Spring is springing!

It’s two weeks until our average final frost date (April 29), and I spent this weekend sowing seeds: Cleome, Bachelor’s Buttons, Coreopsis, and Brazilian vervain, along with lettuce, tendersweet peas, and some more chamomile and feverfew.

mid april seed packets
Two weeks til average final frost. Time to sow these seeds.

I repotted my little bluestem and Scabiosa seedlings — their roots extended for inches beyond the hole in the bottoms of their beginner pots — and put all the seedlings outside for a little while yesterday and today to start hardening them off. I may be doing that too soon.

I also, for the first time ever, planted some ornamental grasses. I’m really excited about these, especially since we get a lot of wind. They are graceful in the breeze, with their blades waving. I bought two natives (Muhly and switch grass) and two others that I just like the looks of and that were the right size for the space I wanted to put them in.

All of these are planted in the new bed on the back hill:

Apparently it is still early for grasses. I have two more I want: a pink muhly for the mailbox, and three prairie dropseeds for the front bed. I’ll keep going back to the nursery every week until they come in.

I’ve got a couple more rounds of seeds to sow. The main batch is the week after the final frost date. That’s when I can put in the sunflowers, zinnias, dill, basil, Dianthus, and nasturtiums. And then, I wait. Wait to see if my transplanted perennials emerge and survive on the hill. Wait to see which seeds sprout. Wait to see comes up that I’m not expecting.

Every day, I walk the garden looking for new leaves, new buds, new sprouts. Birds hop around in the beds, nabbing insects and worms. The flower beds are much more interesting and lively than a grass lawn.

I love this time of year. I know things are happening underground that I can’t see, and that every day there will be something new to delight me. The anticipation is delicious.

For now, I took advantage of this grey morning to get out my real camera and document what’s happening in the garden right now. This time last year, the redbud and dogwood were in bloom, and a lot of the herbs were already out and green. Not so this year. Not yet.

dogwood flower bud (1)
The dogwood is not quite flowering yet
redbud buds (1)
The redbud is almost flowering
tulips
First tulips. The deer got the leaves but not the buds.
salvia buds
Blue Salvia buds
violas
I needed some flowers, so we added annuals.
wheat shoots ermerging (1)
The blue wheat is emerging! I figured the birds would eat all the seeds.
liatris emerging by bird bath (1)
The liatris is coming back up, and the lemon balm (behind the bird bath) survived division and transplanting

We’re expecting to get a ton of rain tonight and tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t wash all my seeds away. Monday night’s low is 32℉ (0℃), so I hope everything survives.

I’m okay with everything holding off for a couple more days until this storm passes through, and it gets cold, and then it warms up again. Then the trees can bloom and my seeds can start sprouting.

April 8: final day of gardening vacation, and the beds are all mulched

I am now at the end of my week-long gardening vacation. For the first four days, I was in the garden all day almost every day, coming inside only quickly to eat lunch. I was so occupied in the garden — moving plants, edging beds, spreading mulch — I didn’t even come inside for my afternoon coffee.

 

On Tuesday I repotted tomato seedlings, trimmed rosemary, fertilized yews, planted a fuzzy lamb’s ear for our daughter, and then finished mulching the front beds.

final day front beds mulched
Front beds mulched!

After getting all of that done, I was able to rest on Wednesday — a cold, windy day. I took it easier most of the rest of the week, taking on various odds and ends before tackling the mulch on the back hill:

  • Pruned forsythia
  • Pruned roses
  • Planted remaining crocosmia corms
  • Broke up sod on back hill in places I want to sow seeds
  • Hammered fertilizer spikes into the ground in the drip line of the new trees

On Saturday, three Virginia Tech students arrived in a cold drizzle to spread mulch on the back hill bed as part of the VT Big Event, a day of over 1000 service projects in the town of Blacksburg, from the students of Virginia Tech to the residents of the town in thanks for supporting the student body throughout the year. It was miserable out there, and when it started sleeting, I sent them home. They had gotten about half of the hill done. The sleet turned to snow for my husband’s April 7 birthday.

apr 7 snow
April 7 snow
rhododendrons and snow apr 8
Rhododendrons and snow on the final morning of my gardening vacation

The snow melted off pretty quickly this morning, Sunday, the final day of my gardening vacation. My husband started spreading the remaining mulch out back before lunch, and I took over after lunch while he ran errands with the kids.

As the mulch pile shrank, we realized we were going to come up short. I ordered 12 cubic yards, and I spread the final wheelbarrow full still having several small areas that need mulching. I should have ordered 14 or 15 yards and saved any leftovers for filling in throughout the summer. Next year!

Even coming up short, we were able to get the majority of the hill done, and I’m so happy with it. Check out the before first:

back hill before mulch
Back hill before mulch

And then the after:

back hill mulched
Back hill mulched 😍

Now it just needs to start warming up, the plants need to start growing, and I need to fill in those empty spaces with perennials, grasses, and seedlings I’ve got growing in my office.

The blueberries are about to flower, the blue Salvia is working on its buds, and the Redbud tree is about to burst into magenta bloom. The Echinacea are pushing up leaves, as are the rue and the bee balm. Joe pye and milkweed should start pushing up leaves soon too. The milkweed was emerging April 14 last year, and Joe Pye weed as well.

We’ve got one more small snow in the forecast, and then some warm temperatures coming at the end of the week. I’ve got my fingers crossed there will be more green by next weekend, and lasting warmth.

all beds mulched front and back
All the beds are mulched 🙂

April 29: flower boxes

Bought:

  • 2 coconut liners at $3.99 each
  • 2 4-packs of purple pirouette petunias (grandiflora double) at $1.70 per 4-pack
  • 2 4-packs of white alyssum at $1.70 per 4-pack
  • 2 vinca majors at $1.75 each
  • 1 bag top soil at $3.99

Already had:

  • Potting soil
  • Oregano (or marjoram?) — dug up some that had spread

The coco liners were too tall for the containers, so I trimmed the liners until they were flush with the top edge of the metal basket. I lined each coco basket with the bottom of a white plastic tall kitchen garbage bag and cut snips for water to escape. 

I filled the plastic lined coco basket with a mixture of top soil and potting soil, then planted the plants. I watered in with two pitchers of fresh, cold water. It’s 90 today and sunny.

April 28: fertilized

I should have fertilized before putting the mulch down. That was a dumb mistake.

I dug in the fertilizer by troweling through the mulch, dumping fertilizer into the canal using a plastic cup, and covering the canal again with mulch on the following plants: 

  • Joe Pye weed
  • Rosemary under the stairs
  • Lilac and hydrangea by stairs
  • Milkweed
  • Echinacea in milkweed bed

My back was breaking by that point so for the remainder of the garden (and the remainder of the 18 lb bag of fertilizer, which was probably 3/4 full when I began), I dumped fertilizer on top of the mulch using a plastic cup:

Herb bed

  • Oregano and marjoram
  • Lavender 
  • Rosemary
  • Lemon thyme
  • Thyme
  • Wormwood

Mailbox

  • Indigo salvia

Front bed

  • Sedum
  • Indigo salvia
  • Vertical yew
  • Rue
  • Aster
  • Sedum
  • 2 coneflowers 
  • 3 blanket flowers
  • Yarrow
  • Hydrangea
  • Black eyed Susans
  • 1/2 of 2 hostas 

April 15: status of mulch, seedlings, and Joe Pye?

Moved bottlebrush from herb bed to wildflower hill
Swamp milkweed is emerging
Transplanted bee balm and mint for our front door pot
Some seedlings from wildflower mid are emerging by the mailbox
What’s left of 6 yds of mulch after mulching all the beds; need to do side of house and under stairs.
Echinacea volunteer, bottom left
Dogwood and front bed, mulched
Planted roses and columbine today; mulched
Is this Joe Pye emerging?

Four sleeps until mulch

I am counting down the days until the mulch truck arrives. Three days, and then I can scatter wildflower seeds on the slope out back: a moment I’ve waited for for weeks.

I can’t stop thinking about the garden. Our back yard is a steep hill that makes me pant when I mow it. When we moved in, the top corner was overgrown with forsythia, brambles, poison ivy, and I don’t know what all else. Whatever was back there, it wasn’t pretty. It was a tangled, impenetrable mess I thought we’d never be able to clean up.

Slowly, over the past two years, we dug out stumps, pulled out vines, and eventually got the patch down to bare dirt. My husband and son got it to that point a few weeks ago, on a warm day in winter.

When confronted with a bare expanse of earth on our property, I want to fill it with flowers.

Since that day several weeks ago, I have consulted garden books, garden magazines, butterfly books, seed catalogs. I’ve been to our local nursery, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Pike nursery in Charlotte, NC, while we were there for our son’s soccer tournament. I’ve started a gardening notebook, an online gardening log, and added a Garden category to my blog menu so I can easily access posts that tell me when I did what in the garden in years past (we were <a href=”https://andreabadgley.blog/2016/04/18/building-a-flower-bed/”>killing lawn</a> this time last year).

I’m ready. And now the time is almost here. Three days until the mulch arrives. Three days until I can sow seeds.

We have a back deck I never sit on because there’s nothing to look at but grass. Instead, when I want to sit outside, I take a folding camp chair to the front garden and pop it open under the dogwood tree so I can be among hummingbirds and butterflies. Now, we have a bird feeder out back. It has lured goldfinches and woodpeckers to our back yard, so sitting out back is more appealing now. But there are still no flowers. Soon, though. Soon we will have a wildflower patch for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Starting Thursday, our kids’ spring break begins and so does mine. I’m taking several days off from work to play in the dirt. In my research I’ve found several species I *must* have out back for the butterflies — parsley, dill, cleome, zinnia, globe amaranth. I bought seed packets for those. I also have seeds gifted from my friend <a href=”https://birchnature.com/”>Dorothy</a>’s garden — milkweed, blazing star (Liatris), and blanket flower (Gaillardia). And to fill in the rest of the area, I bought a 1.5 pound bag of Pennington wildflower seeds to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Surely from all of those sources, something will come up.

I’ve already got my first day off planned out. The day is forecast to be sunny, with a low of 41° F the night before, and a high of 71 during the day. I’ll have a lie-in, as my British friend calls it, to let the temperature come up a bit before heading outside. After my smoothie breakfast, I’ll pull a bowl from the cupboard and stir seeds from my store-bought packets and seeds from my friend into the wildflower mix from Pennington. I’ll huff up the hill with a hoe and a heavy rake to break up and smooth the soil, then I’ll sprinkle seeds over the entire area. I’ll rake again to cover them.

And when I hear the rumble of the mulch truck coming down the street, and the screech and clang of the metal dumper spilling 6 cubic yards of shredded hardwood bark onto our driveway, I’ll wheel my barrow down the hill and start shoveling.

The only thing I’m still trying to figure out is whether to distribute the seeds randomly, or to create a few patches within the plot — a milkweed clump, for example, or a dill clump. I still can’t decide.

I’ve got time. Three more days until the fun begins.

Soft shaping

Curved flower bed

From the street, everything about our landscape was blocky. When we moved in, the front of our house was all straight lines and rectangles: driveway perpendicular to the street, stairs perpendicular to the driveway, flower beds parallel to the house. Right angles, hard lines.

When we lived in Maryland, we rented a small house that felt welcoming to every person who visited. A picket fence curved around the corner of the lot instead of meeting at right angles, and the path from the gate to the front door formed a graceful, elongated S. Nestled against the fence were the mounds of rounded flower beds.

On the inside, large floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on the gentle curves of the garden.  A raised brick hearth filled one corner of the living room: a foundation for the wood-burning stove. The pot-bellied stove and its hearthstone softened what would have otherwise been a sharp corner in the room.

All those curves made a difference. I am convinced they are what made the house feel so welcoming. They directed the eye, and the feet, to move along a pleasing path, without hard stops or starts. In our home now, I keep looking to see where we can add soft edges, where we can add graceful curves.

Out front, we can’t build an S walk to the front door since the door is on the second level, but we can add rounded flower beds. Already, with the first bed laid, the house feels more organic. The curved lines relax it.

In our living room, though, we have work to do. Rectangular windows, fireplace, bookshelves, rug; blocky, square furniture; hard slats of wooden blinds. We need some softeners in here. Circles, ovals, or something organic.

Looks like I have a new weekend project.

For the month of April, I will publish a 10-minute free write each day. Minimal editing. No story. Just thoughts spilling onto the page. This one is from the Daily Post one-word prompt, Curve

Flowering Dogwoods

Flowering dogwood, bright

“You know how you can spot a dogwood tree?” I ran my hand down the trunk of one at the Duke Gardens.

“By its bark,” I said. And then giggled. It’s dumb, I know, but it’s one of those things I remember from my ecology classes at the University of Georgia.

Dogwood bark and lichen
Dogwood bark

I can identify dogwood trees now, thanks to that joke, and ours is finally blooming. When the cherries, pears, and redbuds were blossoming, I couldn’t figure out why our dogwood wasn’t full of flowers too. Shouldn’t it come early with the other blooming trees?

In my home state of Georgia, I remember dogwoods being my favorite part of spring. They were the only flowering tree I knew, and when I was in college in Athens, where trees stripped bare in winter, dogwoods flowered before  any green reappeared in the woods. I’d drive the three and a half hours from the foothills of the Appalachians to my home on the Georgia coast, and all through the forest, in the otherwise brown understory, I would see small trees dotted with white blossoms. Dogwoods.

I photographed our dogwood here in Virginia during the time of the cherry, pear, and redbud blooms. The dogwood flowers were small and green.

early April dogwood flower
Dogwood flower, April 2

I thought they’d be peaking the same time as the other flowering trees, so I wondered, Do we have a different kind of dogwood? I had never watched a dogwood flower up close before, so I didn’t know if that was all they’d do, or if the flowers would grow.

Flowering dogwood, bright
White dogwood flower, April 23

The flowers grew. They took their time. Over a period of three weeks, they slowly spread their celadon petals, and they deepened to a rich white.

Maybe I’m remembering wrong about the earliness of dogwoods in Georgia. Maybe they seemed first because they were only. Either way, I love that we have one in our garden. I’m sitting with it now, in fact.

Birds trill, a breeze moves the branches, white clouds drift in a blue sky, and we have a flowering dogwood tree.