May 30, 2011

Lessons learned: spring 2011

The end of May marks the unofficial and meteorological end of spring—a great time to reflect on garden lessons of the previous three months. No matter how many years of gardening experience a person has, there are always mistakes to learn from, notes for next year, and new techniques to try.

So, here’s a list of lessons I’ve learned this spring. They obviously won’t apply to everyone’s gardens. But they will apply to my southern Wisconsin garden just about every year, and I need to remember:

1. No matter how mild and spring-like the first few days of March, don’t get too excited that “spring has arrived.” I do this every year, and then winter makes several additional appearances through March and April. This year, the pattern was exaggerated with an especially cool April, which basically seemed like a repeat of March. In mid-March, when I participated in Hanni’s “Hope Grows” meme, I said I was looking forward to foliage. While the buds broke around mid-April, we didn’t see decent foliage until a couple of weeks later.

Carya ovata

2. Consider setting out a video camera to document the swift changes in the garden in early May. Perhaps because of the cool April, all the plants seemed to burst into bud and bloom within one week when May hit. Seriously, I’d look out the window morning and night, and there was so much change in just a few short hours. The Ostrich Ferns unfurled from fiddleheads to full growth in just a few days. I wish I would have taken pictures of the same plant each day for a week—very dramatic!

Matteuccia struthiopteris

3. Keep the mulch on the Hellebores until the end of March. I’ve never pulled the mulch off as early as I did this year. It’s my own fault. But after reading about Hellebores emerging on other people’s blogs, I was terribly excited to see them. Sure, they were under the mulch poking through the soil, but I shouldn’t have raked off the mulch so early. And then my hubby stepped on one of the plants…and we had an extended spell of very cold, snowy weather. They looked bad—so bad I couldn’t even look, and I certainly couldn’t blog about it. I feared they wouldn’t make it.

Helleborus orientalis

4. Then again, don’t worry about the Hellebores. After all that abuse, they’re thriving! I even see quite a few seedlings growing under the parent plants. Seems I’ve found the perfect spot for Hellebores in my garden—protected by a stone wall, in a spot that gets morning sun and shade the remainder of the day. Still, I think I’ll remove the mulch a little later next year.

Helleborus orientalis

5. Keep looking for garden surprises. I discovered two new plants in the garden this year—Bloodroot and Red Trillium—that may have been here every year, but I just hadn’t documented them before. I’m amazed every year by volunteers, reseedings, and other movement within the garden, but it’s especially delightful to fine a new plant that I’ve never seen or noticed before.

Sanguinaria canadensis
Trillium erectum

6. The color will come. It’s hard to believe that a brown, gray, and seemingly barren landscape in early March will transform into a plot of rich color and lush growth in May. But it happens every year. I looked out in the garden through most of March and April and thought, “I really need to add some early-spring interest to this place.” Well, I do need to plant more spring-flowering bulbs, and maybe add a touch of color with some accessories, and perhaps plant some Red Twig Dogwood. But it’s so incredible how the same garden can look barren in March and lush in May. I should have taken more pictures of the blah March landscape to show the transformation.

7. Capture more plants throughout the stages of their seasonal growth. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I bothered to tramp out into the woods in early spring to capture photos of emerging plants. Generally, in the past I only photographed plants at their peaks of bloom or full foliage. But it’s fascinating to document a Mayapple from closed umbrella to ripening fruit, or a Hydrangea from empty twigs to full bloom with colorful foliage.

Hydrangea macrophylla

8. Be patient with oneself when the real gardening starts. This is the first year I’ve blogged during the growing season. Every planting season is busy, and this year my daughter’s high-school graduation is just around the corner. I’ll be back hanging out in the gardening blogosphere after the big party in late June. Dear readers and blogging friends, please forgive me for slacking off a bit lately.

And finally, enjoy little moments of gardening peace. That’s the toughest lesson of all. I’m getting better at this one, though, as the years go by. In the midst of all the fun and not-so-fun chores and responsibilities, I try to stop periodically and take a glance at the lush green garden out back or catch a whiff of the Dwarf Lilac about to bloom.

Syringa meyeri

May 23, 2011

Hide and seek in the Mayapple patch

I’ve had Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) on my mind for several weeks now—since before I posted about them as plant of the month.

There are just so many great things to say about Mayapples beyond the fact that they’re fascinating to watch throughout the growing season.

They’re shy, though. A top view of the Mayapple patch looks like this:

But if you peel back the foliage or kneel down to their level, you find a surprise—lovely white blooms that rival the beauty of many showier flowering plants.

May 15, 2011

GBBD: A colorful, imperfect post

I'm about to head out the door to a theatre production of "Les Miserable," about which I am incredibly excited! But I couldn't let May 15 go by without participating in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting!

Things are a bit out of control in my gardens. After I shot the photo above, I did manage to get out and pull the wandering Ferns in the main perennial bed. But there's so much work to do!

It won't get done tonight, so here's a sampling of what's blooming in my garden today:

The Redbud is at the peak of it's brilliance (here framing one of our lovely Burning Bushes). At least it was at its peak until the wind blew many of the blossoms off. I went a little overboard with the Redbud shots, none of them particularly amazing, but it's a personal favorite tree.

I usually miss the cute little yellow Barberry blossoms. You have to get really close to even notice them:

Of course another favorite, Bleeding Heart, is lovely now and will remain so for a few weeks as long as it doesn't get too hot too fast:

The Cushion Spurge is not at its peak, and that's good because this isn't a very good shot. I have much better ones from previous years. But it is GBBD, and Cushion Spurge is blooming in my garden:

The Flowering Almond is luscious. I pruned it back a bit too much last fall, so I won't show you what the entire bush looks like, but the blossoms are among the prettiest in the garden:

The reliable Lamium has its pretty colors on, too, and they'll stay that way for months. What a fun little plant!

The Yellow Wood Violets are brightening up their little corner of the world:

As are the Periwinkle Wintercreepers:

And we can't forget the Flowering Crabapples, which are filling the air with sweet scents all around town:

Soon the Lily of the Valley will do the same:

And I had to share this photo of the Trillium in all of its "naturalness." It's an imperfect photo for so many reasons, but I like it. This is what it really looks like in my garden. Evidence of cohabitation with animals, and all.

Happy May GBBD!

May 11, 2011

Plant of the month: Mayapple
(with a nod to Trillium and Jack-in-the-Pulpit)

What isn’t blooming in my Wisconsin garden right now? Seriously, because of the cool weather through April, plants that normally wouldn’t peak and bloom at the same time are all popping out at the same time. In any year it would be difficult to pick a plant of the month in southern Wisconsin in May. This year, it’s even tougher.

But for some reason, this year the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L.) has captured my attention. The plants were so cute when they popped out of the ground two weeks ago:

Now the Mayapples, sometimes called American Mandrake or Umbrella Plant, are thriving in the woods out back in a rather large patch:

Mayapple has a fascinating lifecycle:
  • In early to mid-spring, the miniature umbrellas poke through the forest leaf mulch. They look like little buttons from the top. The umbrellas unfurl a few days later and stretch out to form a horizontal shade for the forest understory.
  • In mid- to late spring, the leaf and stem split in half, and white flowers form from small green buds.
  • In the summer, the fruits form and slowly grow into green apple-like fruits.
  • In late summer, they ripen to a yellowish tint, at which point they are edible, although most sources say to eat carefully and sparingly. All other parts of the plant are toxic, including the seeds.
  • In fall, red berries form as the plants die back.

For more information about Mayapples, check out these articles and websites:

Two other plants just hitting their stride in the garden are Trillium grandiflorum

And Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the Pulpit):

But these photos were taken yesterday and the way things are growing now, the garden looks different every time you look…

May 04, 2011

Hope grows: foliage!

Back in March when I last participated in Hanni’s Hope Grows meme, I said I was looking forward to foliage. Well, there wasn’t much to report on April 5. All the growth this spring has been delayed because of unusually cool, cloudy weather.

But now it’s May. And we have foliage!

Let’s take a look around the neighborhood to see how things have changed since mid-March.

The grass is greener, the trees down the street are leafing out, and the snow is gone:


early May

The Willow tree around the block is fuller:

early May

The lake is filled with water, not ice:


early May

People are fishing from pontoon boats, instead of ice shacks:


early May

The huge fascinating mushroom is losing its moisture.

early May

Nifty water patterns have replaced strange ice formations:


early May

Everything is more colorful:


early May

The foliage is busting out all over:

And if I could bring myself to eat them, it would be the perfect time to harvest Fiddlehead Ferns!

 (Next month I’m looking forward to Lilac blooms!)