Like the proverbial speaker who always starts a bad speech with an apology, I will start this missive by saying that I undertook this minor quest to walk around the yard looking for signs of spring at a friend’s suggestion based on an idea from The Tidewater Gardener. I went straight out and took a bunch of blurry photos to use. I, of course, blame the blurriness of the photos on the camera and not my aging eyes. I could blame the plants and say they kept moving too quickly and I didn’t have the camera setting on “sport” but, alas, both gardeners and birders will know that plants are notoriously “slow movers”. Having gotten that out of the way, let’s move on with the quest to find spring in my little piece of the earth here in Maryland.
Like all good speakers or writers that I would aspire to be, I have to start with something really good to grab your attention before moving on into the long rambling and possibly boring parts of the presentation. So, here’s a lovely crocus. Now, didn’t that get your attention? If you’ve getting just a little tired of dead brown leaves and a little too much snow and cold wind, then there is nothing like a good crocus peeking up in the garden to distract your mind and lift your spirit right into thoughts about spring and warm weather. If it weren’t for robins who somehow already got the title, crocus would surely be known as the harbingers of spring. Snowdrops or Lenten roses may come first sometimes but crocus will definitely steal the show. One thing you should know up front is that just about every plant or piece of garden art in our yard has a story. And even the lowly (in stature not importance or beauty) crocus brings to mind the problems my grand-daughter had with learning to say the letters “cr” and “ph” and “sh”. Although she has all her speech patterns down pat at this point, I will always hear “TRotus” in my mind when I see these wonderful little lavender flowers in spring.
Moving on to the afore-mentioned robins, I got this photo as I headed out the backdoor for my venture walking the yard. He is a handsome bird showing his white spectacles clearly in this photo. I wonder if you all have noticed more robins this winter. It is difficult to think of robins as heralding spring when they have spent all winter with us and have been mobbing the yard in packs picking holes in what little grass we have. But I bow to wiser folk before me who opted to think of robins as a spring bird. Perhaps, they lived further north where robins tend to disappear during winter months and only show up in spring when there is a possibility of worms creeping along just under the frozen topsoil.
Speaking of birds, one sure sign of spring around here is that the birds are congregating more and keeping the feeders empty. The blackbirds and grackles and starlings are moving in gigantic flocks that can move in and clean a bird feeder in seconds. We had a flock of red-winged blackbirds come through a few days ago that was somewhat exciting but mostly we are getting grackles and starlings and more starlings this spring. So, around here, an empty sunflower seed feeder means spring. And, of course, the sight of the osprey back on the river means spring is definitely here.
Likewise, a husband sighted clearing debris and old plant stalks and leaves from the flower beds is a sure sign of spring. As the days grow sunnier and a little warmer, the dauntless husband can be sighted in all areas of the yard taking care of spring cleaning as it should be. No doubt, he waits to be joined in his endeavors by the, at this point, not-yet-sighted-outside-the-house wife of his (aka me). By the way, anyone who knows this man well will know that his favorite gardening joke is that I am the gardener but he is just the hole-digger who digs the holes where he is told to so that I can plant more flowers. Most good jokes do have a grain or two of truth in them but I would suggest that you would not have to dig (pun intended) too far looking for truth in that one.
I whine and complain about it all the time because I have trouble growing roses in the back yard. I have bought many roses and I have planted many roses and mostly tried to grow them. But I am a lackadaisical rose grower. I want them to grow and I love to see and smell the wonderful blooms but I get lazy after I plant them and don’t to do the pruning or spraying or feeding them that is required. You know roses have thorns and these sticky beasts can be a pain to deal with. And it can be so hot trying to prune and spray roses in the hot summertime. And our back yard doesn’t get quite enough sun to feed and nourish roses. But all that doesn’t stop me from planting them, it only stops me from tending to them. So, when a couple of friends moved into a new home and found a lovely old rose bush in their front yard that they didn’t want to deal with, they called me. And I took the poor abandoned rose in and, amazingly enough, it grows and blooms and does okay – not spectacular but very good for me. I have no clue what its name is and looking that up and figuring it out would be way too much trouble so I dubbed it “Krystal Rose” in honor of the friend who gave it to me. And, this year, once again, it has come back and is budding up for spring. I am hoping that, with enough sun and warmth and maybe a little food here and there, it will again surprise me with lovely yellow roses, which by the way were my mother’s favorite color for roses.
Now we come to sedum and more sedum and more sedum. This is “Grandpa’s” sedum. We found this walking my dad’s yard in 2001, the year that he died. At some point in his life there, he had laid a row of cinderblocks in the back yard right up next to the woods and had planted some sedum in the holes in some of the cinderblocks. I suppose it was a sort of a retaining wall of one level to give a thought at holding back the woods encroaching on the back yard. It seemed to work just fine for that. The wild things stayed in the woods on the hillside and the domestic things stayed in the yard as far as I could tell. We decided to take some of the sedum and an idea presented itself to just take up one of the cinderblocks and move it on up to our yard in Maryland. So we slid a board under the block and carefully lifted it and put it into a box in the back of the truck for the trip north. Once here, we laid the cinderblock carefully in one of our flower beds and left it to see if the sedum would catch hold and prosper. And prosper it did. It grows all over the yard mostly in places that we would not have ever planted it. But it no longer grows in the cinderblock. That is probably the only place it does not grow. It is as if it was just waiting to be free of that concrete jail and able to roam all over the place up hill and down. I do find myself wondering about dad’s old place and whether or not the wild woodsy things found that opening we left in the wall and have crept in one plant at a time and taken over that back yard down there in north Georgia. I fancy that it has and that the hillside has reverted back to its natural state and the way it was before we moved there and cleared that hill so many years ago.
Now, this is a weed. At least I thought it was or is. When I took the photo, I knew it was a weed and pondered that every single year when it first peeps up through the mulch, I think it might be one of the hyacinths that I planted in the fall so I leave it for a bit. And then, I think that it is a weed and I decide that I like its cool green-ness in early spring and its symmetry so I decided I will leave it for just a little longer. But soon I figure that I will have to go out and remove it before it grows and blooms and spits out seeds everywhere. And then at some point, it grows a little more and I am reminded, usually by the gardening buddy who gave me the plant, that it is a petasites japonicus, or more commonly known as Fuki or Sweet Coltsfoot. When it is mature, it will look totally different – more like a variegated hosta with rounder leaves. The fact that it is still here tells me that I have gone through this thought process before and have been lax in removing plants that I first thought might be weeds. It is a good thing that I haven’t always gotten to it quickly enough to prevent it from spreading further. Since it was a gift from a friend, I would be saddened to think that I would root it out before I realized that it was not just another weed.
Our “walking” rhododendron is doing well and budding up. It should be beautiful again this year. This shrub was here when we bought the house but it was right up behind the mailbox and about the same size as it is now. For several years, it grew nicely and we took photos every year with me standing beside it so we could see how much it was growing. Then, one year after a big snow, a large branch broke and laid down to the ground and we figured the lower side would be done for and just die away. But, apparently, that was not to be. The branch rooted itself and started to grow. As it grew, the original plant started to die back. I think the whole shrub had just up and decided to move away from the road with all its snow and ice and salt and sand and gravel in winter. Last year, the transformation was completed and we cut out the last of the original plant. Its offshoot is doing fine. I am hoping the shrub is now happy in this particular spot and doesn’t decide to move any further down into the lawn. What with the hydrangea growing and spreading outside the confines of its bed, we are running low on lawn. Of course, now I need to fill the gap between the rhododendron and the road with some liriope or something….a gardener is never done, I suppose.
OH, you might also notice the row of daffodils growing to the right of the mailbox. These were also here when we bought the house. And one year, we waited until after they had bloomed and died back and dug a large trench to remove the daffodils from that spot because the mailman always seemed to drive right over them on the way to the next mailbox on the street. We dug down and removed quite a few bulbs – maybe a hundred or so – and put them in other parts of the yard or gave them away or just plain composted them. We sifted through the soil and were quite sure we had gotten every possible bulb. We were wrong. The daffodils continue to come up every year and continue to get run over at times but are not daunted – they continue to bloom. We decided to leave them to it.
Now, this is Mom’s “surprise lily”. It was a gift from my mother-in-law. She has them growing in her front yard and graciously gave me a couple for our yard. The leaves come up in the spring and then die back to the ground. Sometime in the summer, maybe August, a single stem will come up with a beautiful pink bloom. The bloom is very much like that of an amaryllis. Then, after the bloom has wilted, the stem/bloom will die back down and we won’t see it again until the leaves show up in spring. The surprise is, of course, the way that it grows and dies and then blooms and dies. I think they may also be called resurrection lilies. Now, the best part is the story from mom. She sees absolutely no reason for the leaves/plant in the spring. She declares that they are a waste and not needed whatsoever so when she gave me the plant for my flower bed, she advised me to just whack the leaves down to the ground in the spring and don’t bother with them any further. I can still see her making a quick brushing motion with her hands as she tells me to just “cut the leaves down to the ground”. I suspect that, like daffodils and other spring bulbs, the leaves grow and then the bulb pulls the nutrients back down into the bulb to later be used to produce the bloom after a period of dormancy. But who am I to dispute the advice of a woman who was probably gardening long before I was old enough to do more than pick the blooms off the flowers to use to decorate the rooms in my pretend dollhouse. No, I do not whack the leaves down to the ground but I also do not argue with the gardener who gave me the plant to start with and far be it from me to pick a fight with my mother-in-law about any plant.
As we pass the sunroom on the way around the yard, I notice the philodendron flattened out up against the window and I imagine that it is pushing, pushing, stretching towards the sun trying to get out for the summer. It won’t be long now and the plant will be outside and stretching out in the summer sun and getting a little sweet summer rain. But, for now, it is still too cold and cramped up in the sunroom is where that plant will stay. It has moved with me twice and been divided and shared with friends on more than one occasion so we won’t risk putting it out too soon and being exposed to a hard frost.
The walk continued and I have about 10 or so more photos of shoots and buds and signs of new life. But I think my ramblings might wear a bit thin especially since most folks reading this are gardeners too and have their own yards to walk and memories to share. And I look forward to hearing from you all. As I read back over my missive (yep, longer than you probably thought it would be), I am struck by the thought that it might be nice to have one of those well-manicured, professionally landscaped gardens that they show in all the magazines. My garden is a little haphazard and the flower beds are more the result of chaotic evolution than something really planned. But the flowers all have a story or memory attached and every season reminds me of previous seasons and friends and family members who are no longer with us. I suppose my garden is like an old worn scrapbook with tattered pages and sepia colored photographs that you cannot bear to throw away or re-do with newer pages because in making it newer and better, you will lose all the wonder and beauty of the life you have lived and the poseys you have collected up to that point in the story. And, for me, this garden is just the way it is supposed to be.