Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Best of Springs, The Worst of Springs

Sorry for the bad paraphrase in the title, but it seems to perfectly capture my mixed feelings about this spring.  All the area plants seem to be popping out much too early and much too quickly...yet I can't help but enjoy this gorgeous weather as well as the colorful, glorious blooms and fresh, green foliage that are so abundant everywhere!

Looking at this photo, shot towards the road, down our driveway, I feel like I can see both the best and worst of this spring.  Or maybe I should say that I can see the best of this year and the effects of the worst of last year.

The Willem van Oranje (1933) tulips are absolutely stunning this year, as is the clump of daffodils (whose variety name I've forgotten) beside them.  Both are heirlooms - I'll have to find my invoice from Old House Gardens several years ago to figure out the daffodil name, as the name plate I put beside the clump has weathered beyond legibility.  (I've got to figure out a better way of marking my plant varieties!)

Anyway, back to my original thoughts....

Across the driveway from the bed housing the tulips and daffodils, overflowing the "frame" formed by the square of the metal crossbars of the old fence, are the remnants of a huge, wild clump of asparagus and a large, formerly gorgeous, dark pink rugosa rose.  Both remnants need to be completely cut back.  As far as I can tell, the asparagus completely succumbed last summer - I have not seen any sign of life yet this spring.  The rugosa rose has a few little sprigs of green - basically 3 small shoots of growth - so it's not completely gone, but it will be years before it regains its former glory, if it ever does.

None of my "best" and "worst" plants in this post are native to south-central Kansas.  In fact, none are native to the North American continent.  Perhaps that explains the death of the asparagus and the near-death of the rose in last summer's heat and drought.  Certainly I'm feeling horrible about my decision not to water the outlying beds last year, although I also don't see how I could have decided otherwise, given our reliance on a solitary well for both the house and the yard.

We've had weeks of 70 and 80 degree weather now.  Tomorrow is only April 1st.  What is the rest of the year going to bring us as far as temperatures and rainfall?  Not having a crystal ball, I can't begin to predict...but I can hope.  And, meanwhile, I can enjoy.

Oh, and the daffodils?  Looking back to earlier years, the daffodils are a variety known as Conspicuus, introduced to the trade in 1869.  They were considered to be " of the pioneering achievements of the Victorian daffodil renaissance" according to the Old House Gardens catalog description.  They certainly are conspicuous this year!


ProfessorRoush said...

Oh Gaia, posting late on Saturday as well? I suspect we're both writing while we're watching the very lucky KU team beat Ohio State....KU by 3 with 8 seconds left.

Funny, I think my garden is responding the best ever. All my losses seem to be last year.

Gaia Gardener: said...

What can I say? I have an exciting life!

(Actually, I think I have a great life...but my idea of exciting is certainly different now than it used to be!)

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Enjoy the beauty you have there. I fear the heat too this summer if we're starting this early but it could turn out to be cool.
I remember one summer when a local radio station had a contest where you were to guess which day it would get to 101 degrees (they were at 101 on the dial). They had to keep extending the registration deadline because it didn't get that hot until almost July!
Unpredictable weather, that's what we have.

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I remember that summer too. It was shortly after we moved back, and I don't think that it made 90 until early July that year. On the other hand, we came close to making 90 today. Unfortunately, too, that's not an April Fool's joke....

Beatriz Moisset said...

Very nice blog, although I am a bit perplexed. You call yourself Gaia and show concern for habitat loss and other environmental issues; yet, you plant daffodils and crocus in your garden.
These flowers are lovely, no question about it. In their native lands they are segments of beautiful symphonies, parts of ecosystems, playing harmoniously with the rest of the habitat's elements. However, when these fragments are introduced into other ecosystems, they become discordant notes. They don't perform their normal roles as part of the natural symphony.
So, my question is: Why do you introduce non-native species into a garden and call yourself Gaia ?
Introduced Species, Discordant Notes

Melanie said...

This has certainly been a spring to relish!! So many things have bloomed so much nicer than previous years. .The moisture has certainly helped. .as has the lack of a freeze. .the insects are so busy in my yard. .and I have seen several grasshoppers at least 2 inches long! Yikes!!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Beatriz, Thank you for your comment. First, I'd like to assure you that I do not consider myself "Gaia". I simply try to be one of Gaia's gardeners - a gardener who works to return the land under her care to better health, biologically and ecologically speaking.

As far as choosing to plant non-native species, I am certainly guilty. Most of the time, I choose to plant natives. Native plants and the communities they form with native animals have been of deep interest to me for decades now. Tallamy's book is, IMHO, one of the most influential things I've read in many years. I wish it could be made required reading for all homeowners, landscape designers, high school students, and so forth.

That said, here in Kansas I am the caretaker/"owner" of 10 acres that have been badly abused over the last 100+ years. On approximately 9 of those acres, I am trying to restore as functional a native ecosystem as I can, given constraints of time, money, and the surrounding landscape and landowners. We have burned our grasslands several times. I overseed with locally collected native seed. We try to remove invasive non-natives such as multiflora rose and fragrant honeysuckle. I've even been known to handpull yellow sweetclover in the heat of the summer to decrease its population amongst our grasses.

On the remaining acre of land (which surrounds our home), I primarily garden, using native plants. I use almost no herbicides (occasional Roundup against poison ivy I can't safely pull) and no insecticides. Once the garden plants are established, I do not water. In this more managed area, I do plant a few non-natives - only those that will survive and thrive under the local climate patterns and that will not replace a better adapted native. Because of the history of this site, I "inherited" many non-natives, most of which I work around and, eventually, will replace with natives.

I try to share the concepts of gardening for the health of the local ecosystems with the groups I am occasionally invited to present to, through my role as a Master Gardener. The importance of working primarily with native plants and of encouraging the health of native insect populations is central to every presentation I give.

In my opinion, getting rid of ALL non-native plants is impossible at this point. That cat is long since out of the bag. What isn't impossible is to increase the use of native plants throughout our cultivated landscapes, strengthening the web of life that has been so badly mangled and torn in so many places.

As I talk with people, I find that taking too purist an approach turns many of them off. I've had to learn to soften my approach so that the core of my message comes through.

Good luck with your research. I really appreciate the work that you are doing with native pollinators - it's an incredibly important area about which we know far too little right now.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, grasshoppers over 2" already!!! I've seen small ones, early instars I presume, but no large ones. Hopefully the early (nesting) birds will be able to use some of this plenitude of young grasshoppers to feed their new hatchlings and thus keep the grasshopper populations from really exploding this summer!

Beatriz Moisset said...

It sounds like a wonderful place, worth visiting. Are you familiar with Catherine Zimmerman's Meadowscaping book and her meadow project?
I, too, have some daffodils. They were there before I moved in. Each year I say that I am going to replace them but I haven't done it yet :)