Jason and I went for a walk around the garden yesterday, to see what might be poking its head up, and to encourage ourselves that spring really is coming.

There are a surprising number of Kaufmaniana tulips sticking their noses up! We planted a lot of these bulbs last fall, with the help of our friends Jo ana and Anne. What an excellent thing to have done, now that it is early spring, and we are in need of good cheer.

The crocuses are coming up, and a few of them are even escaping the predations of the rabbits. As I said, it was a rainy day, so they weren’t open, but there were still bits of color here and there. Jason has a spray bottle of rabbit repellent, and will be out after the rain clears to douse everything that is vulnerable.

One of the things I like about this time of year is that you can see the shapes of the trees. This is our hackberry tree, in the bed along the street. It replaced a Norway maple about ten years ago.

Our street had numerous full-grown Norway maples, and they died one after another, over about five or six years. They were most likely planted because they were popular, quick growing, and tolerated urban conditions. However, Morton Arboretum says that they are “invasive” and “can’t be recommended.” An article in the Baltimore Sun says that Norway maples “are notorious for strangling themselves to death” with girdling roots. “Death can take decades, but often happens just when trees reach a pleasing size and shape.”

In any case, we chose the replacement from a list of trees that our city plants, and got a hackberry. I thought it was ugly and awkward for years, but as it has grown, it has become more graceful. I like the mix of angular trunk connections and curvaceous limbs. And I always love to see the nests in the branches when the leaves are gone, and know that someone has made a home.

The bark is very pleasing too.

Like this tree, some of the flowerbeds are still wintery. Here are the stalks of the cup plants, newly cut back by our gardening team, who will be coming twice a month to help maintain things. (More about that in a future post.)

Continuing our stroll around the garden, we find many, many daffodils emerging, here, there, and everywhere. You can never have too many daffodils. We each won 200 bulbs from Colorblends at the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling, and we have added many more in addition.

In the backyard, the snow drops have been providing cheer for a month now. Nothing stops them, not rain, sleet, nor snow.

The hellebores had leathery green leaves all through the winter, and when the gardeners carefully cut them back, the plants began to burst into bloom. These blooms and more should go on for months. It’s taken a few years for them to establish themselves, but they are now living their best lives in the raised bed in the backyard.

Here’s my task for the next sunny day. I scrubbed out the bird houses and put them on the patio table to air out (I don’t imagine the birds like their houses to smell of disinfectant any more than I do). (Reading this over, I wondered whether birds have a sense of smell; the answer is here.) Now I need to screw the bottoms back on and hang them up to be ready for families of wrens and chickadees.

I’ll conclude with a brief update on Jason. He’s just started a second round of chemo, after a reprieve of eight months. It’s leaving him pretty tired out. We’re both hoping the fresh spring air and evening sunlight — not to mention the flowers that are coming! — will provide some tonic.

Which signs of spring do you look for most eagerly, and have they already arrived, or are you still anticipating them?

I haven’t written a post for several months. As some of you know, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in mid-2020. The treatment has kept me going but my hands are numb and this makes writing a challenge. Some have suggested dictation software and I’ve been meaning to look into that.

Common Witch Hazel blooms in October

I’ve also been combatting fatigue and difficulty concentrating, so I’m not sure if dictation will be an effective answer.

However, it’s a new year so I thought I would try to generate a short post.

Highlights of my last few months:

We went to Maine in October where we ate an insane amount of fresh seafood, walked through coastal villages, and had the pleasure of lunching with Laurie Graves of https://hinterlands.me/ and her husband Cliff.

View from a Maine lighthouse

Our good friend Jo Ana did the lion’s share of putting the garden to sleep for the winter. As always, her help has been invaluable during my illness. Also, thanks to her I got a good look at the Common Witch Hazel we have tucked away in an obscure spot on the east side of the house. Most years I don’t think to look until after the blooms are all done.

In spite of everything, we planted over 250 bulbs, thanks again to Jo Ana and also our good friend Anne. Of these, 100 or so went into containers – mostly some Tulipa kaufmanniana varieties that are new to us, but also some ‘Princess Irene’.

‘Princess Irene’

Then we planted some more ‘Ballerina’ Tulips in the Driveway Border and some T. clusiana and Narcissus ‘Geranium’ and ‘Barrett Browning’ in the Parkway Bed.

For Thanksgiving, we drove with our son Daniel to Minneapolis where we had a long weekend with David and his partner Meridith, and a holiday meal hosted by my brother and his wife. We stayed in Chicago for Christmas, celebrating with Daniel and Beckee and her parents. We’re expecting a visit from David and Meridith later this month, Covid permitting.

Incidentally, I’m trying to keep up with everyone’s garden blogs but no longer comment for reasons stated earlier.

So that’s about it. Best wishes to everyone for a happy 2022.

Prairie or Sullivant’s Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is worth considering as a garden alternative to Common Milkweed (A. syriaca). A key difference is that Prairie Milkweed is much less aggressive, in fact in my garden it has been fairly slow to establish.

So I had the good fortune to meet a fellow avid gardener recently. His name is Mike Miller and he lives in the adjacent town of Wilmette. He was nice enough to invite Judy and me to visit his garden. As soon as we pulled up to the curb, I could see that it was something special.

It seems that plants are always teaching me new lessons about how they behave in the garden and respond to weather and other conditions. This summer, there are three native plants that have been on my mind.

The Driveway Border

First, Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). I’m fond of this plant with its central cone like a clown’s nose and bright yellow yet droopy ray flowers. In rich garden soil, though, it tends to grow too tall (5′ or more) and flop. To limit this tendency I use tall tomato cages.

So we got back from our trip to New York about a week ago. We had an excellent time, though travel wears me out more than it used to. Judy took about a thousand photographs (not an exaggeration). Most of the material I’m going to keep for later, but I do want to do one post now about a garden in New York that just opened this year.

Little Island is a 2.5 acre garden that is built on the remains of an abandoned pier on the Lower West Side.

So guess what. Judy and I are going to New York City for a few days and I have to get ready, so this will be a short post.

July is the month of Monardas here. We have one straight species (Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa) and three hybrid cultivars: ‘Raspberry Wine’, ‘Purple Rooster’, and what I suspect is a home-grown hybrid that looks like a cross between Wild Bergamot and ‘Purple Rooster’.

Gardeners interested in Monarda should check out two trials of various species and cultivars conducted by the Mt. Cuba Center (published earlier this year) and the Chicago Botanic Garden (published back in 1998).

The view from our front door with all our types of Monarda represented.

A Tour Of The Back Garden In Early July

So now let’s take the overview of the garden to the back of the house.

A flagstone path leads to the Back Garden.

Happy 4th of July. July is when things start to pop in the garden after the June lull, so I thought this might be a good time to provide a tour or overview of where things are right now.

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