Weekend Gardening

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

The temperatures continue to soar into the 80’s, and the yard continues to beckon. It was with a great deal of pleasure and anticipation that Beth and I forged into the yard on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. I don’t know if it was work or play, but gardening got done. While taking two classes at the Des Moines Botanical Center on Saturday morning, I heard it said that “If you don’t know whether you have worked or played, you have succeeded.” Yes, with this in mind, my weekend forays into the yard were a definite success.

I had two main objectives in the garden on Saturday afternoon. I had a large pile of old stalks in the corner of the garden. This made pick up easy. I just felt for the two fence corners, found the pile of brush, and loaded it into a large brown lawn bag; it’ll go out in the curb for pick up next Friday morning.

The other task was just a bit more daunting. There continues to be too many leaves in some places in the garden. I brought a bucket with me, found where the mulch was thick, and transferred it to an area under the viburnum bush where mulch was lacking. Several buckets later, I had spread enough for this day. As the perennials continue to emerge, this task will continue until the mulch is distributed evenly, and the plants are larger. Among the deepest mulch, I found my marker for the coreopsis, cultivar “Jethro Tull.” No sign of growth yet, but despite the weather, it is still mid-March. As would be expected, the wind blew lots of leaves and mulch into other parts of the garden as well. I grabbed my bucket, felt along the ground, and picked up debris to help the soil get sun, warm up, and dry up. It is time to get the ground ready for the tiller. It is still too cool and wet, but I envy those who have their gardens tilled. Yes, you can plant cold weather crops–carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuce, kohlrabe, and peas–just to name a few.

Why do I know it is time to plant the above crops? You can judge by what is growing in the garden without being planted. Sunday morning Beth and I toured the yard to see what is blooming. She noticed a row of “something” growing in the garden. I had a wonderful crop of carrots last year, but didn’t bother to dig the tiny ones. The new-old crop is about an inch tall. I even pulled a few to see what I had missed. They were soft, ugly, and tiny. Since they are biennials, and will simply grow up to make seed this year, I will have them tilled out. Potatoes will occupy their space this year. If the carrots are up by Nature, it is time to plant seeds.

Our unusual March weather has led to our spring plants surging ahead. The magnolia tree is blooming, and there are sepals scattered all over the property. The sepals are the outer hard shell on the bud which bursts when the flowers emerge. They are past the point of no return, and any cold spell will freeze the flowers into blackness. But since the weather is to be cooler, yet moderate over the next week, we may be in for a full show.

While walking around the yard I could smell the apricot blossoms. Sure enough, the trees are full of them–only a few within reach. It was also time to check out flower beds as well. I crawled through them on my hands and knees to ascertain what is happening. My efforts were rewarded with daffodils, hyacinths and crocus blooming. Beth’s squill (small, blue early spring flowers) is also blooming in her perennial bed.

The Lenten roses (heliboris) have probably grown a foot. Beth and I were pleased to encounter several yellow “rose-like” flowers on this plant.

During the winter of 2010-2011, I was so impressed with my aiolos hyacinths that I planted them just outside the south fence of the garden. Hyacinths that are forced, and then planted outdoors for a second chance, are usually mere shadows of themselves. Unfortunately, the same was true of the aiolos cultivar. The florettes were widely spaced, and not very fragrant. I have several clumps of hyacinths and daffodils at the south-east corner of the house that have been out for three years after their forcing experience; time does not seem to restore them to their forcing glory.

My last task yesterday morning was to dig out an old lilac bush in the garden that had died 3 years ago. It was buried in leaves, as this area was a convenient place to put extra mulch while I was in the garden on Thursday and Saturday. This is an easy task for a blind gardener, as none of the woody stalks had grown or changed during all of this time. However, the actual process isn’t that easy. Since it is among perennials, and a fence was a foot to the north, I had to be careful in using my spade. Fortunately, it had been dead long enough that it came out of the ground with little effort. I did not fill in its place, as I want to find another small bush to replace it with. Since the fence was on the north, I started on the east and west sides of the lilac. Just to the south are some perennial lilies, which are already growing. These lilies are hardy folks, as they have been in their place for 7 years; I didn’t want to disturb a good thing. It was easy to feel the old dead base of the lilac, and place my spade deep in the ground near it. A few tugs, and out the roots came. The search for its replacement has started.

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