It is really coming

March 13, 2005|by Dorry Norris

Saturday, March 5, dawned with freezing fog but no wind. Not an encouraging weather report. But as soon as the sun came out the fog disappeared - a perfect time to survey the garden.

Or at least part of the garden. The two beds on the north side of the house are still buried in snow, as is one corner of the Bible Garden.

My tour started with the beds by the front walk. This is the sunny side of the house, so everything planted here has a jump on the season.

The caraway thyme looks like a lost cause, but I know from last year that if I prune it heavily, all will be well. The long stems of Russian sage, left untrimmed through the winter, sway in the wind and give this narrow bed an airy-fairy appearance. Cutting it back to 12 inches before it really begins to grow will mean bounteous blooms through the summer. The 'Woodcote' sage beneath it looks gray and tatty on the fringes, but new green leaves are just beginning to show way down deep inside.


When I bend the stems on the big rosemary bush that bloomed until just after Christmas, they are pliable, not brittle, giving hope it has made it through another winter. A priority for this year will be to root cuttings, so I will have a whole family of this hearty beauty.

The 'Hansa' rose has only been in the garden for two seasons but still it has become a tangle of sturdy, spiny branches. Pruning rugosas isn't recommended but this one could use some thinning - best done while it's still cold. I'll be wearing heavy gloves and a jacket for protection.

Plants, even when they are divisions of the same mother - like children in a family - have different personalities. The three dwarf sages, planted three feet apart under the crabapple tree, are a case in point. The leaves on one are plump and still green, the one next to it looks dead, and the one beyond that looks half dead and half alive. We'll have to wait and see what warmer weather brings. And while I wait for spring, I can still enjoy the dried rusty red flower heads remaining on last year's 'Autumn Joy' sedum. Perhaps I can divide some of these plants and find a place for them beyond my office window - the space could stand some livening up.

As I round the corner to look at the lavenders, I'm shocked to discover moss growing on the upslope side of them. Moss likes acid soil - lavender prefers a more alkaline environment. It's time for some first aid. I'll blend the eggshells I've been saving through the winter with water, spread the resulting slurry on the uphill side of the lavenders then work it in around the base of the plants. A soil test is in order. If sterner measures are called for, dolomitic limestone can be spread on the bed.

Among the self-seeded money plants, there is another surprise waiting. The tray designed to carry water from the drain spout away from the house had moved and the melting snow is pouring down close to the house instead of draining off into the lawn. A gentle nudge and the water is flowing properly.

Butterfly bush seedlings in the Bible Garden need to be uprooted ruthlessly but I must take care not to disturb the sprouting daffodils and the huge rue. The tiny cedar of Lebanon nearby, secure in its rabbit proofing cage, has made it through the cold and looks cheerful as does the acanthus at its base.

The back and side borders were neglected last fall and are a mess, but there are some good things. With no moss in sight, the lavenders there are thriving. A surprise is the beautiful rusty, brown foliage that still clings to the St. Johns wort.

The official start of spring is just a week away but winter seems loath to loose its grip. In spite of winter's still ominous presence, the garden seems to be stretching awake from its winter sleep. Let's hope it doesn't press the snooze alarm.

Lots of good programs will take place at the Hagerstown Community College's Alumni Association 10th annual Flower and Garden Show on Saturday, March 19, and Sunday, March 20. At 1 p.m. on Saturday I'll lead "Doing Dirt With Kids" - ideas for involving small children in the delights of gardening.

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