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


  1. Great lessons! I pulled the mulch off my hellebores too early too and my two favorites didn't bloom because of it. Fortunately, I haven't lost them either.
    I love, love, love that photo of your arbor. Just beautiful.
    It's so hard to wait for the color and spring. I think we all get anxious especially when we live in parts of the country where it's so bleak for so long.
    Happy graduation to your daughter. That's an exciting time.
    ps you sure can't tell it's the end of spring here by the weather ~ it remains cool and wet.

  2. Let's see - I need to remember 1, 6, 8, and the last one about enjoying the garden more. Happy graduation to your daughter! Oh, and to the parents, too! :)

  3. Those are valuable lessons that apply to every garden. Your garden looks beautiful and I can't believe the gorgeous hostas! The lilac must smell wonderful - enjoy your plants and don't worry about blogging - we won't forget you. I hope your daughter has a great time.

  4. Hi Beth,

    Yes, It's a lesson we learned every year.
    In the Netherlands the month of April was very warm and dry. Therefore the flowers bloomed earlier than normally.
    Your photos are beautifull and you show the flowers very well.
    Lovely greetings, Elly

  5. I enjoyed your post and photos- so many lessons applicable even a bit further south. There's something about a taste of spring that makes it hard to wait ... Your garden is beautiful - I want to walk through your arbor. And yes, I too am inspired to do more documenting of the changes in the garden.

  6. Your post resumes very well al the worries of a gardener! but your garden looks great and the new discoveries are gorgeous! Enjoy your daughter's graduation! Lula

  7. Holy crimoly! Look at the size of those hanging fuchsias!!! :) Your garden is *beautiful* and I'm so glad you are blogging when you can. Don't we all? My favorite on your list is #5- garden surprises are the happiest of all.

  8. Everything that you say resonates with me. Even though I am overwhelmingly busy this time of year with the nursery, I make time every day to walk around just to enjoy the garden (with or without wine depending on how the day has gone). I love plants at all their stages not just their peak. You have snowdrops now (didn't you win my snowdrops) so you will have to be out there early in 2012.

  9. I also did not begin documenting my plants until I began blogging. It makes such a it has become second nature.

  10. @Kathleen: My Hellebores didn't bloom as much, but they sure did expand this year! Thanks re: the arbor. My husband made it out of copper piping. It's definitely summer here, with temps in the 70s and 80s. I hope you get some warmth soon!

    @Holley: Thanks! I'll have to look back on this next year in March to remind myself. :)

    @Masha: Thank you. Yes, Hostas R Us around here. I don't know if I'll ever post about them, because they're just so plentiful. But they sure grow well in the shade. When I posted this, the Lilacs were just opening, but now they're in full bloom and it smells heavenly!

    @Elly: You are fortunate to have had so many blooms in April. I can tell your gardens are lovely and fresh. It's sure fun to compare our gardens during various seasons.

    @Sheila: The arbor seems to be placed at a good focal point. Actually, it was a natural walking-out point from the patio to the garden, along an established pathway. Thanks for your kind comments.

  11. @Lula: Thank you! Some plants are just so dear to my heart (Hellebores) that I dread the idea of losing them.

    @Hanni: Yes, I couldn't believe the price on the Fuschias! I couldn't resist--especially with a graduation party in the works. First time we've had them hanging on the sides of the arbor, but I might have to repeat next year. :)

    @Carolyn: Yes! I did indeed win your Snowdrops. Thank you! They're dormant now, but I have them marked and I will indeed report on their progress early next spring. Cheers!

    @Sage: I'm starting to capture shots with my camera phone. Even thought they're not the best quality, sometimes I just have to capture the shot when I don't have time to grab the camera.

  12. That's a great selection of lessons - and a magnificent planting of ferns! They look wonderful! I know exactly what you mean about taking photographs, I take far more now than I ever used to - the influence of blogging - but still not enough. There again, number 8 always kicks in! No apologies necessary, we'd all be saying sorry. And isn't it great that hellebores are so tough, and yet so beautiful! Great post, lovely garden. Worth taking time to just enjoy.

  13. Great lessons Beth that all gardeners should all keep in mind on a daily basis. I really like #2, #5 and #8. And your blooming lilac is gorgeous! I grew up in the Northeast and the blooming lilacs were a sure sign of spring. And their scent was heavenly. I sure miss that; but thanks for bringing a bit of it back to me! Congratulations on your daughter's graduation! A new chapter begins for her (and you too!)

  14. What wonderful lessons! Think I need to check back here often for the reminders =) Stop and enjoy is one I need to do more of! Love your garden path with the arbor, such pretty gardens! I'm loving your blog =)

  15. Brilliant post and aside from all the good advice just enjoyed looking at your garden. Would like to walk through that arbor. Lesson 9 is no need for apologies when you have less time for the blogosphere. I look forward to your posts as and when they happen and am grateful for your support and contributions.

  16. Wonderful post! I enjoyed reading it this evening.

    I hope you are able to enjoy this month leading up to all that graduation entails... and let the weeds take care of themselves ;)


  17. @Janet: Thank you. I think I take the Ferns and Hostas for granted--they're the dominating framework plants here.

    @Diane: I would miss the Lilacs, too. Good thing we can easily visit U.S. destinations--to escape heat and cold, and to experience different botanical environments and enjoy favorite plants that we can't grow at home.

    @Julia: Thanks for your kind compliments. I will check back with you soon, too. I always enjoy visiting your blog!

    @Laura: Thank you for your support. It's so encouraging to have a group of gardening friends from around the world. You are always so welcoming and thoughtful.

    @Julie: We're all getting excited now (including the graduate)! I don't know if we'll ever really be ready, but we're very proud!

  18. Hi Beth, I was really amazed by the Trillium erectumtum! It's lovely and I'd never heard of it before. It seems that today I've learned something as well... :)

  19. I have a pot of bloodroot on my porch that a friend gave me. I saw it on your blog this past spring and remembered how beautiful it was!! Your garden is gorgeous and your suggestions are wise. I'm with Kathleen - the arbor is fabulous!!

  20. Great lessons and we still are just emerging...May was cold for us as well and very wet...I too have been busy with life, work and the garden so the blog reading has slacked off...catching up now and will enjoy seeing your blog again when your life settles a bit...

  21. @Dona: Yes, I was fascinated, too, when it caught my eye. I also learn many new things when I visit your blog. Thanks!

    @TS: Good luck with the Bloodroot. It will be fun to see you post about it next spring. I'll be jealous, though, because yours will bloom before mine. ;-)

    @Donna: So many things to write about, so little time! Every day I walk through the garden, I think of a new topic. Enjoy your garden, too!