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A Maine Garden in Late April

April 30, 2011

Last week, I had an opportunity to go home to Maine for a few days. I was eager to see the garden in early spring, and it seemed like a good time to get spring clean-up done. I knew that it wouldn’t be like last year, when March was unusually warm and dry, spring came very early, and I actually had flowers  in my garden for bloom day in April (see Spring Blooms!). I expected to find the garden 1-2 weeks behind last year, but that meant that Forsythia and hyacinths would probably be in bloom.

Forsythia -- not in bloom (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) hyacinth buds (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Well, not quite. It turns out that this year spring is 3-4 weeks later than last year.  The forsythia was not even close to blooming, and the hyacinths were showing tight buds, not flowers. I was puzzled by a dirt berm about one foot high left along the side of the driveway by the snow plow – until I scraped the surface of the berm with my spade and discovered that it was actually the icy remains of a snow bank!

Despite the lack of spring blooms, however, it was a good week to work in the garden. Most days were sunny and dry with daytime high temperatures around 60F. And the fact that perennial plants were barely beginning to break the surface of the soil made it easier to rake up leaves and fallen tree branches and to cut back last year’s stems and spent foliage without harming this year’s new growth.

I wasn’t the first to “work” in the garden this spring. Hungry deer had already been through looking for food. I wasn’t surprised to find the variegated Euonymus, a favorite deer food, eaten back almost to the ground. eaten euonymus
eaten viburnum I was surprised, though, to find all the flower buds eaten off the ends of this Viburnum. This is supposed to be a “deer-resistant” plant – but, hey, at the end of the food-scarce winter months, a hungry deer can’t afford to be fussy. (I think I now understand why this shrub almost never blooms.)
And just in case I might not know who had been visiting, the deer left this calling card at the edge of the garden. deer scat

At the beginning of my visit, my flower beds looked like this:

Circular bed before spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Fence border before spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)Blue and yellow border before spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

But by the end of my visit, they looked like this:

Circular bed after spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Fence border after spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) The back garden after spring clean-up (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

New growth on sedum Matrona (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Nubs of new growth on peonies (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Pleated foliage of Alchemilla mollis (photo credit: Jean Potuchek In the cleaned up garden, I could now see the new growth of sedum and peonies, and the beautiful pleated new foliage of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis).

When I get back to my Maine garden in a few weeks, this time to stay for several months, plants will be well up out of the ground, some flowers will be in bloom, and the garden season will have really begun!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2011 11:26 pm

    Those were fun before and after pictures. And a gorgeous shot of your dew-covered lady’s mantle!

    We don’t get deer in our yard. Sounds like quite a struggle; you seem to be handling it with grace.

    • May 5, 2011 10:10 pm

      Meg, I don’t have big problems with deer, which makes it easier to handle them with grace. They mostly come around when I’m not there. Last year, when I was there in April for the first time since I put in the back garden, was the only time I’ve ever seen flowers on that Viburnum. I have a feeling that wasn’t just a coincidence!

  2. sequoiagardens permalink
    May 1, 2011 1:58 am

    You definitely do start the season pretty close to Ground Zero in Maine… here we are thankful that the winter gets rid of some of the previous season’s biomass, unlike the Lowveld down the mountain, where winter is no more than a pause for breath, and man’s presense can disappear within a few years.

    • May 5, 2011 10:12 pm

      Jack, Ground Zero is a good description; the perennials that thrive here are those that like a good long period of dormancy.

  3. May 1, 2011 8:12 am

    Nice before and after photos of your garden. We, too, miss last year’s early spring.

  4. May 1, 2011 8:25 am

    Jean I thought we were how quickly things are growing for you…what a wonderful garden will await you on your return…

    • May 5, 2011 10:16 pm

      Laura, I knew last year was unusual, but we did get spoiled. While I was doing some business at the Poland Town Hall and chatting with the Town Clerk about the weather, she had this take on the difference between last year and this year: “This is the way life really is.” 🙂

      Donna, I think we are a week or two behind what is typical. (I’m not sure because I don’t have good records for this time of year, when I’m usually in Pennsylvania.) But the contrast seems greater because everything was about 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule last spring.

  5. May 1, 2011 9:54 am

    You did a lot of work Jean! How nice it must feel to see the garden now, sans leaves and stuff! I have taken a few of the old stems away, but it’s been awfully wet, so I haven’t really gone too far into the beds yet. More rain today!

    I was looking back at photos from last year and had muscari, a a pasque flower and a couple of types of tulips blooming this time last year. Still a way from that.

    It’s funny that the deer had to ‘try’ so much of your viburnum before deciding he ‘didn’t like it’. Will it grow back? I hope it will.

    Also, that shot of your peony buds coming along must have been a welcome sight!

    Enjoy your Sunday.

    • May 5, 2011 10:21 pm

      Diane, I do find spring clean-up a very satisfying experience. Not only do things look so neat afterward, but it’s so great to get out in the mild air and sunshine after a long winter. The viburnum is pretty much the same size as it was when I planted it 8 years ago; so it grows back from it’s “pruning” each year, but never makes any headway. I have a viburnum that I planted in Gettysburg two years ago that doesn’t get eaten by deer, blooms reliably, and is already much bigger than the one in my Maine garden.

  6. May 1, 2011 1:48 pm

    Looking at your pictures focuses my mind. Tomorrow I will take my courage between my secateurs and cut back hard! Our plants are always green, sometimes ratty, but where or when to cut them??

    • May 5, 2011 10:23 pm

      Diana, Both your comment and Jack’s make me realize how different gardening is in your climate. How do you know when to cut things back?

  7. May 1, 2011 7:23 pm

    It’s a wonderful time isn’t it Jean? So lovely to clean up and see new growth peaking through. The thought of coming back home to Maine for the entire summer on your next trip must really be exciting.

  8. May 1, 2011 9:52 pm

    Jean, You really got a lot done. Your photos remind me though why I prefer to live in Pennsylvania in the spring. I love lady’s mantle with dew—beautiful. Carolyn

    • May 5, 2011 10:31 pm

      Marguerite, I do find this season of new growth in the garden exciting. There’s the suspense of wondering whether certain plants are going to make it, and the thrill of seeing the reassuring new growth. This is a time of year when even a three-week gap between my visits makes a big difference. It’s always exciting to drive north back through spring in May. Usually, by the time I get to Maine, spring flowers and trees are in bloom and the deciduous trees are in that lacy, just-starting-to-leaf-out stage.

      Carolyn, This is definitely my favorite time of year in Pennsylvania. When I got back from Maine last week, the contrast between what I had left in my garden there and the lush growth that I found here made me feel as though I had been away for a month instead of a week!

  9. May 2, 2011 4:57 am

    Impressive clean-up operation Jean, you had a productive time. I laughed to read about your discovery of the snow bank remnants, but your poor Viburnam! I’m sure the deer are very grateful, but really!

    • May 5, 2011 10:33 pm

      Janet, I laughed about the snow bank remnants, too. By late winter, the snow is so old and so dirty that it can be hard to recognize. Once I realized what it was, however, I started noticing dirty snow banks along roadsides and driveways all over my neighborhood.

  10. gardeningasylum permalink
    May 2, 2011 7:00 am

    Jean, Your Maine garden is about the same as here in CT – a few weeks behind. I agree the cool temps and delayed growth have allowed for some good working days. Love love the alchemilla mollis.

    • May 5, 2011 10:37 pm

      Cyndy, We’re not really a few weeks behind normal, but we are several weeks behind last year when spring came to Maine exceptionally early. (It was only the 2nd time I can remember in 30 years when trees leafed out before the end of April.) I don’t mind things being a bit later. If the hostas unfurl their leaves before I arrive in Maine for the summer in mid-late May, the deer come into the garden to feast on hosta leaves — and once they’ve had a taste of that particular deer delicacy, there’s no keeping them out of the garden. Plus, I need to move and divide some hostas this spring, and I need to do that before they leaf out. If all works out as planned, they hostas will be in that stages of spikes sticking up out of the ground when I get back there in a couple of weeks.

  11. May 3, 2011 1:36 am

    Looks like you need to teach the deer some proper pruning techniques–or at least some etiquette. Eating all the viburnum blooms? Rude.

  12. May 3, 2011 8:57 am

    My ‘deer-resistant’ viburnum also gets nibbled by deer, but they often stop once other greenery leafs out. I hope your deer pass by your sedum. One of mine was chomped before I put up barrier. I’ll have to move them inside a fenced area.

  13. May 3, 2011 1:15 pm

    Oh deer. It’s funny you mentioned the variegated Euonymus. The previous owners planted two by our workshop, and the first two years the deer mowed it relentlessly. I gave up on the plant, and stopped pruning it (I figured I had help in that department), and then it grew…and grew. Last fall, it looked embarrassingly shaggy, and it’s in plain view as you drive up to the house, so I trimmed it just to tidy it up…and I swear, that very night (and a number of nights thereafter), the deer came back and decimated it! More than half of it is dead in the middle now. Those darned dastardly deer!

    • May 5, 2011 10:44 pm

      James, You’re right; it’s not a great pruning technique. Do you think I could train them to wait to prune after bloom? (Hmm. Probably not.)

      Joene, As those of us who live with deer well know, a hungry deer will browse on just about anything green. I imagine they moved to the viburnum only after they’d finished with the Euonymus, and they probably wouldn’t have bothered with it at all if there had been hosta available. But, in fact, as my photos show, the pickings in my garden are pretty slim in April.

      Clare, Your experience with your Euonymus is probably a cautionary tale for me. Mine gets eaten back to the ground every spring and is pretty much exactly the same size now as it was the year after I planted it. When I move back to Maine full-time in a few years, though, the deer will probably be less likely to dine in my garden in April (just because I’ll be out there walking around and leaving my scent every day); it will be a big shock to me if that Euonymus suddenly starts to grow by leaps and bounds and to crowd other plants!

  14. May 5, 2011 3:07 pm

    Yes, won’t you be back there for the summer very very soon?? I know the college kids here are in about to party mode…

    • May 5, 2011 10:47 pm

      Jess, Tomorrow is the last day of class for the semester, Yeah!! Then I have a week of intensive grading, followed by a week of workshops and commencement-related festivities, and then I’m out of here! I love that delicious, relaxing end-of-school-year feeling.

  15. Lula ( permalink
    May 9, 2011 12:07 pm

    The idea of getting dirty hands because you are in garden maintenance seems to be the perfect for the month, I guess you must be really excited to see your plant growing. here in Brussels, it looks as if we are already in the summer and my terrace is blooming, I care everyday for the strawberries!

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