Spring musings: As the earth warms
April 19, 2014
For weeks the Clematis montana draped along the front of my house some 30 feet has been opening fragrant blossoms. Another above the porch railing fills the entire porch with its sweet aroma. With spring bringing warm days and even snow, these amazing vines are undaunted, continuing their spectacular show of three-inch pale pink flowers no matter what the weather.
The mature Clematis, in my garden for more than 20 years, receive no irrigation other than natural rainfall. I do give them a deep watering once a month during the summer.
The spirit of spring lingers with the late-blooming miniature daffodils, Narcissus "Baby Moon," "Hawera," "Sun Disc" and "Baby Boomer." I picked a small bouquet this past week. I bring a kettle of water to the boiling point, then turn it off as I head to the garden with a sharp knife in early morning.
Back in the kitchen, I pour a couple of inches of the hot water into a mug and quickly dip the daffodil stems to seal the ends. The daffodils are then arranged in a vase filled with warm water. The bouquet lasts over a week with this conditioning. "Sun Disc" is the last to fade.
The old lilac behind my house has the largest clusters of flowers I have seen in years. Natural rainfall gives it the moisture it needs. This past winter I did not give supplemental water during the weeks of dry winter weather. Similarly, the leatherleaf viburnum (unirrigated) is spectacular right now, with its large clusters of white flowers glowing in the moonlight.
With the rainfall we enjoyed in March, hundreds of California poppy seeds germinated in the wood chips along my driveway edge. They are so tiny, I have watered them twice since the last rain. The two-inch deep chips hold the moisture. And in the process of holding moisture, the chips decompose.
In my last column I recommended a deep layer of chips to suppress Scotch broom seeds. These chips must be decomposed to reduce fire risk. Piles of chips may be layered with your compost, mushroom compost or even chicken manure to hasten decomposition. Keep the pile moist but not wet. A two-inch layer provides a perfect seedbed for wildflowers.
The vegetable garden held a pleasant surprise for me when I finally paid some attention to it at winter's end. Last fall, when I planted my garlic, I placed a row cover over the bed as I usually do. Dill seeds from last year's crop took advantage of the warmth, the light soil and one of the few rains we had. When I removed the row cover to weed the garlic, volunteer dill was already four inches tall! This year I will plant more dill seed, intentionally.
Volunteer red Russian kale has germinated in my cold frame. While I prefer to grow this as a winter vegetable, so tasty after a frost, these seedlings will provide some greens before the summer heat.
Recently I visited a friend's shady garden off Rattlesnake Road to photograph late one afternoon. He has an old garden, where hundreds of deer-resistant Brunnera macrophylla have volunteered. One area has a large stand of this attractive perennial, its large leaves accented with sprays of dainty blue flowers. The flowers resemble forget-me-nots. Even crevices in nearby rock steps catch the tiny seeds. Look for this heritage perennial in local nurseries.
Our native landscape is striking in spring, the lime-green leaves of the black oak accented against its dark trunks and contrasting with the ponderosa pines. As rebud fades, native dogwood blooms in shady woodlands. Vibrant California poppies excite the senses.
Spring color is much more than the traditional annuals now appearing in local nurseries. Savor it all, and celebrate each day as Earth Day!
Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She will be teaching a class on heat-loving edibles from 9:30 to 11:30, April 26, at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley. Please preregister, 272-4769 x 116. She is the author of the award-winning "The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom", and two volumes of "Deer in My Garden" , available locally. For more information on classes, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.
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