April 14, 2013

Primordia Rules - except at the garden center.

Our state flower of Massachusetts - the Mayflower, Epigaea repens , is in bloom late this year, as it usually blooms
in our woodland in March, and not mid-April, but our snow cover just melted last week. Also known as the Trailing Arbutus, this is one of the only native plants currently in bloom aside from the maple trees and skunk cabbage.
Here in Eastern North America, the leaves on the trees wont' emerge for another month, after-all, the snow just melted this past week. Yet at our local garden centers, flats of annuals and even vegetables are arriving, on TV ads from Lowes and the Home Depot entice us to start buying out annuals now, and even at my local Home Depot this weekend, I watch ill informed customers buying flats of basil and marigolds, and I over heard them asking where the impatiens were - all this, when the native pussy willows are just beginning to blossom with force.

I like to remind new gardens who see forsythia blooming in front yards, and white magnolia stellata bursting forth that even though the grass is greening up and that landscape shrubs are blooming, that the only true sign of any importance is what ones native plants are doing. Look at your woodlands tomorrow when you drive into work, and tell me what you see? In our northern forests, things are timed rather perfectly, and no marketing effort can ever tell a maple tree when it should bloom, and if one perchance blooms early,  the risk is far worse than any benefit.
The Goldfinches are begining to convert to transform into their summer golden color, but as you can see, the woods
behind them are still grey and dormant. With temps today staying in the 40's, our gradual thaw continues.

The birds know spring is here, radar sites that birdwatchers follow show mass migrations of early warblers ( our first Palm warbler and Fox Sparrows arrived!) passing just west of us. Woodcock are mating, and even though our wood frogs and spring peepers have yet to begin their chorus, the maple trees are finally beginning to bloom, or at least, they are in Rhode Island where I commute to work. Spring will come, eventually, but as far as the big box stores go, they seem to think that it is mid May. This weekend I saw truck loads of Erica in full bloom ( don't buy it, as these are southern grown and hoop-house tender) and pansies are everywhere ( do by those, as this is the season to plant cool growing annuals).

I understand the business perspective,  that big retailers need to get a jump on each other, but sadly, the customers often don't really know the specific dates on when it is safe to plant things into the garden and most are lead down the wrong path by retailers who only what to sell their product, rather than nurture informed customers. Once you get home, who cares what happens to that pot of basil.  I can't imagine how many disappointed people there will be in a few weeks when we get a frosty night, or even worse, a mid-spring snow storm. Learning the proper time to plant your seedlings should be the first thing new gardeners master.

Our spring clean-up continues, as I tried to focus on the greenhouse today, as it was a bit too blustery outside
to get anything done.

My best advice? Wherever you live, look not at the trees and shrubs in your neighborhood, for most landscape plants are from China or Japan, and tend to leaf-out far too early, look instead at your woodland plants, for they will know when to leaf out, and if you native plants are experiencing a late, cold spring as we are, you may notice that they are all quite late in emerging. Native plants rarely get tricked by Mother Nature, but even now and then, a late frost or freeze can damage native species ( I remember Christopher Lloyd visiting the US in 1999 when on May 15 we have a killing freeze that killed many of our local oaks which had leafed out early.

Just so you know that everything is not perfect here, this is our main entrance after Joe used the leaf blower to clean out the alpine garden.

I had planned to start my tomato seeds this weekend, but I am holding off for one for weekend. I say this as I saw people buying tomato plants at the nursery this weekend. Here in Massachusetts, it's advisable to plant tomatoes out into the garden on or near June first, when the soil temperatures reach 55º F. Still, there are many seeds or plants that can be set out into the vegetable garden right now - peas can still be planted, as should potatoes. Onion seedlings can be set out, but I am waiting for another week so that mine can harden off - become accustomed to our cooler outside temperatures this year. The same goes for leeks, pansies, shallots and seeds such as lettuce, beets, carrots and turnips.

Inside the greenhouse, I finally was able to tidy up one side, stacking clay pots, and filling nearly four
wheelbarrows with trash. I am always surprised by how much junk I can collect in just one winter!

The alpine garden near the greenhouse has many small bulbs planted in it, and each spring, I enjoy seeing how
many have self seeded in the loose gravel. This miniature narcissus ( a name which I have lost) looks like a standard daffodil when seen in a photo, but when I place it in scale, you can see how tiny it is.

More Lachenalia, this L. aloides v. luteola  has beautiful olive colored petals.

Lachenalia aloides v luteola

I transplanted many Primula this weekend that I started from seed. They are still quite tiny, but soon each
will fill these 3 inch pots. Here, are some trays of Primula sikkimensis.

When I Google the name of a plant and mostly my images come up in the image search,
I know that I've crossed over into plant collecting geekyness. Such is the case with this
Melaespharula ramosa, a prolific blooming bulb related to Gladiolus. It may be a weed in warmer climates,
but for those who have cold alpine houses, it is a treasured small bulb.


  1. Can I ask the name of the little flowers pictured in the first picture of miniature narcissus?

    I moved into a house that has them. Too late the first year, but I've seen them since...so lovely and delicate.

  2. Such great advice! I have definitely learned the hard wait that it is crucial to wait until the right time of year to plant outdoors.


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