Early Spring Gardening Delusions

Daffodils almost ready to bloom

Every spring I enter the delusional state in which I firmly believe that this year, for sure, I will be able to keep ahead of all the weeds and effectively deter every deer, groundhog, squirrel, rabbit, mole, and bird from eating my plants; and for once, I will have a picture-perfect garden with no bugs, no yellowed or splotched leaves, every plant spaced properly and in its prescribed bed, manicured walkways between the beds, a well-designed and restful place where I can retreat to a garden bench or arbor and read among the fragrant herbs and colorful flowers and delectable fruits and vegetables. But alas, as I survey the reality of my yard and compare it to the carefully managed gardens that fire my imagination, I realize that once again I failed to rake all the leaves before winter set in or deadhead the vigorous self-seeding asters and coneflowers and blackeyed Susans, or cut back the dried stalks of anything, and now the perennials are back in force, already pushing their way up out of the earth, crowding other plants, leaping boundaries, growing through cracks in the sidewalk, and I can tell that unless I can somehow hire a team of landscape artists and strong-backed gardeners, I am destined to end up once again with the same wild, exuberant, untamed, free-for-all that I call my garden.

But to keep up the fantasy for at least a little while, I have decided to inventory all the plants that are coming up in my front yard right now and make a list of tasks I need to take care of sooner rather than later–before the weeds take over and it gets too hot, before my enthusiasm flags. My dream is that someday I can learn everything there is to know about each plant I grow and that I can have something blooming at all times throughout the growing season. At the moment, the crocus have just burst onto the scene. They appeared miraculously this week after we were surprised by a snowstorm on Monday and then surprised again after the snow melted to find a dozen bright yellow and purple crocus peeking out of the grass and dead leaves.

Spring has sprung!

The daffodils won’t be far behind. There are about twenty clumps of naturalized daffodils spread across the yard—several up near the street in the space I like to think of as the herb garden, more clumps in what was originally intended to be a “butterfly garden,” several tucked under the climbing rose in the corner at the end of the porch, a few clumps under the old lilac bush we cut down last fall, some by the mailbox, and others just wherever. The long pointed leaves are from three to seven inches high, depending, I suppose, on the variety or the amount of sun they get or possibly how old they are. I’m not really sure, and I no longer remember what kinds I planted or when I planted them. The bulbs are swelling and turning a pale yellow-green. I swear if I sat outside and watched for a few hours, I could actually see the blooms unfold in the sun.

While the daffodils are blooming, the hyacinths will make their appearance, but I wish I had planted more purple than pink ones, because the purple looks better with the yellow daffodils. I originally chose pink because it was my grandmother’s favorite color, but I had no idea that the original five bulbs I planted would take off like they did.  I also noticed one small remaining clump of tulips, which I need to spray with some sort of repellant (garlic or pepper spray) before the deer eat them to the nub; while tramping through my garden, the deer will probably also take a bite out of several of the hyacinths before they remember they don’t particularly like those. The daffodils they leave alone.

Although I like the way the daffodils have naturalized, I’m not so crazy about the way the other plants have spread themselves across my yard, and each spring I think I should exert more control and actually attempt to design the beds rather than just let everything grow where it lies, but that is easier said than done. I suppose I’m what you might call a permissive gardener, thinking all plants have their merits, and I hate pulling out perfectly good, healthy ones. I tend to think, “Who am I to decide what grows and what dies?” (Does that make me a bleeding heart? I suppose. I don’t like squishing bugs, either.)  I also tend to plant things on top of each other, bulbs and perennials that will bloom at different times in the same space, and I forget what I planted where, so I hesitate to pull out unidentified plants, thinking they might actually be something worth having. Of course, by the time I realize, “Oh no! It’s a horrible weed!” it has completely gone to seed and has propagated itself all over the neighborhood. I really like the idea of “pocket gardens” and think that this year, instead of trying to redesign all the beds at once, I should focus on one small space at a time, no bigger than, say, four by six feet. My favorite spot in the whole garden (a small space where the sidewalks meet) was a complete accident. This particular pocket garden contains only three plants and takes up less than nine square feet, but it makes me smile every spring whenever the bright yellow alyssum, the purple geranium, and the deep red tulips all bloom at the same time.

Here are the other plants that are already sending up shoots in my garden in mid-Missouri and soon will take over the yard. If we started at the front door and looped left through the yard, this is roughly what you would see.

Near the front porch and along the sidewalk

  • About seven clumps of “surprise lilies” or “naked ladies” lined up in front of the evergreens by the porch, where the iris used to be, plus two small clumps out by the street not too far from the mailbox. They are about 6” tall and could almost be mistaken for daffodils at this time, except the leaves are somewhat thicker and more rounded on the ends. The pale pink lilies will not actually bloom until late summer, after the leaves have died back and the stalks emerge “naked” from the ground, surprising me every time. By then, the ones near the street will be completely hidden by the asters that will soon fill that space and grow taller than the lilies.
  • The iris appear to have “migrated” away from their original space in front of the evergreens and are now in a squarish patch closer to the sidewalk. The leaves are an inch tall at the moment. Another patch of iris is coming up under the old lilac bush (I don’t remember moving them). The new iris rhizomes that I bought at the farmers market and planted late last year near the street seem to be coming up as well. These are about 1/2” tall. I doubt they will bloom this year. I did write down which kinds I bought, but I didn’t pay attention to which rhizome I planted where. Maybe I can match them up later, after they bloom. Sure, why not?
  • The strawberry plants along the sidewalk are looking good, with dark green leaves about 1” in diameter, but some of the plants are being crowded out by the blackeyed Susans and asters. I need to start thinking now about how to keep the birds and squirrels out of the strawberries. I kind of wish I had gotten one of those tiered strawberry planters and set that in the middle of the garden, rather than plant the patch along one side of the sidewalk. It seems too asymmetrical, even for me , but I can’t plant strawberries on the other side of the sidewalk because I have been growing tomatoes over there, and those plants share diseases.
  • I can’t tell if the lavender survived the winter.

Along the rail fence

  • The dogwood tree that Jim rescued several years ago from the corner by the chimney, where it had grown from the seed of our neighbor’s tree, has fat round buds.
  • There are deer prints in the corner off the end of the porch beneath the climbing rose. The rose itself is sending up wild shoots over the fence toward the neighbor’s yard.
  • A small clump of daffodils is nearby.

In the “butterfly garden”

  • There are two clumps of poppies with leaves about 3” long coming up in the old “butterfly garden.” Seems like there should be more of these, but perhaps they are hidden under the leaves I need to rake.
  • Black-eyed Susans are greening up, the leaves low to the ground, but they need serious thinning.

Near the street by the mailbox (and elsewhere)

  • Shasta daisies are still low to the ground but starting to green up, with leaves about 1” long; like the daffodils, these have naturalized and can be found in all the garden spaces,  and I love the way they look on breezy sunny days in June (hundreds of cheery white petals with bright yellow centers, held up by delicate stems).
  • The geraniums are greening up; leaves about 1 1/2” long. These have been most satisfactory. They bloom for a long time and they spread in a sensible way. I might want to think about planting more of these when I plan my pocket gardens.
  • Poppy mallow has 1” leaves close to the ground.
  • The fleshy hyacinth buds are appearing all along the front edge of the garden.

In the “herb garden”

  • The verbena by the street and in the new iris bed is getting green; the leaves are about 3/4” long. I like these low-spreading, long-flowering vines almost as much as the geranium.
  • Lambs ear is everywhere. I love its gray fuzzy leaves and the odd little pink flowers that appear in late summer at the end of a long woolly stalk, but really, I have let it get out of hand. I am always surprised when people tell me they have had trouble growing it.
  • The two sage plants have gotten quite woody but arestill strong and shapely.
  • There are pale thin grass-like chives everywhere, in every garden and in the cracks between the sidewalks and stepping stones. Even though they look delicate, their roots are already tenacious and nearly impossible to pull out.
  • Asters, cone flowers are all gone to seed; dried leaves everywhere.

Along the driveway

  • The butterfly bush needs to be cut way back. Although it is an invasive species here, it does attract the butterflies, and I enjoy it. Still, its placement isn’t ideal because it shades the vegetables I try to grow nearby.
  • Chrysanthemums are barely visible beneath the dried leaves near the square-foot vegetable gardens; the leaves are about 1/2” long.
  • Two square-foot gardens stand ready for planting. I just need to add some compost first. I will probably also add some organic fertilizer. I already raked out most of the acorns and leaves that had fallen into the squares over the winter. The broccoli seed I started indoors is ready to go in the ground any time.

Near the house

  • The white rose bush needs pruning and protection from the deer.
  • A smaller lilac bush that we transplanted last year or the year before is looking good and will probably bloom this year.
  • A single hollyhock with big bold leaves about 4” high. I wonder if I could get hollyhocks to grow along the side of the house where the chimney is.
photo of crocus in bloom

Crocus provide an early source of nectar and pollen for the bees.


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