Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Assurance of Spring

Tiny leaf buds on a shrub rose. It may be too soon to declare that all have over-wintered, but the signs are encouraging.  I had one rugosa [Charles Albanel] which was puny from the time it arrived from the mail order nursery. It either is not yet breaking dormancy, or--its deader than a doornail.

Digitalis purpurea.  I'm hoping that several other foxgloves may have self-sowed.
I lost a number of plants within weeks of transplanting them last May, most notably delphinium and Lady's mantle [alchimilla mollis.]  It may be that zone 6 heat and humidity were too much for them.
I've researched varities of delphinium and there are some newer hybrids that are supposed to be heat tolerant.
My budget for new perennials is not large this year and I'm hoping to have a cold frame or lean-to green house where I can start my own plants from seed.

I had such a structure during my last several years of gardening at our Vermont home.
It was a tiny place [ 5' x 8'] which J. built of salvaged lumber and situated against the south wall of the garage. We covered it with UV resistant plastic. There were rough "benches" on the south and west sides, a home-made door on the east end.  I lined up covered buckets of various soil mixes along the back wall.
A clump of catnip grew in one corner and a large toad lived in the damp beneath an over-turned terra cotta pot.  Seedlings started under lights in the house could be moved into this unheated space in mid to late April, subject to weather.  When a cold night threatened everything retreated into the garage to be sheltered in newspaper tents.
My late M-I-L was a gifted gardener who nurtured my love of flowers and gave me my first opportunities to transplant delicate seedlings and tend them until the time for them to go into the vegetable garden or dooryard planters.  There may have been sterile bagged soil mixes available at the time, but they weren't included in our meager gardening budget. An old enamel tray or pan would be heaped with a mixture of garden soil and compost and "roasted" in the oven of the wood range, filling the farmhouse with the earthy odor of good home made potting medium.
By the time I had my own tiny greenhouse I was buying my components: bales of peat moss, big sacks of basic sterilized soil, clean builders' sand, vermiculite.
Only another gardener knows the bliss of scooping and mixing, sowing the seeds in the prepared trays or potting on healthy plants into individual containers.
My greenhouse was a welcome retreat at the end of a work day:  a mug of hot tea beside me on the bench if the afternoon was chilly, iced tea for a sunny day; a cat or two slipping in through the door that was propped ajar with a brick; the scent of sun-warmed soil, the astringency of tomato seedlings; the nostalgic, soothing scent of lavender and rosemary, cosseted in pots of my grittiest soil mix.

Its a rare gardening season without set-backs beyond our control.  A late spring frost or cold too early in the autumn creates havoc with our best efforts. It is too dry--or too wet, a fierce wind flattens tender seedlings, blows over the stalks of corn just before harvest.
Vine borers spoiled both our plantings of winter squash last year and even wiped out the zuchinni. Weeds and pests invade. We sweat and toil with aching backs and grubby hands.
If gardening is truly part of who we are we do it again each year!

I sowed several more containers of tomatoes this evening, moved the first batch into the basement under the flourescent fixture. Germination hasn't been as good as I hoped, it may be a bit too chilly in the basement for the plants to thrive.  I anticipate carrying the seedlings out to the south-facing windows in J.'s garage on warm days--while I wait for the greenhouse to materialize.
The cats have been told that the seedling trays are none of their business!
Did I mention--the radishes we sowed at the edge of one garden strip have come up!
And J. cut enough of the over-wintered kale for a meal.
Enthusiasm for gardening is burgeoning afresh---thoughts fixed on a bountiful harvest!

The lilies came as a bonus with one of my nursery orders last spring.
The short strip of garden where I planted them was shadier than I anticipated.  I may decide to move the Double Knock-out roses which I planted there. Mints, transplanted lemon balm and seed-sown clove pinks were happy in that location. Already clumps of invasive Sweet Annie have put out new leaves.

This clump of daffs is off by itself just beyond the clothesline. As you can see I simply stood over it and aimed down for the photo.

The birds have lost interest in the feeders.  J. took the roll of wire and made a small "play ground" for the pampered indoor cats. We open the sliding door while we are at the table just inside and the felines who are brave enough venture out to take the air.
They are too funny--tip-toeing on soil and grass under the burning bush. A goldfinch or two lighted in the bush just long enough to mock the cats.  Chester and Mima "chattered" at the birds. Chester attempted to clamber into the bush but fell off with a thud when only inches from the ground.
I don't think the well supervised "recesses" will be any threat to the bird population.

Buds of a dooryard maple are red against a clear blue sky.
J.M. told us these are "water maples"--known as "soft" or "swamp" maples in New England.
The roots are moisture hungry and shallow creating ridges in the lawn which get "skinned" by the lawn mower. The small branches are brittle and snap off in wind and rain.

Willis has been in his element these two sunshiney days. J. has barrowed some old hay up to the big garden to mulch the berry plants, done some pruning of the elderly and very twiggy apple trees. Willis has toiled behind him.  The girl kittens, Sadie and Sally, enjoy forays into the upper garden but are not so likely to be constantly underfoot--or in this case--overhead.


  1. We seem to be having similar weather right now and I have been taking advantage of it too!

    Do you inside cats not like going outside? Likely to run off? Ours come and go as they please, with the exception of Ban and Gypsy, who do not "do" cat flaps if you please, and Lucky, who has learned out but hasn't figured you can do it in reverse. The boys all use the cat flap (self taught) although it is a tight fit for Jarvis ("Little Whale" as Tam calls him).

    What a shame you can't grow Lady's Mantle - I have MASSES of it here, and it would self-seed on the back of a coin, I reckon . . .

  2. I so enjoyed this post about spring starting to happen in your gardens. I just planted some seeds in a seed starting mix the other day, and potted up some cuttings too, hoping they will root. I hadn't bought any dirt in awhile, so was happy to have some to grow lovelies from seed.

    Happy Gardening with Jay and your feline family.

  3. A wonderful description of the pleasures of sowing and planting. It is the time of year when I long to sow seeds, but it is still a little early for them in our unheated greenhouse.

    Is your grass beginning to grow in the garden and in the pasture fields? There are definitely some new shoots here and the grass has taken on that bright, vibrant green that only comes with lengthening days and (slightly) warmer weather.

  4. Such a lovely post...I'm so ready for Spring! Do the pampered indoor cats who do venture outside ever try to climb the wire fencing and "escape"? I would think they'd know they have a very good thing!

  5. what a lovely visit and view of the cat playground. when are you going to add willis and the barn girls to the roster of photos on the blog?
    thank you for all your interesting, pleasing writings. i always feel like i have walked with you around the house and garden.

  6. Our current cats, other than Willis and the girls, are exclusively indoor cats. Years ago we had road deaths and a few never explained disappearances, so have opted to keep the felines safe from predators and their own curiosity, or in some cases, stupidity. Charlie and his son Chester got outside several times in WY and were impossible to round up. Chester lurked in fright under the front porch for two days while we crawled about pleading with him to come out. With the makeshift yard they can have supervised outings.
    The grass is greening up, birds are in the nesting business.

  7. What a great photo that last one is...loved seeing how your homestead garden is bursting into life again, too. Good luck with all your seed planting and I'm sure you will have plenty of success with your tomatoes.