cleanup week 2: forward motion, with a mighty assist from the wind and 2 friends

TRUTH: IF NOT FOR THE brave beacon of the full-bloom Christmas rose—dear old against-all-odds Helleborus niger (above)—I would just have given up. Yes, there were some snowdrops, too, here and there, but even the usually fearless winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, couldn’t seem to catch a break. There hasn’t been a truly bright-enough, warm-enough day since they jumped up from the chilly ground for them to dare open their sunny flowers, which just sit there shut tight (below) as if not quite sure they’ve come to the right place. Out, but not really out.

There has been no mad quacking, the sound of the wood frogs, the earliest species to mate. Their antics, often as the ice has barely begun to melt on the backyard water garden, usually spur me onward—if they can be so frisky against the cold, I figure, so can I.

At least dear H. niger dared flower when nobody else really did, or could.

May 5—my first Open Day of the season—looms. Uh-oh; I was getting nowhere except panicky, save but for a few big beds of hellebores I’d cut back so far, against my better judgment and usual admonition never to work in frozen or mucky soil.

The moles and voles, incidentally, seem undeterred by any such conditions, and when the snow disappeared there were signs of their handiwork—including an impressive series of mole hills, above, signs that those fossorial insectivores (underground-dwelling insect-eaters) were tunneling energetically deep below. I never trap moles, but am far less benevolent toward the unrelated plant-eating rodents whose name starts with a “V.” (More on telling the two apart.)

Then it started snowing again at mid-week, and dipped to around 20F, and the rhododendron leaves curled up like tightly rolled cigars—like January, not April.

I mean, it’s interesting what the rhodie leaves do, the response called thermonasty, a self-defense movement in response to temperature, but I grow tired of “interesting” and want to get on with a little progress. I long to break a sweat.

I am no lover of the wind—no anemophiliac (a word I may have made up, but anemo– is the prefix for wind, so why not?). But I will say this to its credit: Things were pretty mucky as deep snow finally relented this last week, until a night and a day of serious wind blew in and did some fast dehydrating. Thank you, wind (but do you have to be so scary?).

Flower of 'Schweizer Riesen' peas.Thanks to the wind’s good work, I  planted the peas in my raised beds, with Gregor Mendl and his genetic experiments in mind, noticing how some varieties have purplish seeds and some green, dreaming of which would have pink or purple or the more common white flowers to come (and then those peas).

Thanks also to the wind’s assist, the ground was firm enough for shuttling debris to the far-reaches compost heap, and for more feet to gingerly move with mine about the place. Help arrived, so on Saturday I was not alone but had the boost of rake-toting human companionship, and we even sat in a sunny spot and shared our lunches for the first time since last October. Hooray.

I should have mucked out the water gardens—yes, I know, I’m late on my early spring water-garden checklist—and started the plumbing up again. But a few tubing bits remain frozen, and oh, that’s water’s cold to the touch. Maybe tomorrow.

I see on eBird from checklists others have submitted that some of the migrants are starting to move in locally, but so far my biggest excitement was found brown-headed cowbirds. Not that I don’t like cowbirds (actually, many people malign them, but not I, and here is why). That’s a female, above (photo by Tom Grey). Bring on the tree swallows, too, and a phoebe to nest on her usual back-porch spot, some warblers and a towhee and then, in time, the rest of them. Bring on spring.


Categoriesgarden prep
  1. Carolyn Robertson says:

    I So enjoy reading what you are doing and I learn so much ! Thank you, oh and I love your sense of humor!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Carolyn. In recent years I have sort of slacked off on writing up what’s going on here in the garden each week — something I did years ago when I founded the website. Probably good for me to do it again, and glad to hear you enjoy it.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This has been the slowest spring in I can’t remember and I have a lot of springs to remember through. It will get warmer…I hope.

  3. Catherine says:

    Ohhh, me too! Ballston Spa is a bit behind your garden. Hellebores are tightly shut. Ground still frozen about an inch below the surface. But- starting seeds and my potted caladiums today!!! Usually,during the first week if April, I have crocus no matter how severe the winter was. Not this year! Does this mean that the first fall frost will come later too??!!!

  4. Joanne Toft says:

    I love that you can rake! That you are even outside. In Mpls.,Mn. The garden is still under snow. Inches and inches of it. (At least it is no longer feet. In Iowa this weekend and will be stuck for an extra day due to snow and ice hitting the border between Iowa and Minnesota! Urg! Here is hoping this is our last snow storm! The beginning of garden clean up is weeks away!

    1. margaret says:

      We were under two feet two weeks ago and then one foot and then in the last week, it has mostly gone. I think we had our last major storm if not the occasional small one…

  5. Bonny says:

    This late Soring has encouraged me to look closer at the Spring ephemerals, (don’t you love that word?). I am so hungry for color and texture that I have ordered some new tough guys. New hellebores and some corydalis and more Scilla and snow drops. Maybe that’s a dangerous side effect of having to spend more time inside.
    Nice article on cowbirds.

  6. Jan says:

    Well. it’s snow again today for us in Illinois. Garlic is up and cippolini onions are planted. Having another raised bed built. Will start some seeds inside, I guess. When will spring get here?????

  7. Jeannette Wilson says:

    M, please tell me what you do to control voles! They are doing serious damage/excavating in a crape myrtle/perennial bed of mine, and have spread into the lawn. Which bed next is a constant worry.
    I live in Maryland.

  8. Bill Plummer says:

    My snowdrops and aconites are up and spreading voraciously. There is a big patch in back amidst some Rhodies that I plan to transplant on either side of the driveway to add to those already there. I’m disappointed to see them just sitting them when the sun is not strong enough for them to open up. But when they it’s s glorious sight. The Hellebores are showing some color but not to their full stature.I am patiently waiting for my Rhododenron mucronulatum and dayricun to do their thing.

  9. anne says:

    “And I Shall Have Some Peace There,” is what I thought we’d have when we moved to Westchester from NYC, yet with the coming of spring, so come the armies of commercial landscaping companies polluting the air with noise and poisonous exhaust, poor souls strapped to the Devil’s Hair Dryer – the backpack gas leaf blower – blowing up the topsoil in what people have come to believe is “gardening” and everyone and everything paying the price…

    1. margaret says:

      The Mow and Blow Army would be my undoing. Can’t stand the drone of it all; sorry, Anne. In Manhattan, garbage trucks and more sirens and more traffic, but the suburbs have their own sounds, too. (Here it is more chainsaws and farm equipment.)

  10. Vanjohnson says:

    Cold coming from the arctic… seems that climate change is bringing the polar vortex down the East Coast and inland as well over and over. Climate Change… no denying it!

    1. margaret says:

      Change is indeed upon us. I feel blessed to be in a region that still has some water, but who knows what is next.

  11. Debbie says:

    Well spring is still not sprung in northern New England – but – yay, the ground is bare and Margaret has revived her garden update post! I’ve missed this.

    1. margaret says:

      I missed it too, Debbie. I don’t know what gets into me sometimes — I get off on another tangent (among my oodles of tangents) and get distracted. The 10th anniversary and looking back to past years made me realize I’d forgotten about this obvious kind of story.

  12. Jane Barnard says:

    Well I did try , really I did….the snow has finally gone enough that I could get to my shed and take down the St Patrick’s day wreath!!!!! And the I found an unwanted ground cover ,that a friend had planted late last year new a new flower bed….and of course it is about the only thing growing…..I yanked it out and planted it at the edge of the woods……then it started to snow again! Found a few weeds to pull on the way back inside…..now back to my embroidery……it will warm up …..just not today apparently????

  13. misery loves company. Glad to see it’s cold all over the north. Winter aconites verrrry slow this “spring.” Should rename them mid-spring aconites. But the native Pulsatilla patens syn. Anemone patens aren’t shy. They’ve started flowering here in SE Wisconsin. Hope springs eternal.

  14. Barb Gorges says:

    We have a lot of bare ground between snowstorms all winter. Cheyenne, Wyoming, is in Zone 5, but at 6,000 feet and 12-15 inch annual precipitation. Between spring snows–the last storms sometimes in mid-May like the last two years–we often have 50-50 days, 50 degrees and 50 mph winds. My Iris reticulata bloomed three weeks ago, my crocuses are at their peak now but the leaves of all the other bulbs are only a few inches tall. They are several weeks behind last year–and behind the neighbors’ bulbs planted on the south-facing sides of their brick houses!

  15. Margaret says:

    Every year (it seems) I anxiously wait for the weather to turn so that I can get out in the garden. I usually “feel” that spring is taking forever to arrive when, in fact, it’s right on schedule (more or less – the weather in recent years is anything but predictable!). This is one of the few times where it’s an objective rather than subjective truth, which makes it all the more frustrating. I have to say, though, that I do feel a bit better knowing that so many of us are in the same frosty boat :)

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