Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring is Here - At Long Last!


After one of the snowiest winters in recent memory, Spring is  finally here - not just on the calendar, but in our home and yard as well. The garden burst forth this past weekend with our first blooms of the year:  snowdrops are blooming in the cottage garden and today, I saw the first crocus buds as well, just ready to open.

Earlier this week I snagged some tulips and daffodils at a local flower shop and the grocery store and filled vases throughout the house. We have been watching excitedly as the snow cover has melted away to reveal mounds of green where spring bulbs and eventually summer perennials will be blooming.

After a visit to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's annual Flower Show in Boston, I found myself more inspired than ever to begin the spring gardening chores. I began by clipping forsythia wands for forcing indoors and his year, inspired by a display I saw at the flower show, I snipped some branches from our saucer magnolia as well.

Forcing forsythia and magnolia blossoms
This is my first attempt at bringing branches of our saucer magnolia tree indoors to force.  And this is especially gratifying for me because I had been concerned that with the funky weather we had last fall, I might not have any magnolia blossoms at all.

Last spring, we had scant blooms on our burgundy and cream magnolia and the yellow magnolias' blooms were sparse as well. After an exuberant bloom the year before, we were disappointed that the trees were nearly devoid of color last Spring. But this week I was delighted to see the branches full of plump velvety buds and I know that the trees are going to be gorgeous in another few weeks.

The rhododendrons are also in excellent shape, considering the many feet of snow that buried them for the last three months. The Nova Zemblas are full of buds and the leaves show none of the drying effects of winter. Our white rhodies, the catawbiense "Choinoides", also seem to have had new life breathed into them over the winter after a difficult spring and summer last year. 

Everywhere I look, mounds of green and green leaf spikes are poking through the mulch. The benefits of the heavy snow - insulation and ample water - are obvious. But so are the casualties. In particular, our sand cherry is likely a total loss, and for that we are dismayed.

For reasons we can't quite fathom, the plow service piled heavy wet snow on the sand cherry, instead of pushing it into the wide open space along the walkway to the shade gardens and the back yard. Every branch cracked under the strain and the main stem has split as well. Last year, the sand cherry was a stand out in the spring garden, covered with pink blossoms. We were hoping for the same this spring. Sadly, it looks as though we'll be seeking a replacement.

In the first picture, the tree has actually been totally bent to the side and the branches poking through at the top are actually from a side branch. We knew then that the tree was in trouble, but there was little we could do. After the snow fell, it rained, then froze. We couldn't dig it out and were forced to wait for warmer weather and for the ice to melt.
Just the tips of a few branches poke through the six-plus foot pile of snow crushing the sand cherry.
Every branch has evidence of damage from the weight of the snow.
Damage to the sand cherry - March, 2011

A Taste of Spring - The Boston Flower Show

One steadfast harbinger of spring, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's annual Flower Show in Boston, was held last week and what a treat for the senses it was. We had been very disappointed with the recent past few years' offerings and very nearly didn't attend this year, but with complimentary tickets in hand (a benefit of membership to Mass Hort), we spent a most enjoyable afternoon at the Seaport World Trade Center.  We returned home to a wonderful surprise:  a clump of snowdrops blooming in one of our cottage garden beds.
Our own hellebores, April, 2009
This year's garden show far exceeded our expectations.  Steve and I both agreed that it was one of the best shows we've been to, ever.  The display gardens and exhibits were plentiful, well-designed, and bursting with color.  Many were attended by the owners or professional staff of the nurseries that sponsored them, a definite plus, as we could ask questions about the displays and get and give feedback on the spot.

The exhibit area was crowded and hard to navigate in a wheelchair, even harder with a cane, but with good reason - gadgets and plants, tools, clothing, decorative items, landscaping fixtures, gewgaws and bric-a-brac abounded.  There was something for everyone and we got quite a few "somethings".  If we're looking for the latest and greatest gardening gadget or a hard to find tool, the exhibit area has always been the "go to" place for us. This year we were delighted to find more booths featuring tools and gadgets for cooking - so in keeping with the Society's "Garden to Table" program and our new love affair with the Food Network.  Our two prized finds: a weeding shovel (watch out, skunk cabbage and cockleburrs) and a saucer that grates fresh ginger and garlic cloves.

Compared to previous years, we found Mass. Hort's book display far superior to that of years past.  My dilemma was trying to decide which of the many things on my "Wish List" I could live without.  Two shopping bags later, Steve and I both spent a wonderful hour in the food court area, where we relaxed on comfortable upholstered chairs at a table decked out with a linen tablecloth, paged through our newest literary acquisitions, chatted with friendly table-mates, and dined on the Seaport's version of a hot turkey sandwich (fabulous). The ambiance was rich, the experience overall a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10.

After having attended a family funeral the day before, we went to the flower show in a somber frame of mind and with very little expectation of truly enjoying ourselves.  In fact, our main goal was to replace a tool that had broken last summer and perhaps find another garden gadget or two.  Instead, we found an unexpectedly rich vista of spring and spent a truly wonderful, relaxing, and educational afternoon.  We attended an informative demo and lecture on roses, spoke with many professionals, and viewed many luscious garden displays. Meandering through the exhibit aisles netted us an eclectic assortment of new-found treasures.

My favorite garden display this year was the garden created by Heimlich's Nursery in Woburn, Mass.  We had an opportunity to speak to one of the professionals from Heimlich's and that convinced us that it's a place we definitely want to visit later in the spring when it's time to shop for additions to our garden. We also enjoyed meeting and chatting with the folks from the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston and the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham, two other gardens that are summer destinations for us.

One of our chief (and perennial) complaints about many of the nursery exhibits at all flower shows and even in the conservatories of the larger public gardens (the New York Botanical Garden is a prime example) is that often, plants that simply would never be blooming at the same time are planted in demonstration gardens, having been forced in the greenhouse, giving people a completely unrealistic idea of what their garden would like if they planted the same varieties together.

When I shared this observation with one of the nurserymen, he told me that they are allowed to group flowers that bloom within 4-6 weeks of each other in an exhibit. While I am exquisitely familiar with the hassles of forcing blooms to a schedule, that remains my one significant criticism of this flower show overall. I do not think it's intellectually honest to stretch reality in that way. I'm sorry, but whether your garden is in Providence, on the Cape, or up here in Newburyport, with the exception of an occasional very late blossom, tulips are not blooming profusely at the same time that foxglove is in bloom. A garden display that includes beds of tulips, azaleas and other early spring blooms, summer blooming foxgloves, and a Meyer lemon is simply not a realistic representation of what you can accomplish in your own garden without benefit of a greenhouse and that is where I think some of the displays fall short.

One thing I was pleased to see, however, was that as we have noticed before, we seem to have a knack for being just ahead of the curve in our plant and garden decor choices. Several summers ago, we had a large urn-type planter custom drilled and plumbed so that we could use it as a fountain in our Zen garden. And
we had been on the hunt for (and finally found) a Meyer lemon tree for  over two years before we finally found one.

This year, for the first time, we saw a potted Meyer lemon in an exhibition garden. I can only hope that ours will eventually bloom as prolifically as the display garden tree did. It was immense and gorgeous! (Insert Ode to a Greenhouse here.) We also saw several urn-type water features both in nursery display gardens and for sale in the exhibit area.

Curtains and a chandelier in the gazebo
After the first chandelier appeared in a demonstration garden gazebo a few years back, we joked that the nurseries must send their spies to our house each year for decorating ideas. It's a point of pride for us that we'd already outfitted our gazebo with a clearance aisle chandelier and draped the walls and ceilings with curtains long before we saw one featured at the flower show several years ago.

All in all, I give the Society two thumbs up for a magnificent show and would encourage any local readers to visit their web site and mark your calendars for next year's flower show as soon as the dates are announced.  If this is going to be the benchmark for future flower shows, you won't want to miss it. Consider supporting the Society with a membership and you won't have to worry about missing it. As a member, you'll get regular newsletters by email and tickets to the flower show mailed to you a couple of weeks before the event.  As members, we are looking forward to attending more programs at Elm Bank and the annual flower show is once again back on our must-do list.