Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Foundation shrubs

So much of gardening can be prepping the soil, weeding, trimming and planting -- seemingly endless at times -- that sometimes we have to remind ourselves to enjoy what our long established plants have to offer. Nowhere is that true more than with the foundation shrubs in our gardens. Some of these deciduous bushes are offering us vibrant new foliage or in some cases, already flowering. My Goldflame spirea has fully leafed out, showcasing vibrant gold and red foliage. Likewise, my two sambucus (elderberry) bushes have clothed themselves in new foliage. I was pleased to see that the charming S. Madonna has returned with its true variegation. And my physocarpus 'twins,' the darker-leaved Coppertina and the golden Nugget, had barely leafed out when they began pushing out tiny flower heads. My collection of iochromas - I have three varieties, the latest of which is the glorious Burgandy Wine - are already beginning to bloom.
So take some time to enjoy the fruits of your fall and winter labors! That weeding can wait for another day.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Catching Up

Although the transition from winter to spring in our mild Bay Area is not as delineated as in much colder parts of the country, nonetheless we do experience the rites of spring in our own way. The skies part, it's a bit warmer and the late winter rains urge the garden to spring to life. I recognize this transition with my own garden by the number of new developments I notice in my weekly walk through. For me, this time of year is mainly about preparation. That means plenty of weeding (hello weedy grasses and oxalis) and soil preparation, as much as I can do in my exclusively flowers garden. The weeding can be satisfying in a zen sort of way but it does have one other benefit. Yanking out the tall weedy grasses often reveals new things initially hidden from view. Last Tuesday, I discover two strong shoots above ground on my burgandy eucomis. That brought a big smile to my face. Late winter is also the time to take the plunge and re-imagine a tired bed. In mid-March I dug out a sunny front yard bed that had never been properly amended, taking out a sprawling helichrysum species and some spent crocus, then making it over into a "blue bed." That meant planting blue flowering annuals, notably four species of phacelias, two gilias, a baby blue eyes, an exuberant echium blue bedder (a low growing annual echium), a larkspur and a Love-in-a-Mist. I know it's going to be fabulous and it's right near the sidewalk so passersby can enjoy the late spring show.
Though I often plant annuals in pots, saving my precious ground space for perennials and bulbs, I do fill in some of the late winter bare spots with spring color. Especially with natives, which are becoming more abundant in nurseries these days.
Now is an excellent time as well to re-mulch your planting beds with bark mulches. It's amazing how animals, the wind and general decomposing can wither away the layer of bark mulch you laid down last year. Not only will mulch mean fewer weeds and less watering but it can be an integral part of the look you create in your garden. Here's a tip: the smaller the plants in a given bed, the smaller the size of the bark mulch you should use. Microbark blends in nicely in beds dominated by annuals & perennials, while the intermediate size can be good for plots with mixed shrubs and perennials. Shredded cedar (gorilla hair) is a different look, providing more of a woodland look. For those with perennial beds, now is a good time to top dress with soil amendments, before the mulch gets laid down, so that you can add nutrition to an existing bed.
Feed your soil and it will reward you with a bountiful harvest, be that flowers or veggies.
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