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Spring -- leaping and jumping

April 18, 2005|by DORRY Baird Norris

Spring doesn't stay sprung for long - it lunges, it loiters, it ricochets like a Superball inside a small room. It seems to take forever from the time the daffodils shyly push their gray green leaves out of the ground until, in one day, they explode in bloom.

If that wondrous moment is followed by some cool days, the perky yellow and cream flowers seem to last forever. If the temps hit the 70s - zap, all that glory collapses and the daffs are done for the season.

With daffodils, there is always next year, for they are the most reliable of bulbs, needing little care. In a perfect world, everyone would plant a dozen daffodil bulbs and one long-lived, spring-blooming tree every year - a magnificent legacy for future generations.

This year, I have been twice blessed with a pair of teenagers who help me in the garden one morning a week. Imagine, four healthy knees, two pair of willing hands and two inquiring minds - what more could any septuagenarian gardener wish for?

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With their help, the butterfly bushes have been cut back to two feet and the deadwood removed from the santolina and sage. Madder and tansy both received serious haircuts. This is the third year for the madder, so the roots should now be ready to be harvested to make that lovely red dye.

The robust lavenders on the slopey southeast side of the house had grown very well but, in reaching for the sun, were spilling over onto the lawn. We divided them and replanted them further up the incline.

As I wait for the garden to really come fully alive, I wonder, how do the 8-inch-tall plastic plant labels - so firmly planted in the soil last fall - end up strewn across the garden each spring? Evil elves? lves? Bored rabbits?

Globe thistles have resown with abandon and need thinning. But we must be careful not to uproot the nearby Shasta daisies and echinacea - slow starters in the spring.

And speaking of slow starters, last fall I mentioned how delighted I was with the mist-flower (Eupatorium colestinum). Looking like a giant ageratum, it bloomed toward the end of summer. It was reputed to be perennial but it was only this week that I detected faint stirrings of green deep in the mound of brown stubble.

Butterfly weed needs to be carefully marked for it is always the last to send up shoots in the spring. No sign of the acanthus either. Last week I thought I detected it but was disappointed to discover it was a bronze fennel. It needs digging out.

It was thrilling to discover one tiny twig of green on a rosemary in the Bible Garden. It survived in the wind and cold without any protection over the winter.

The blooming purple plum with the bright blue scilla and golden daffs at its feet is a glorious sight. The snowdrops that were supposed to complete the picture have been decimated by the rapacious, resident rabbits.

One of the most fascinating plants to watch in the spring is sea kale. The leaves look like tiny bluish-green and mauve rosettes, tiny and fragile, giving no hint of the robust adult plants they will soon become.

Some housekeeping problems have already surfaced. The border where I cut sod, turned it over, mulched heavily then waited a year to plant has produced spots of vigorous grass growing among the perennials. Getting rid of it will take some serious digging. Chickweed is rampant. And sweet Annie, the bane of my lungs and nose, has reseeded yet again. The seeds that blew into the garden three years ago keep sprouting. The carpet of self-seeded fennel plants needs to be dug out with a spade. A trowel is no match for those long tap-roots.

Stately, biennial angelica - self-seeded of course - starts out with a showy mound of bright green leaves. By the time of the last frost the hollow stems will be as tall as the deck railing. Angelica is a constant reminder of how grand it is to garden in Washington County - it never re-seeded in any of the other places I lived.

Take heart, the nights may be cold but the days really are getting longer. You and the garden are beginning a new season. Ellis Peters put it perfectly when she wrote: "Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment."

Prepare to be astonished!

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