Garden Notes: Getting our gardens ready

It’s still a bit early, but hope springs eternal.


Under February’s Snow Moon, our cold soil underlain with clay seems to be the last on the Island to lose its snow cover. However, even here, snowdrops are advancing, and the hellebores are covered with fat pink buds. A glance to the shrubbery and tree tops reveals brighter coloring in twigs, and noticeably fattening buds.

Notorious March begins, month of expectations dashed, the dreaded “bonus” of the maritime climate, although hope springs eternal. Maybe this year will be different? Ha, there are sure to be cold fronts and gales; do not rule out a late snowstorm or two.

I was able to be out in my vegetable garden on some of those nice February days. The soil seemed in an almost workable state, although mostly that was an illusion. Be wary of over-working it when cold and wet, which results in mud-brick and loss of structure. Check for a drier, crumbly texture before major cultivating.

The winter-hardy weeds I mentioned two weeks ago may be cultivated with a thin-bladed hoe that tracks delicately just beneath the soil surface. Look for various versions of such non-disruptive precision tools such as Collinear hoes, wire hoes, stirrup hoes. (Buy locally or check Johnny’s Selected Seeds.)

I spread some well-ashed and well-manured bedding from my poultry housing, and used the rest of my saved straw to cover it. Repeating myself here, but when or if you see straw bales for sale, grab a couple and store them for future use. It is indispensable garden mulch, far superior to hay, and not always available when you most want it.

Intimate gardens

Having spent many winter hours poring over the Ed Lee Luce images on DigitalCommonwealth in the Basil Welch Collection,, I renewed my appreciation for the austerity of the old, spare Island landscape and way of living, which happened 120 years back in greater isolation than now.

Now, we sometimes live in too close proximity with others. In garden making, the charm of enclosed, private outdoor spaces is immediately appreciated; creating them effectively is more difficult. Enclosure is the key to creating intimacy in any garden. Hedges, fences, and house walls bolster privacy, noise reduction, and wind protection.

Marrying private garden areas to the house is usually but not always a prerequisite. Sometimes that million-dollar view cannot be sacrificed. Arbors and trellises may be built to enclose space in open lawn. Resolving that tension between spacious lawns or wide-open views and more intimate spaces, where more tender plants can thrive, noise in buffered, or where deer, dogs, or rabbits cannot enter, is part of the challenge.

The volume, “A Pattern Language,” which I have cited here before, offers many pointers for achieving tranquility in domestic gardens and landscapes. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden guide, Intimate Gardens, is another resource with expert advice on achieving harmony, peace, and quiet in a small garden.

The Canopy Project

Be thinking how you can beautify your own garden with another tree. “One project that brings people together to help the Earth is the Canopy Project ( Since 2010, people have worked with this project to plant tens of millions of trees around the world. This year [2020], the project goal is to plant 7.8 billion trees,” the website says.

Various versions of our own Arbor Day (Friday, April 30, 2021) are celebrated around the world, such as the Van Mahotsava in India, the National Tree Planting Day in Australia and Iran, and Maple Leaf Day in Canada. The day is also celebrated in Egypt, Germany, Japan, and many other parts of the world, albeit on different dates.

The Canopy Project seeks to link all these efforts into worldwide tree awareness, and quips “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Where there are no trees and land has become arid, life is hard. Many school children have learned, through paleo-archeology, that once upon a time, the vast Sahara desert was a treed and bountiful land, with rivers, hippos, and forests. Once upon a time, the arid and rocky terrain of Greece was a forested land of milk and honey.

Desertification acquires its own momentum; when and where that momentum occurs, maintaining life becomes difficult if not impossible. This is why disparate places and nations have embarked on tree planting campaigns, to avoid the hardship and deprivation of trying to live in lands without them.

The Nobel laureate Dr. Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) became globally revered for her founding of the Green Belt Project,, in which she connected the planting of trees, environmentalism, and womens’ rights to the halting of desertification and rural hunger in her country, Kenya.

Coming up, in the Peoples’ Republic of China, March 12 is the national tree planting day, in honor of one of the founders of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The date is his birthday, and planting trees is the way he wanted to be honored.

The goal is to plant billions of trees in China, many parts of which are extremely arid and struggle to support life. This year the goal is for everyone, especially young people, to plant two to three trees.

In the UK, “a scrap of ground, the size of a tennis court, beside a river in Bristol is being transformed into a ‘tiny forest’ featuring 600 trees as part of a nationwide initiative to bring more precious woodland into cities,” according to a Feb.2, 2021 article in the Guardian  ( This is the sort of initiative, to mitigate sterile and unwelcoming spaces, that any town or urban area can undertake.

In the garden

Time has elapsed and forcing bulbs can be brought out into the light now. Ditto for resting plants such as clivia and hippeastrum; bring them out and gradually revive them.

Houseplants and seed-starting trays may be hosting fungus gnats, a small fly that likes moist soil rich in organic matter, and whose larvae in those soils eat roots and spread diseases. Try controlling with yellow sticky traps and soil drenches of insecticidal soap.

Native Plant Trust

The Native Plant Trust, formerly New England Wild Flower Society, has published its course catalogue for Spring/Summer 2021, with some very good classes, including online learning. For more information, please go to and visit