Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Once Upon a Garden Clean-up in a heat wave!

Front yard in bloom. Ahead of schedule, but it is nice.

Gardens, like every place we occupy require the occasional cleanup. It is necessary to deal with plants at least once a year. You clean up debris, prune, replant, relocate, split, these are the basic yearly requirements. I don't know how you can get away from doing it unless you happen to be an absolute master gardener that planted every plant in the right place so that as it grows it never gets in the way of another plant or grow beyond the limits of the space you allotted it. If you are such a gardener you may skip anything I have to say. Even so, all gardeners will have to remove debris or a dead plant, or even an odd branch that grew left when everything else was going right.

Lilac in front yard was a purchase from a neighbor at a garage sale. Great fragrance and buy! Any idea which lilac it might be?

For the most part, the rest of us are guessing at how we do it. Don't get me wrong, this is not a shot in the dark approach, but often times it is a educated process based on outright education or repetition that we learn by seeing a garden go through its cycle season after season and if you are lucky, year after year. Repetition teaches us what to expect, how far a plant will grow in a season, how long will it be around, what might eat it and how to react. So it possibly goes without saying if you have been gardening many years you have more experience than someone who just started. Needless to say older gardeners have more experience but possibly less energy and weaker knees! Sounds like something I read along the way to becoming the gardener I am.

Lily of the Valley escaping its bed. Now I dig all this up and start another patch somewhere else.

Bridal Veil Spirea, an original plant in my garden that I have propagated throughout. No fragrance but great look and I have never seen in it in a nursery.

I digress, my garden has already been through it first flush totally provided by hundreds bulbs and a few shrubs and trees. Now comes the real work of getting the garden ready. Everything has budded and whereas before the focus was on a few plants because the rest was just sticks and mulch, now everything is green and anything that is a brown stick should be suspect. Unless you have some late budding more unusual plants. I have a Vitex ( I will tell you about in when it blooms) that is all sticks but will be solid blue flower clusters in Summer. Elsewhere in my garden is a Fruiting Fig that has not even considered sending the slightest chlorophyll into its brown red branches. For the rest the garden is a sea of green with many plants beginning to bloom ahead of schedule.

Viburnum opulus building up steam.

This is the time to check out and prune away dead wood and sculpt crazy hairlines of hedges into whatever shape you have chosen for them. It is the time to prune your roses and get rid of all those skinny twigs that will never support any buds. It is time to put in the ground whatever you spent Fall and Winter deciding to purchase from the many catalogues that we Gardeners receive. If you have any room that is. Many of us, yours truly included have way too many plants even though it is hard to admit, and the only way to make room for a new garden look is to move some plants out. This is why gardeners are such generous people. We are forever sharing plants. You would think it is our generosity, but it might just be that we want to make room for new varieties or our latest passion.

Fruiting Fig still very dormant (yes, I have to paint the back of the garage).

We have gone from weeks of cool gray weather(when many of us turned on our furnace back on) and rain into a bright sunny and very pleasant heat wave for the last four days with ninety degree temperatures ( 33-37 Celsius). We shall soon be cool and wet again, but for now the damage has been done, if you want to call it that. These four days of sun and heat have forced plants along possibly as much as a week or two. For me this is a bit of a disaster.
The reality is that I am on a deadline. I have to get the garden cleaned, pruned and planted or relocated before May 17. On that day our biggest local volunteer organization in Collingswood, Proud Neighbors, a not-for-profit group in existence since 1983 and who has hosted its annual Porch Brunch and House and Garden Tour for almost as many years will include my garden on the tour. The organization promotes historic preservation awareness and education and supports these ideals with financial contributions to a variety of projects throughout Collingswood by hosting many fundraising events throughout the year. This event is an amazing feat of coordination that occurs because of the generosity of the entire community: those that volunteer and who participate in everything from selling tickets to cooking, to volunteering their porches for the Brunch, to the house owners who open their homes and or their gardens, to those who monitor the public and take the tickets and finally to the curious and interested visitors from everywhere. This year they anticipate about 350 people for the Brunch and, weather depending, as many as 800 people who will tour the houses and gardens. It is all a lot of fun as neighbors visit one another and others get an insight into one of New Jersey's most talked about community.

Vitex (Chaste Tree) after pollarding. Will not bud for some time, but then presto, instant shrub.

Vitex hair cut remains.

For me, I have pruned and cleaned up and will be transplanting just a few things this week. I am concerned that all this heat will have pushed the garden ahead, way ahead of where I expected it to be on May 17. With any hope there will be plenty in bloom for all my future guests. Oh well, Qué Será, Será!


  1. Vitex agnus castus is known in the Dominican Republic as 'Yerba Luisa'. When a girl is getting married, her mother-in-law-to-be gives her a plant that she rooted from the one she herself received on her wedding day. It must be planted by either the front or the back door of the house. Legend has it that if your vitex is thriving and blooming profusely, your marriage is healthy and happy. I'll have to wait till summer to send you a picture of mine... I must have the best marriage in the world [and I do]. The leaves are very aromatic and it's traditional in the DR to pull a couple of them as you walk out of the house, crush them in your hands and rub them on your arms. Instant eau de cologne! My neighbor is Greek and she tells me that since time immemorial Greek wives cut some branches and hide them under their mattresses so that their husbands don't stray. I don't know what I love more, the plant or the lore that accompanies it!

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