A bit of warm weather and all the trees in the garden will suddenly be leafed out. But before that happens, the bare branches let us enjoy the glorious effects of late afternoon sunlight in the garden.
Fred and Ethel, our resident mallards, flew in Sunday (3/29) afternoon at about 2:45 p.m. They've been coming every spring for seventeen years. Or maybe it's their kids or grandkids who are now stopping by. Without having banded our original pair, there's no way to be sure. I just know we start watching for them as soon as the ice begins to melt on the pond. The ducks are also my primary phenology sign as I've noted the date of their arrival every year since 1998. The earliest they ever showed up was 3/06 (in 2000 and 2004) and 4/04 was the latest (2013).
Last Friday (3/27) was the first day the pond was completely ice free during the day. We think the pond froze solid this winter because we kept having a sheet of ice no matter how much melted. You could see it rising like a big irregular ice cube as the days went by. But open water and ducks means that Spring has officially arrived at our house.
Mark and I went out to Black Earth an hour before the last WHPS garden tour so we could make a stop at the Shoe Box. We each replaced our worn out gardening/hiking boots. And I finally got a pair of rubber boots that fit my narrow feet.
So now I can weed the boggy garden bed that requires standing in the stream in order to reach the plants. As you would expect I needed boots made of rubber so they're waterproof, though these are actually made of a recyclable PVC-free synthetic rubber that’s 50% lighter than natural rubber. I could easily feel the difference in weight compared to other options.
The boots are made in Canada and/or the USA by Kamik, a family-owned-and-operated company that's been in the business since the Great Depression. New boots meant it was a good trip before we even saw the gorgeous gardens on the evening's menu.
Our ducks have been showing up almost daily. Sometimes they fly in just for a quick dip in the pond. Other times they come for a longer stay and paddle around, climb up the stream to the upper pool, stand on top of the big rocks or wend their way up the grassy slope at the back of the pond.
These days Fred often comes by himself. We assume Ethel is nesting somewhere. He seems perfectly content to be alone, just lazing on a summery afternoon. Did you see him in the top photo?
Two days with temperatures that managed to get into the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit (that's teens in Celsius) with a fair amount of sun pushed the garden into growing mode. This week is supposed to continue the warming trend so I expect to see some blooms beyond Hellebores and minor bulbs. We snapped these pictures at the end of the day Sunday so some flowers had closed with the sinking sun.
Love this little Tulipa humilis 'Odalisque' from Brent and Becky Heath (above). It's red on the exterior with a "beet-root purple" interior and a yellow base. It's planted near yellow Primula veris and red Trillium erectum. Nearby is this lavender Glaucidium palmatum (below). I just added a couple of Primula 'Springtime' which are lavender-pink with a yellow eye to further tie the grouping together.
All the Hellebores are in full bloom. That little stick you see in the center of the Hellebores is actually a Carolina Silverbell tree that I put in last summer to replace the Hawthorne that came down in the winter of 2012/13. It appears to have made it through this winter.
I think Paeonia japonica (foreground) will bloom this week given the temperatures that are predicted. Behind the big pot is Paeonia obvata whose buds are still small. Trilliums and primroses in the left rear are ready to explode with another warm day or two.
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' is at the top of a slope and is outward facing, making it one of the few Hellebores that I can enjoy face to face.
Double bloodroots are developing into a nice clump, though they have not spread further afield.
Manchurian maple (below) has great fall color and gorgeous buds in spring. It's growing under a big sugar maple.
Late light on Marsh marigolds in the bog at the side of the pond.
We haven't drained the pond and scooped out all the muck for a few years, so that was the big garden project for this month. Mark managed to get most of it done in a day with the help of an energetic friend from the coffee shop. For a couple of days beforehand, we had a pump in the upper pool of the stream that was hooked up to a hose. I moved the hose all over the garden letting nutrient-rich water soak into the ground around all the trees and shrubs.
My job was to trim the water plants the guys hauled out of the pond and brought over to me. I was working at a saw-horse table under a big maple tree in the shade. Since we started at 8 a.m. when the temp was around 40 degrees my biggest concern was being warm. So I wore heavy tights under flanned-lined Japanese farmer pants (20+ years old from the original Smith & Hawken), wool socks, rubber boots, camisole, turtleneck, heaviest possible hoodie (with a wool beret under the hood). The final layer was a down vest, rubber-coated apron and cotton garden gloves inside a pair of Mark's rubberized gloves. Nice and toasty (and now I have a clothes list for next year's muck out).
Our newish neighbors are a young couple who are not gardeners. So I warned them not to be worried when the needles on their three large white pines turned brown and started to fall off. I described the process and then said I'd be happy to rake them all up when they came down. I was able to gather up two big contractor's bags of needles from their yard which I will use to refresh my pine needle paths next Spring. This year I had to buy needles from the Bruce Company and they weren't nearly as nice as white pine needles.
No sooner had I finished raking under their trees than Mark announced our neighbor to the East wouldn't mind if we raked up the pine needles between our two houses. Most years he uses them on his blueberry bushes and the paths of his large veggie garden. This was a real treat and provided four more bags of needles bundled up for Spring.
As our waterlilies are fading the broadleaf arrowhead (Sagitaria latifolia) in the upper pool burst into bloom. The tall stems of clean white flowers always come as a surprise after weeks of looking at nothing but a sea of leaves.
I planted "star fruit" (Penthorum seloides) at the edge of our pond in 2000. By the summer of 2011, it had grown out of all proportion for its space. When it didn't show up last summer I was mad at myself for being too enthusiastic in ripping it out in big handfuls the year before.
Lo and behold, one stem appeared this spring and I've been waiting all summer for this moment when it finally bloomed! Star fruit is described as "having bouquets of upside down turkey's feet embossed with small rows of starry flowers." They'll turn into pinkish fruits later in the season.
It's great for wet spots as it will grow in up to 4 inches of standing water. Its strong profile makes it nice for winter interest as well.
How about your garden this summer: any sudden deaths or reappearances?
Yesterday afternoon about 3:30 p.m. I glanced out the living room window and was taken aback to see our resident ducks — Fred and Ethel — had arrived. As you can see in these photos, there is so little open water in our pond that I had no expectations of seeing them for another few days — if at all. They've been coming each spring as soon as the snow melts off the pond, typically arriving in mid-March. This is the latest date that they've landed since they started coming in 1998.
The life expectancy of Mallard ducks is 20 years so they must definitely getting up there in years, given we've been seeing them each spring for 16 years. And we have no idea of their age when we first saw them. They always look the same; Mark and I are the ones who are visibily aging.
But it is a joy to see them as we've come to count on their annual visit. They animate the garden in a way that few other creatures do. Seeing them is the surest sign that Spring is really here despite the snow that's still on the ground.
In hot dry weather nothing makes a garden feel cooler than a water feature. I found these two examples in a home garden (top) and at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (the bottom two). They are similar in components: bubbler, container and rocks but quite different in style. A bowl filled with still water is the easist way to add water to the garden, but it's the sound of water that has the cooling effect.