Early spring is amazing

Never in the 44 years of living in Alaska have I had a garden party the first weekend of April, and there we were, with margaritas no less. Amazing. 

There has been a lot to think about the past two weeks. For instance: A friend pointed out that never ever in all her years in the Far North has she had to consider an outdoor seating arrangement in the shade. Now there is food for thought. 

And how about this one: late bloomers. Yup. Last growing season went on and on and what was there to show for it in this garden? Not a whole lot. Empty spaces. Spent perennials. Not this year. I love cosmos, in particular “Cranberry” and they will be placed here and there among the perennials along with cosmos “Citron” to carry on some color. I also love godetia, and California poppy “Bridal Bouquet” and “Romantica.” Keep in mind that these plants have always been in the garden but I haven’t used them to their full advantage. This will be a different year. Yes, indeed.

Once the perennials have faded, and they tend to fade fast, the annuals will continue to satisfy our quest for color. Keep in mind that annuals last one season. If we are lucky they will seed themselves for the coming season. Nemophila, commonly known as baby blue eyes, does a great job of seeding itself all over the place, creating a lovely blue understory that won’t choke out everything else. If there are too many for you, they are easy to pull out. I can’t get enough of them. Just tossing a packet of seed around right about now will do the trick if you didn’t have any last year to establish themselves. 

We needed to replace the wooden frames around the strawberries. Thankfully we have a young family that recently moved to our street and were in need of strawberries. Off they went in the wheelbarrow. Now is the time to address your own strawberry bed. Do the older plants need to be removed? You can feel which ones are old, they are dry and pull out easily. Let them go. The young plants that were set on last year’s runners will be ready to produce. Don’t let the bed get too crowded, something that I am forever guilty of and would like to save you the hassle.

Here’s another thought on these berries. They are called strawberries because straw was laid down around the base of the plants to keep the berries off the dirt, hence keeping them clean. So every spring I clean up the debris at the base of the plants and lay down straw. Then I thought “Why?”

Now I leave the dead leaves, creating their own mulch, keeping the berries clean, saving myself a bit of a chore. I’ve been doing this for the last three years and it has proven quite successful. And if you have been doing this forever and haven’t told me, well, I’ll think about forgiving you. 

An advantage of this early spring is the leisurely pace in the garden. It isn’t all happening at once. What a relief. There has been time to think about what I want to go where.  Not that there is any particular design going on here. Don’t get me wrong. It is still willy nilly but this year I can take my time with the randomness.

There are oodles of Asiatic lilies out here and they are looking crowded. So I take my trusty trowel and dig a clutch here and put them there, then a couple of days later I decide to do the same with a different batch. Lovely. If you don’t have these lilies you are missing out. Put them on your list of must haves. They come in a spectrum of colors and heights, there is sure to be something to suit your taste. 

The early blooming light yellow trollius needed dividing. I know — dividing perennials can be a bit daunting. Fear not. Sharpen your spade, lay out a tarp, dig up the clump, put it on the tarp. Now, either using the SHARP spade or a saw or an ax, cut the clump into pieces. I usually go for quarters, they seem manageable. The next part is fun — you can scatter them around your perennial beds or give them to friends or neighbors. Excellent. I have yet to have any perennials go homeless. 

There are those asking if it is time to plant their vegetable plot. Well, if your soil is dry enough. And that is key — dry enough. Take a fist full and squeeze, open your hand, if the soil stays in a ball, it is too wet to plant, if it falls apart go ahead. Here at elevation 396 feet it is still too wet to work the soil. 

Then you need to ask yourself just how much “working” do you need to do. If you incorporated compost last fall the answer is “not much.” Why not go ahead and get some radish, lettuce and pea seeds in the ground. What can you lose? Just a few seeds. 

On the other hand, I like to add even more compost mixed with aged manure and ground up alfalfa cubes (what horses eat). We use our shredder for that little exercise. I mix these components in the wheelbarrow and throw it around on the vegetable beds and even the perennial beds.

But, this is where the “is it dry enough” piece comes in. The next step is to cultivate in this mixture and the soil needs to be dry enough. There was one year I didn’t wait. This will never ever happen to me again. Never ever. The clumps that formed were with me all season. Ugly. Unmanageable. Unforgiving. Don’t let this happen to you or your plants. 

The bulbs have nicely established themselves and they were the stars of this afternoon’s impromptu garden party. The crocus are fading but the chionodoxa, scilla, puschkinia are all in bloom. The fritillaria are up and looking promising. Various daffodils, mostly the smaller ones and muscari are all up but not in bloom. That’s the best thing about bulbs, they don’t all bloom at once, their show lingers. If you have yet to invest in bulbs, give it some thought for the coming fall.  

This week we should be eating our first greenhouse salad augmented with sorrel from the garden. Bliss. 

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.

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