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Signs of Spring

April 13, 2013

Christina writes: We had more snow this past winter than we did the year before, but mainly in the form of frequent falls of only a few inches which generally melted within a week. These were interspersed with short periods of intense cold, as a result of which several of our shrubs, and also hellebores, suffered damage from winter burn since there was no snow cover to protect them. Spring flowers have been late this year: I did not see any snowdrops in our area until about mid-March, and then only on south-facing areas with exposure to the sun.

Although our landscaper’s men do most of the spring cleanup, I like to do some it myself, partly to be frugal, but also to get exercise, and because it gives me a sense of achievement. In early March, on warmer days between snowfalls, I gathered some of the branches and most of the larger twigs that littered our lawns and flower beds, though I could do nothing in the areas enclosed by anti-deer fencing. I also cut back the baptisia and St. John’s wort which I had left untouched during the autumn cleanup, since these plants still provided some green. On the last weekend in March (Easter), I spent several hours clearing debris from the area around the hellebores and cutting off dead leaves. I was delighted to see that all would soon be in flower, though none in time for such an early Easter. I then began to work on our big perennial bed to the east of the driveway, clearing debris and removing dead leaves and stalks from perennials, and re-establishing sharp edges between the bed and the lawns. But we promptly had another snowfall, and it was a few days before I could resume work. I finished with the perennial bed and the adjacent area around our two big locust trees on the first weekend in April, and during the past few days cleared the adjoining bed facing the road, with lilacs surrounded by periwinkle. Some of the periwinkle towards the road looks very brown, presumably damaged by salt from the town ploughs.

Our landscaper came to prune our three small apple trees at the end of March. We will keep our fingers crossed that a late frost won’t eliminate apples and holly berries as happened last year. Earlier this week, the deer fences came down. Once the big cleanup is done, and areas with shrubs are mulched, we’ll get soaker and sprinkler hoses laid. Despite more snow and rain in the first three months of 2013 than we had in 2012, I was surprised at the dryness of the soil. I have been watching the bushes carefully, hoping to avoid the problems we experienced last year when those that apparently survived the winter in good shape suddenly looked half-dead from lack of water in mid-April. One mountain laurel at least has suffered so much from winter burn that it will probably have to be replaced. I also see no signs of life on the two ‘Purple Gem’ dwarf rhododendrons that lost all of their leaves last summer. We’ll replace them with something else, perhaps dwarf spirea as they do well elsewhere in the garden and are quite colourful. I was about to start watering, but we have had heavy rain during the past few nights, with more promised, so maybe that won’t be necessary. The ground is now nicely moist around our apple trees.

Our snowdrops did not amount to much this year. I should probably plant more this autumn. The dwarf iris are in flower, and the daffodils are a few inches above the ground, but it is too early to be sure how many will actually produce blooms. As I did my cleanup I could see that many of our perennials were showing signs of coming back to life – iris, peonies, shasta daisies, bee balm, sage, sedum, heuchera, astilbe, etc. (not to mention flowering weeds in the lawn); but others are still dormant. There are thick buds on the lilacs and the viburnum.

I almost changed the title of this post. When I finished it in draft a few days ago, it looked as if spring had indeed come at last, but at the end of the week we had another blast of cold air and freezing rain. Happily, most of the ice has melted now, except in shadows and hollows, and the sun made a brief appearance today – but we may have more snow tonight!

Images, from top: dwarf iris, with hens and chicks in the background; sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ starting to peek out; flowers in the lawn (a weed, but pretty).

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