner/film. Dinner starts at 6 pm, followed by the movie at 7; and discussion with Helena Norberg-Hodge at 8. For additional information, contact or go to


Homegrown meets the third Sunday of the month, April 15, at Agricultural Hall, from 4 to 6 pm. This meeting’s focus is on “Chicken School,” an informational session for gardeners wanting to expand into chicken-keeping for meat, eggs, or both.