Garden Notes: Getting to work

Welcome spring tasks await the gardener.

April’s gold. —Susan Safford

“Life into death into life.” In this Easter season, when Earth Day — care for our common home — is also observed, the epigram fits my frame of mind. This is the eternal cycle, which gardeners use to their advantage and blessing. The awakened garden, cleansed of its winter accumulations, springs into life, while the rakings and decay are — reverently or irreverently — placed on the Heap to resurrect as life-giving humus. The cycle resumes.


Plastic/grass debate

Who knows how many Island landscape businesses are engaged in turf management? How many Island residents are employed in lawn care?

As gardener, taxpayer, and voter, I suggest that MVRHS and its Voc Ed department should forget plastic and its unknowns, and become leaders in the area of playing field management.

Think of the impact: Pioneer a role in turfgrass education and playing field engineering for the many students who will enter the business, utilizing the Island schools’ playing fields as labs.

Furthermore, to demonstrate leadership and giving back, because neither bricks and mortar nor playing fields are cost-free, it seems reasonable to ask either ALL high school students, or all field sports teams, to participate in the upkeep and maintenance of MVRHS facilities, whether as scheduled school service days, school pride day, or maybe when necessary, as imposed community service.

Ah, spring!

Island spring is, let’s say, subtle. We came home from a week in Virginia and the Philadelphia area, where spring arrives with an impact, an incomparable magnificence even, that the Vineyard can only dream of: Mighty redbuds vs. shy shadbush.

Island spring is insignificant — relatively speaking — compared with the overwhelming abundance of natural and planted beauty of regions further south. Flowering trees and shrubs, tulips, azaleas, tree peonies, wild flowers, the gauzy greens of different trees beginning to leaf out — breathtaking.

But here at home, in late April, the pinkletinks are still trilling. The magnolias have escaped frost. The daffs are at their peak, elusive shadbush is just starting, and forsythia, that golden beauty of April, shines forth like the sun. I know they have great stuff on the mainland, but I like it here.

The high winds and general storminess of the past few days have teased out the old dead branchlets and leaves that were lodged here and there. No matter: collect and re-collect, and put them on the pile. ‘Mown ’n’ blown’ gardens may be cleared out to the point of sterility, but do not gauge yours by them. If you perform your own gardening, it can be more multistage, weekend-to-weekend maybe. Do not despond; it is all a process.

Because it is such a frequently grown favorite, I mentioned pruning forsythia previously (April 11), to illustrate the pruning rule of bloom before or after June 21.. And now will be the time to do that. All of the spring bloomers can be pruned and shaped immediately after flowers fade: viburnums, bush honeysuckle, flowering quince, lilacs, and more — until around the solstice, when light changes cause and coincide with other plant cell development.



Some woody plants I grow are good reseeders, such as hollies, Japanese maples, and kousa dogwoods. During cleanup, be on the lookout for seedlings; they make nice gifts, and grown on, a way of extending the landscaping less expensively. I transplanted a two-and-a-half-foot-tall Japanese maple seedling, whose foliage looked promising for shape and color, just in time for the rain over Easter. Other reseeders, although not always completely welcome, include buddleia, rose of Sharon, miscanthus grass, styrax, caryopteris, and some hydrangeas, but you have to know how to recognize them.


In the garden

And speaking of recognizing plants and extending the landscaping, now is time to lift and divide perennials if they are overgrown, oversized, or petering out. The sun is not yet too strong, the temperatures are mostly even, and spring rains help with aftercare.

Asters, phlox, chrysanthemum, and Siberian iris come immediately to mind. (Do not confuse mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, with chrysanthemum.) This may result in more divisions than your garden can handle; but toss the surplus into nursery pots, in which they can live for surprisingly long periods, and hold them for later, or to share. Fine plants are made finer by sharing.

Cutting back may commence. Cut back Rosa rugosa (beach roses) to a uniform height, about 12 to 14 inches. Buddleia may be shortened to between two and three feet, shorter for the new pygmy forms. Cut back hypericum, potentilla, caryopteris, and panicle hydrangeas, among others.

Side-dress perennials with organic soil food. Pinch perennials such as chrysanthemum, sedum (now Hylotelephium spp.), aster, and phlox, for bushier growth. Grubs and cutworms, favorite foods of chickens, are emerging into the upper soil. I encounter them when cultivating; remove and serve them up when found.

Sow annuals’ seeds in cells. Almost every garden is large enough to hold at least a few. Zinnias and nasturtiums are tender, but some of the easiest. Screening, bouquets, pollinators, good vase life, drought-resistant, and easy – try some ‘Italian White’ sunflowers, if you haven’t before. They have always been a favorite, but for some years I unaccountably neglected to grow any. I am growing lots this year.

Annual poppies’ dust-like seeds are usually scattered in late winter; I do it in February. This requires being able to recognize the seed leaves of the tiny plants to avoid damaging or weeding them out. They grow rapidly, and are a joy during their brief lives, but must grow in place. They are almost impossible to transplant successfully.

‘Tadorna’ is the leek I am growing this year, and they are ready to go out. I use the broadfork as a spacing jig. Soil temperature here is 59°F, still “cool range.” The ‘Patterson’ onion seedlings are garden-size and ready to plant out. This variety now is recommended; apparently the wonderful ‘Copra’ has developed issues.

My experiments in “perpetual” veg-seeding are ongoing. Leave bolting cilantro and lamb’s lettuce; they are seeding you your next crop. I also have the choice of many seedling leeks already out in the garden. They grow in clumps, from seed having dropped out of last year’s ‘Bleu de Solaise’ that I allowed to flower and set seed.