Down to earth – time to get a move on


Spring's at the plantry door
Spring’s at the plantry door

One recent sunny Saturday I awoke to a garden that suddenly looked less like a debris field and more like a place where green things might grow. Perennials are poking out from beneath the mulch made of winter’s stems and twigs. My tulips are up and opening, and the honesty (Lunaria annua) has budded early, or so it seems with winter being such a fresh memory. Patches of starry sky-colored Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) that have increased since last year share blue pollen with the neighborhood honeybees, who have apparently fared a little better than they did last year. Scents of hyacinth, winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), and my poor sleet-scorched star magnolia entertain my nose, while blooming street trees and evergreens make it sneeze. The grass is green, and according to my neighbors, in need of a mow already. It’s spring. There can be no doubt about it now.

Walking around my garden that morning I knew it was high time to get a move on, and I spent the whole day doing just that. My first task was to identify the living and the dead, which will never be easy for those of us with a wonky memory. I can’t always recall exactly where I planted anything, and the new foliage sometimes throws me. Last year I must have misidentified a fall-planted orange yarrow (Achillea millifolium ‘Terracotta’) — new to my garden and therefore precious — and gave it away with clumps of extra meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris). Mea culpa. The emerging leaves are similarly soft and ferny but certainly not identical. Or maybe it just didn’t make it through the winter.

As soon as I recognized old friends, I started moving them around. This is the perfect time to dig and divide perennials, particularly any that bloom after Memorial Day (best to divide earlier bloomers in the fall) and relocate seedlings of perennials and biennials such as forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Watered in by us and spring showers, even the tap-rooted seedlings like Atlantic poppy (Papaver atlanticum), will take to new ground as if that’s where they grew all along.

Rose campion on the move
Rose campion on the move

My Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum ‘Becky’) needs annual editing — to another bed, the compost heap, or a friend — to prevent the ever-increasing clump from Godzilla-stomping adjacent plants. Check. And after two years in one corner of my garden I finally have a healthy supply of deceptively elegant gray-green rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) seedlings — enough to dot throughout for a gaudy cerise spectacle in July. I can hardly wait. It’s also not to late to move shrubs and small trees, if necessary. I transplanted a struggling Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pointer’ from the front yard, where it had been smushed between a beebalm, an agastache, and a rose, to a smidgen of what looks right now like open ground in the back. I shifted my fancy pussy willow (Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt. Aso’) six inches to the left. No easy task, that, but it’s done and done for good. At least until I change my mind again about exactly where it should be.

By now, and this happens every spring, I have blown out the knees of my favorite jeans. My fingernails are embedded with soil and no amount of lotion can soothe or smooth my crusty knuckles. Calluses have formed across the top of each palm. My back aches; my eyelids droop. I’m suddenly, constantly, ravenously hungry, yet am losing weight. Clearly I am enjoying a combination of conditions that can only mean one thing: spring and I are finally getting a move on.