Garden Notes: Earth Day

And the world is beginning to make wonderful scents.

Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’ against clear blue sky means possible frost tonight. —Susan Safford

Every day is an earth day when it is springlike and pleasant. Globally, many communities are observing it by reducing plastics in daily life, even plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.

Recognition grows that our biosphere, food chain, and we ourselves contain more and more molecules of plastic than should be there. Much plastics use is mindless, because the materials are already manufactured and promoted. Stand up for what you stand on! Become a woke, aware earth citizen and think to reduce plastic use in your daily life.

Are we really too busy, lashed to the wheel making mortgage payments, with petty cares about the ferries, homework assignments, or too-tight shoes, to notice the blue sky, the fluffy clouds, the bracing air? We are so lucky to call this place, this planet, this world, our home.

Fragrance returns

Fragrance re-enters life when temperatures rise a little and the first early flowers open. Whiffs of the lemony-scented winter bush honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, cause pleasure when caught on the air (the rest of the time the plant is a nuisance). Who has not shoved a nose into the first bouquet of spring daffodils and inhaled deeply?

The sweetly scented edgeworthia (Chinese paperbush) beside our door is finally in bloom. It suffered during the snow and ice events, due to the characteristics of its large clusters of flocked buds. They caught and held the snow and ice, which stripped them off as they shook in the wind. Despite the tattered condition, many remain, and their delicious spicy perfume is among the fragrant rewards of early spring.

Experts claim edgeworthia contains four species; however, for scent E. chrysantha is the one you want, according to Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery. E. papyrifera is somewhat smaller and less hardy than E. chrysantha, but with more vividly colored, though scentless, flowers. A few selections of both to look for: ‘Snow Cream,’ ‘Red Dragon,’ and ‘Gold Rush.’

Find a protected site with moist soil to plant edgeworthias. Situate in locations that are cool in spring to delay early flowering; woodland settings with broad-leaved evergreens work well, but do site where the fragrance will be appreciated. Plants may become as large as five feet by five feet; allow room for expansion.

Magnolias too have a lemony scent, light but intoxicating, and they are among the most spectacular and eagerly awaited flowering plants of spring. “Will they make it to bloom time without frost damage?” is always the bated-breath question asked by magnolia owners; or perhaps I should say, weighing on the minds of persons owned BY a magnolia.

As with Edgeworthia, site magnolias in locations that are cool in spring to delay early flowering, and where the fragrance may be experienced. Planting them on slopes, where frigid air can pool at a lower level, is one siting strategy for the frost problem.

Star magnolias are deciduous trees, often small-scale, with starry flowers composed of straplike, narrow tepals (botanically different from a petal). This group includes Kobus magnolia (M. kobus), Loebner magnolia (M. x loebneri), and star magnolia (Magnolia stellata).

They are often early, and begin the magnolia season before the spring weather is settled. Frosts sometimes damage their early blooms. Their crosses and hybrids, such as ‘Merrill’ and ‘Leonard Messel,’ were created to delay flowering. Another strategy is to choose later blooming M. stellata cultivars, such as ‘Waterlily.’

Magnolia care is undemanding, although all appreciate deep, well-drained, organically rich soil, plus mulching to replenish it. Contrary to pruning advice for most plants — prune when dormant — experts advise that magnolia pruning be kept to a minimum, and done only when plants are in active growth.

Hyacinths are a fragrant spring garden standby in areas with heavy deer pressure. For some reason, deer do not bother the plants. Furthermore, in addition to the heavenly strong fragrance, which carries well on the breeze, hyacinths are bulbs with lasting power, much like narcissus. Some here at home have been in place and continuing to bloom for over 30 years.

In the garden

Windy weather continues, and pulls leaves and debris into places previously cleaned. Add all of it to compost piles.

The first dandelions are already in bloom. The floating fluff settles on disturbed and open soil and voila — more dandelions! People who have been reading Garden Notes over the years know that I recommend digging the plants, if growing in clean places, and stewing flowers, leaves, and roots to make dandelion tea.

Dandelion tea makes a spring tonic especially beneficial for kidney and liver function. The young tender leaves make a good bitter green in salads, one of the best of which is a German-style recipe including crumbled bacon and dressed with the hot bacon dripping and vinegar. Go here for a page full of links for dandelion/bacon salad recipes:

With soils moist and temperatures on the cool side, this is a good time for dividing fall-blooming perennials. A spading fork works better than a spade or shovel, as the tines create less damage to roots. An old serrated bread knife kept specifically for the purpose is good for cutting up clumps into sections; find one at the thrift shop.

I have planted peas, spinach, and arugula out in the garden that were started inside; these plants do better if hardened off first. If space allows, make succession sowings of peas of all sorts. They fail after the weather gets hot, but are an indispensable early-season treat. Garlic planted last fall is now up about six inches tall; side-dress it and onions with nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Other cool-season vegetable plantings are spinach, arugula, beets, potatoes, onions, lettuce, leeks, and cole crops such as broccoli.

April 27, Friday, is Arbor Day. Plant a tree!