There are many books as well as magazine articles on the subject of garden design. The designs presented often have a theme and require the planting of particular species and varieties of plants. I have at times tried to follow such designs but more often than not find myself frustrated, either due to the difficulty of finding a local source for the required plants or in trying to conform exactly to the published design. As a result, the garden never looks like that in print.
I really like the idea of a theme garden but have also come to the conclusion that following someone else’s specific design is not always the best way to go. A garden is really what you make of it. It should reflect your likes. It should be personal.
None of this is to suggest that a garden design or the collection of plants in a given garden is permanent. Just as our knowledge and preferences tend to change over time, a garden does not have to be static. With the planting season rapidly approaching, this is a good time to evaluate ornamental plantings, including woody plants as well as herbaceous perennials. As I was once told by a gardener at one of the venerated public gardens in England: “If there is a plant in the garden that you don’t like, rip it out!” Whoa, that’s brutal, but makes sense.
Ornamental gardens are not the only ones to be reevaluated periodically. This is also true for the vegetable garden. Actually, that’s something we annually do as a family as we sit around the table and discuss what we need to grow more of, less of, or not at all. And, of course, we also decide what new vegetables or new varieties we’d like to try. There’s still some time before any outdoor planting can happen, but it’s best to make those decisions now while seed supplies are readily available.
While on the subject of vegetable gardens and planting, I have often heard that St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional planting date for peas in New England. The theory is that sowing peas then will guarantee a harvest by the Fourth of July. Frankly, I have never been able to plant peas as early as March 17th. Looking back in my gardening notebook, the earliest I have ever been able to plant peas was on March 27th. It must have been a dry month. In most years, soils are still frozen or saturated as the ground thaws. This year is no exception. Perhaps, in the sandy soils along the coast, a St. Paddy’s Day pea sowing is possible but not likely in the Berkshires. If a pea harvest by the Fourth is a goal, I have planted peas as late as the last week of April and was still able to harvest in time for a meal before the fireworks began.
Here are some tasks for this weekend that you may, or may not, want to undertake. It is your personal decision……but I’ll be watching:
- Begin or continue to sow seeds of vegetables and flowers indoors, though I’d wait another 10 days before starting tomato seeds.
- Save the seed packets after planting seeds. The brief instructions on the back of the packets provides plenty of essential information such as planting depth, spacing between plants, plant height, and for vegetables, the expected days to harvest. Also, for those who do not keep a garden notebook, saving the packets provides a record of what you grew.
- Prune trees and shrubs, especially those which were damaged by the high winds we’ve experienced this winter. However, pruning of maples, birch, dogwood and elm is best done after the leaves have developed since these trees tend to bleed sap from pruning wounds at this time of year.
- Keep in mind that spring flowering shrubs produce their flowers from buds produced last summer. Therefore, delay any pruning until they finish flowering this spring.
- Plan a garden to attract hummingbirds. Among the plants that draw the attention of these fascinating birds are: fuchsia, sweet William, columbine, trumpet vine, scarlet sage, larkspur, and cardinal flower.
- Consider repurposing household items for gardening uses. For example, I’ve used the wooden frame from an old patio umbrella as a trellis for pole beans and peas. The wooden crates from clementines, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, as well as milk cartons are used as containers for starting seeds. Use your creativity to find other items to adapt for the garden.
- Cull garlic cloves that are shriveling or sprouting. Plant several of these in a wide flower pot. Harvest the young shoots and use these to flavor soups, stews, salads, and other recipes needing garlic.
- Take cuttings from dormant blueberry plants. The cuttings should be 4 to 6 inches long. Remove any flower buds but leave other buds along the stem sections. The flower buds are a little plump and somewhat rounded while the shoot buds are narrow and pointy. Insert about 1/3 of the length of each cutting in moist sand or a mix of sand and peat moss.