Beeware the Ides of March

March messPart of me doesn’t mind that there isn’t much in bloom in my garden right now. As ready as I am for spring, I have to admire March for hosting winter’s last hurrah. (Don’t I?) March is supposed to give us plenty to complain bitterly about and make us ache more than ever for spring’s colors and warmth. That’s its job. The garden is supposed to look beat. But tucked between winter’s worst (snow, bitter winds, raw and icy rain, what-have-you) are those divinely warm spring-like days that entice the bees out of their hives. And it’s a damn shame that there’s hardly anything in bloom for them to eat. In fact, more colonies starve in March than any other month of the year. Tragic. 

There’s precious little for them in my garden. Right now, only a witch hazel that’s been in bloom since January. Just based on looks I would say that the Salix chaenemeloides ‘Mt. Aso’ is in bloom because it’s in its kitten-fur stage, but it’s not far enough out for the bees. Even my hellebores aren’t quite there yet. Neither is the winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima). I have no early crocus. No snowdrops or winter aconite. No skunk cabbage. So to make this long sob story short, I’m making a mental note — you are my witness — to remedy that this coming year. (That is, any or all but the skunk cabbage since I haven’t got a bog.)

Salix chaenemeloides 'Mt. Aso'Helleborus foetidus

Have the bees been out in your garden yet? What on? Will you have more for them next year? (For a March bigger variety of blooms, check out GBBD at May Dreams Gardens.)

Down to earth – hope springs

Originally published in East Bay/South Coast Life on March 13, 2013, a good week and a half after my first day back in the garden. Not that I have gotten much done yet. If only it would stop snowing. Another freaking “wintery mix” is forecast for this week. I’ve done all the damage (i.e. spent all the money) I can possibly do inside. 

I am desperate to get back out in the garden. This time last year I lamented about not getting a proper winter break. This year, the opposite. Maybe gardeners are never content. But I’m pretty sure that nothing would make me happier right now than to spend one non-rainy, non-snowy, calm-wind weekend day outside. I can’t wait for the pleasure of composting fallen stems, digging out more lawn, laying flagstone paths, whacking the butterfly bush back down (almost) to the ground, and worrying over exactly how much to prune from my gangly Black Lace elderberry. If I can’t get out to do that stuff soon, I might go mad. Or to the mall, which in my book is a little bit the same thing.

I have tried very hard over the last few weeks to use my gotta-garden energy productively indoors. Reorganizing the kitchen cupboards felt something like weeding. Browsing pillows and picture frames was not unlike plant shopping (though less gratifying because once they’re planted on couches and walls they don’t grow anything but dusty.) And a drab room repainted a vivid shade of raspberry fills my eyes like a hot August dahlia up close.

So I’m very glad that it’s finally March because regardless of the vagaries of weekend weather, a New Year has (re)turned and I’m confident that it won’t be long now before I’ll be losing track of time in the garden again. Hope springs and everything starts this month. The birds at my feeder are already singing love songs. Are the redwing blackbirds back yet? If not, they will be soon, along with osprey, killdeer, and the robins (who have been here all along). And sometime, usually towards the end of the month, the spring peepers, tiny frogs about the size of a quarter, will come out of hibernation from under logs and behind loose tree bark along marshes and ponds to trill their little throats out from evening into night. Noting these signs of spring in a perpetual calendar or notebook—and competing with friends and family for first sighting/hearing every year—will keep you vigilant, if not patient.

arugula seedlings germinated in 4 days.And this month, whenever the weather forces us back inside, there is some actual indoor gardening to do. Usually I’m delighted enough by the thousands of seeds sown by some of my favorite volunteers in the Blithewold greenhouse that I don’t feel compelled to fill my own windowsills with starts. But this year I’m looking forward to watching my own plants, destined for my own garden, spring like hope itself from tiny packages of dormant DNA.

I’m determined to grow more vegetables, so the first seeds I’ll sow will be artichokes. Some gardeners are surprised to see them producing outside of California, but the only requirement that sets these tender perennials apart from other veg is two or more weeks of chill temperatures (40s-50s) after germination to trick them into thinking they’ve overwintered. (Like biennials, they usually wait to bloom until their second year. And of course, the bloom—in bud—is the delicacy.)  But check the seed package: some promise to flower the first year without cold-temperature trickery.

Along with artichokes I intend to sow packs of lettuces, arugula, beets, kale, and radishes because they’re cool season crops and delicious as seedlings. The name “microgreens” doesn’t do them justice… By the time they germinate and I pluck them for a dinner salad, it will be high time (mid-April-ish) to sow seeds for plants that will actually make it into the ground. But of course by then we should all be spending whole glorious, soft, and sunshiny days outside in the garden. Hope springs. Happy New Year!