4.21.2010

Spring In the Garden: I Am A Gardening Sloth

I don't know what spring is like where you live, but here in the Santa Cruz Mountains, spring has read all the proper manuals. We are having balmy afternoons followed by days of guttering rain. The lion & lamb that went in and out of March can be found alternately roaring and gamboling through April. And I love it. These days I can be found in the garden, between storms, hunched over; deep in concentration as I flick the lupine leaves & watch the mercurial drops of water roll around. Also the crucial task of orienting the clematis shoots towards the trellis. And an awful lot of time has been spent with the little brown hats popping off the fuchsia-colored azalea buds. I'm swamped!
Botany 101
I know this is nothing new, plants grow in the spring. But it still baffles me how well things are doing despite the minimum amount of time I've spent out in the garden. For example, there are a surprising number of fat green nubs poking out of the soil, new shoots from the Star Gazer lily bulbs that somehow survived the strict regimen of neglect that I've instituted since the birth of little H.O. nearly a year ago. Somewhere in the midst of the sleepless nights and the fogged-filled days of life with a newborn I decided to become a charter member of the League of Slothful Gardeners. This is not the Zen-like 'No Dig Gardening'. More like the "When I Get Around To It" Method.
Sloth Gardening: A Primer
 I think this new style of gardening will really catch on this year. In fact, if anyone wants to achieve our present state of fecundity; here is what I suggest. Slink past the weeds, dead grass  and sickly plants that languish in the garden throughout the fall & winter months. Avert your eyes from the moss and mushrooms coming up in the beds. In late February, use a head cold as a malingering excuse to avoid weeding. In mid-March remember that you are hosting an Easter brunch and you want the garden to look nice. Convince your 5 year old that pulling weeds will help tidy up the garden for the Easter bunny. Begin to frantically apply compost and manure to everything, all the while praying desperately & hopping about from foot to foot, muttering, "Come on, come on! Just one little new shoot for Mumsy!" If you have some bulbs that should have been planted when they were purchased, last summer, plant them now. If you have a mulch pile, don't (whatever you do) spread it on your beds. Wait a few months until blackberry vines are beginning to obscure it. Then dig in, noting all the blackberry roots that are just waiting to be broken off and spread over your garden beds. A fine way to asexually propagate blackberries. I wonder no one has every thought of it?
Cheap and Cheerful Color

Another astonishing bit in the garden right now is the variety of color out there, surpassing the usual festival of greens and browns that this time of year usually celebrates. It's mainly due to some hard-working perennials like the purple carpet bugle (ajuga reptans) that, well, carpets the ground beneath our ancient rosemary that has been limbed up to see the branch work beneath. Also we've got ourselves a serious case of dicentra formosa. Sounds like some sort of a canker sore, doesn't it? It is actually the Western Bleeding Heart, one of the sweetest little bits of California native flora to charm itself into the garden. By 'charmed' I mean that I transplanted it from an undisclosed location in the dead of night. That was about 6 years ago and now I can dig it up by the bucketful to give away. With upright stalks of light pink flowers amidst lacy green foliage, it adds a note of woodland delicacy to balance out the heavy rhododendrons-and it looks lovely in a vase!
Forget Me Nots

But the main flower that is bringing grace and glory to the garden these days has to be the 'umble forget me not, good ole Myosotis palustris (syn. scorpioides). I've got huge swathes of this spread throughout the garden and I must say it is one of the most cheap and cheerful solutions to the perennial problem of early spring color in the garden. Especially the blue tones which are always so hard to bring in. True, it does self-sow at a brisk pace, leaving little doubt from whence comes its name. I think because our soil is so sandy and loose we have little trouble with these seedlings, we just cultivate, scuffling through the top few inches of soil with a little hand hoe. Another job for a gullible 5 year old. Tell her the forget me not seedlings are greens to feed Peter Rabbit, and she can leave it in a pile by the garden gate. And I suppose you know that the forget me not was adopted by Henry IV as his symbol during his exile in 1398? Of course you did. But I bet you didn't know that the little burrs were hell to get out of his beard.
Confessions: Neglected Cold Frame
In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit to buying a few 6 packs of pansies, alysum and stock at a large chain store. I give in to this every year, and every year I think about how I'll sow pansies next year, and how I'm actually going to use the cold frame that sits, forlorn and weedy, on the edge of garden. I even go so far as to open the cold frame and look inside. A long minute passes as I idly scrape the gunge off the Visqueen that covers the lid. And then I close it, and don't give it another thought until next spring when I want some pansies for the garden.
So get out there, Sloth Gardeners! When, you know.. you get around to it.  I know I've raised the bar, but it's good to have standards, don't you think?

4 comments:

Mimi said...

I love the new format!

rosa said...

thanks, Meem! It's always nice to get a comment from you!

Blessed said...

Ah, I love your sense of humor.

You make me feel so much better about my little patch of flowers--which I realized is my "happy place."

And I too am loving the forget me nots this year! Well, or I was before some girls and their best friends ransacked it. . . apparently the wild growing forget-me-not in the backyard is not good enough, you have to pick the ones clearly designated as within the (supposed) safety zone of the rock walls of my little garden. . .

as I always think, "good thing you're (all) so cute."

rosa said...

they are cute indeed!

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.