In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it comes to holiday decorating. Even in the dead of winter, her house brims with festive greenery, twinkling lights and potted poinsettias.
Then comes early spring and Easter. How can I compete? The ground is muddy at best or still snow-sodden at worst. No buds have popped yet, and any early bloomers have, more often than not, petrified pitifully in a late freeze. Being a gardener, I consider it a point of pride to find a way to jumpstart the season in time for the spring holidays.
Containers are a great solution since they can be moved to protect against volatile spring weather. But what plants might work well in early spring – I’m talking late March or early April – and where do we get our hands on them?
Towards the end of February a startling fact was reported on the news. January, it turns out, had been the fourth warmest month in the history of the world. How can that be, everyone east of the Mississippi must have gasped?
As Ned crept up to the gate, he was struck by the eerie glow emanating from the yard. The last thing Ned wanted was eerie glow all over his face but it was too late. Besides, Susan was in there somewhere and he wasn’t going to cut and run. Not now. Ned wiped some eerie glow onto his jeans, took a deep breath and moved into the yard.
The glow was coming from somewhere in the distance, partially blocked by rows of evergreens. Ned made a mental note. It was an E-flat. Then cautiously, he crept forward. Footsteps. Voices. Coming this way. A moment of panic.
You might have noticed, as you were reading through this magazine, that there are stories about the birds and the bees (which makes some of us nervous), wildflowers, not-so-wildflowers, milkweed (which is a wildflower, not actually a weed, but don’t get me started) and other things that could be lumped generally under the heading of “nature.”
SPOILER ALERT! If you start by reading this column first (come over here and let me give you a great big hug!), I just ruined the rest of the magazine for you by giving away the plot, for which I apologize. Sometimes I just lose control.
Wait a second … this is a gardening magazine. The plot is always the same: plant the seed, water the seed, nurture the tiny plant, feed the tiny plant, water the tiny plant, transplant the plant, nurture the growing plant, feed the growing plant, water the growing plant, watch the plant bloom, watch the plant fruit, deadhead or prune the plant, watch the plant decline, watch the plant die, curse the fates, wonder what you did wrong, rinse and repeat. It’s pretty simple, really.
My name is Mike Nowak and, as you can see, I write a column for this very, very, very esteemed magazine. It’s full color and it’s glossy! As you can also see, my column is in a place of honor, on the very, very, very back page, just in front of a big fertilizer ad or something else of great importance to the horticultural community (they change it up every issue, just to keep me guessing).
Something was wrong. I could sense it. How? That’s my job. My name is Begonia. Rex Begonia. I’m a detective. A garden detective. I speak in short clipped phrases and I pack a trowel.
There was nothing wrong with the weather. The weather was perfect. Too perfect. It was one of those evenings that give garden writing a bad name, that cause otherwise perceptive, talented writers to reach inexplicably for their thesauruses. They start using words like “dappled” and “palette” and phrases like “discordant symphony of riotous hues” and I start reaching for the bottle. Pour me a drink, Sam.
“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…gnxx! Huh?” “Move over. You’re taking up all the root space.” “No need to stick a rhizome in my side.” “And you’re snoring. Can you keep it down?” “Hunh? What time is it?” “Early. Go back to sleep. And stop hogging all of the mulch.” “How early? I’m cold. You know I like to snuggle down under the mulch.” “Early early. January early. And save some mulch for me. It’s bad enough being planted this close together without you using up all of the resources.” “You kidding me? January? I feel like I’ve been dormant forever. Let’s get out of here! I want to sprout! To touch the sky! I want to–ouch! “What now?” “Bumped my head on something.” “It’s called ice, nimroots. The ground is frozen.” “Oh. Well, I still want to…want to…want…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….” “Will you just give me some of that…that…oh, never mind.”
I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my covers, I noticed that there was a small scroll attached to its leg. I opened the window, retrieved the scroll and got a dirty look from the bird as it pooped and flew off. (Just what are the rules for tipping carrier pigeons?)
This is now how my editors communicate with me. They mutter vaguely about computer viruses and such. I’m not sure but I think I’m being punished for some grammatical faux pas.
Anyway, the note was about the theme of this first issue of the year (already? can I go back to bed?), which is … uh … “Magician Tissue.” Wait. Nope. (The print is very, very tiny on this little note.) It’s … uh … ah! I think this is the “Imagination Issue.”
A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.
I think I’m missing a gene. Okay, maybe two or three.
This is the time of year when gardeners are told to dream, to curl up with their favorite magazine or catalog with that hot cup of cocoa or tea (naturally decaffeinated, of course), to look upon their snow-covered blank slate of a garden and imagine the endless possibilities of the coming growing season. Golden retriever at your side, your mate happily puttering away in the next room (creating ingenious and achingly beautiful mosaic tiles from thrift store ceramic pieces) you flip through the stack of horticultural publications, carefully marking and clipping articles and ads for the newest All-America Selections, secure in the knowledge that this year’s garden would be the absolute envy of even Gertrude Jekyll, had she not departed this vale of tears some seven decades ago.
If all has gone according to plan, our gardens are looking fabulous right about now. Yes, I still hanker after the bold and the beautiful, envisioning arbors draped with 15-foot sprays of fragrant roses and clematis like those I’ve seen in England. But I have no place for an arbor and many of those Anglo behemoths aren’t hardy here, so I’ve chosen a non-fragrant behemoth that is: ‘William Baffin’. If you want an ubermensch rose, this is it. ‘Rubens’, which regularly clambers to the rooftops and transforms even the most nondescript English house into a thing of beauty, I have high hopes this year for Clematis ‘Pendragon’, the 10-foot tall rosy-purple marvel that our Associate Publisher Ann Sanders says blooms non-stop in her Bolingbrook garden. Having a covetous nature, I ordered one for myself as soon as I heard her singing its praises. I’m giving it marching orders to climb to the top of my ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae.
I’m often asked, “How do you do it, Mike … year after year?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “Why do you do it,
I pay close attention to the plants in my garden that attract a lot of bees. I don’t know the names of all the bees in my yard,
If you could only see your face right now (take a selfie and after you wallow in the horror of your expression, send me a copy).
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both?
The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered ...