A Work In Progress

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

I usually don’t plan on extensive garden work in mid-March. It is work during the day, and other activities at night. Therefore, I am feeling frustrated that I haven’t been able to get out into the garden at night over the past week.

On Thursdays, whenever possible, Beth and I schedule a time together. It is our “date night.” Last evening we agreed to have our “date” out in the yard. It was just too nice to spend time anywhere else. So while Beth placed signs throughout the outdoor areas, I trekked to the garden for some long overdue work.

Last fall I spread mulch on the west end of the old perennial bed. It was done haphazardly, figuring that I could take care of it during the cool days of March, before the perennials germinated. March is here, but for the time being, the cool weather is gone. It was 81 both Wednesday and Thursday–almost too hot to do extensive work in the garden.

Some of the mulch was a foot thick, and in other areas of the garden the soil was barely covered. That was the good news. The ugly news is that some of the very young perennials were covered with lots of mulch, and I’m not sure of their survival. I did not mark the new stuff well enough. I found several stakes with Braille labels, and I uncovered those plants sufficiently enough to assure their growth.  Other plants, daylilies, woodland poppies, iris and the oriental poppies didn’t care how much mulch was on them–they rose up above it anyway.

This project is a work in progress. As perennials continue to grow, I can continue to adjust the mulch to their needs. In the meantime, this weekend I will bring a couple of buckets to the garden, and continue to adjust mulch levels. The search for the newer perennials will continue. There is a lesson in this. The metal stakes and Braille labels are great, but I should have accompanied them with a surrounding white tile to better mark them.

My second project in the garden was to take down the plant stubble from last year. The oriental lilies, the hardy hibiscus and the baptisia had the most stalks to clear away. I placed them in a pile just east of the perennials–an area I’ll have tilled later. They should all fit in one big brown lawn bag.

Although it has been dry and warm, my garden is not nearly ready to be tilled. Probably the mulch and the shade of the apricot trees have kept it cool and damp.  A bit later, I will clear the mulch from these areas to help the ground to dry out. Then I can replace that mulch into those areas after tilling.

It is also a time for spring flowers in the yard. Last Sunday morning Beth and I toured the yard looking for growing things. The Dutch iris, or iris reticulata, are in bloom. Beth tells me they are a variety of colors. One purple crocus is blooming in front. Last night, Beth found one miniature daffodil blooming in her flower bed. I felt lots of garlic growing in the herb garden. I plucked the end of a leaf and enjoyed an aromatic taste of spring. Next time we make baked potatoes, they will be accompanied with fresh chives from the herb garden. I also noticed some things with ferny leaves growing in the northeast corner of this bed. From my memory of what was planted there last year, these have to be fennel. Tulips and daffodils are up all over the apple tree and pine tree gardens.

This is the weekend when Beth will pot her geraniums that she is over-wintered. Last fall she pulled them out, and placed them in brown grocery bags in the basement closet. Sometimes they revive, sometimes they do not. My job is to carry the pots to their potting area for Beth, then put them back when she is finished. This year, due to the mild weather, she will pot them on the patio table. My four scented geraniums remain in the sun room, along with the two “springfield violet” zonal geraniums. They will go out in May, after sharing space with what Beth pots up.

Last Sunday while Beth and I were looking around, we noticed that the Lenten rose plant (heliboris) had not made it through the winter. However, as is its usual habit, new growth is emerging from the ground. I noticed two flowers on it as well. Well, it is Lent, and the flowers are kind of shaped like roses I guess. Anything that blooms in March is always welcome.

Despite the itch to get outdoors, our indoor projects continue. Last night I came across a huge cluster of orchid blossoms near my rocking chair. Beth tells me that six of her orchids are blooming–another sure sign of spring. The forced gudoshnik tulips are in their full glory. Each year I promise Beth to force less bulbs; I’m not promising this year. In fact, I am counting on forcing another pot of them next autumn. Their large, stately goblet-shaped flowers are magnificent. As if their flower form wasn’t enough, they are also fragrant. The “cut” or fringed tulips are not so wonderful. I forced a pot for Jack as well, and he described them as “pokey.” When placed alongside the gudoshnik, they really are a poor show. The only pot of tulips in the sun room are the match point cultivar. They are supposed to be new, and double. Jack’s bloomed, and he said they were red. One of them is in bud in the sun room. They appear to be double at this point, but Beth tells me they haven’t opened up enough yet to determine their color.

This is only the beginning of my favorite time of the year, and of a flurry of garden activities. If the weather cooperates, despite a busy weekend schedule, Beth and I have plans to work in the yard–on both separate and joint endeavors.


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