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The Spring-to-Summer Race

June 5, 2017

back slope rhododendron 2017Spring in Maine is known for being both late and fleeting. During our winter-to-spring transition in April, I moved through the garden at a leisurely pace, cleaning up each bed as the snow melted there. It was pleasurable to be outside in the fresh air and to see new growth emerging from the ground. The last snow melted from my garden on April 30, and I completed my spring clean-up a few days later.

I imagined a similarly leisurely experience in May as I would work my way through the garden again, weeding, putting in plant supports, and mulching. I had forgotten the realities of the race from spring to summer, when everything happens too fast and all at once, and it is impossible to keep up. This year, May was unseasonably cool and rainy, punctuated by occasional days of sunshine and exceptional heat. The cool, rainy days were unpleasant for working in the garden. During the hot, sunny days, the plants raced to catch up, growing by several inches and producing an abundance of flower buds.

side slope mulchedWhen May turned into June a few days ago, I had barely made a dent in my May list of chores. I focused my attention in May on the newly-created Side Slope and Fragrant Garden plantings. By disturbing the soil to add organic matter and plant these areas last year, I created an opportunity for weed seeds to germinate – and they did! The Side Slope, which I worked on during the summer and planted in early September, was particularly full of weeds. I worked steadily on this large planting during May, weeding and mulching it one section at a time until I finally finished it last week. (I also transplanted some low-growing native plants – sweet white violets and wild strawberries – that I hope will naturalize and form a weed-suppressing groundcover.) fragrant garden mulchedThe Fragrant Garden, which I worked on in September and October, was much less weedy. It is also less than half the size of the Side Slope, and I was able to get it weeded and mulched in a couple of days. Here, I also needed to complete the planting, adding roses, a peony, phlox, and sweet peas to grow up the deck railing at one end of the flower bed.

The end of May is the traditional time to put out tender annuals in Maine, and I took some time around the Memorial Day holiday to shop for annual flowers and herbs at several local nurseries. This weekend, I got the morning glories (both purchased seedlings and seeds) into the ground, planted a few herbs, and crammed colorful flowering annuals into containers to go on decks and patios. container planted

In the first week of June, I am finally turning  my attention to the older parts of the garden, where time is running out to get weeds out and mulch in before plants are too large to work around. Last year, I learned that the compost I have been using to mulch my garden for the past several years, made by a local farm from a combination of shellfish waste and cow manure, has a pH higher (7.4) than most plants are happy with. This year, in search of an alternative, I decided to buy a leaf shredder and use a mixture of shredded leaves and compost to make a more pH-balanced mulch. For the past week, I’ve been getting out on dry days (still too few!) to get this done. I found a twenty-gallon plastic barrel with just the right diameter to hold my leaf shredder. I fill my wheelbarrow with raked leaves and then feed them into the shredder. Two wheelbarrow loads fill the barrel about three-quarters full of shredded leaves, which I then dump back into the wheelbarrow, mix (3 parts to 1) with compost, and spread between plants as mulch.

shredder shredded leaf mulch

My garden is still about a week behind its normal bloom schedule, but many plants are just bursting with buds. Later this week, our weather is expected to turn seasonably sunny and warm. When that happens, the plants will race to catch up. Within a week or two, it will be early summer in my garden. As the garden races from spring to summer, I am racing along with it, trying to complete my spring garden chores before it is too late.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2017 7:54 pm

    The slope garden looks especially nice. We were in Maine this past weekend for our college reunion. Although the weather was better than forecasted, it was still cold and rainy. That’s the way it has been here—it was cool and rainy all day today. But change comes later this week.

    • June 10, 2017 9:53 pm

      Carolyn, The difference in development between the plants on the side slope and the plants in the fragrant garden teaches me about the optimal time to install plants in my garden. The side slope was mostly planted at the beginning of September; those plants got a jump start on getting established before they went into dormancy and emerged in the spring looking like second-year plants. The Fragrant Garden plants were put in six-weeks later and didn’t get that jump-start; they still look like new plantings.

  2. June 5, 2017 11:45 pm

    Your new garden areas are really taking shape, Jean! I bet you’re sleeping well after those long days of work. I seem to be much busier in the garden this year than in years past – the downsides of all that rain we got this winter are weeds and rampant plant growth unlike anything I saw during the drought years.

    • June 10, 2017 9:58 pm

      Kris, I can imagine all those weed seeds lying dormant just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. We had a mast year for acorns this past year and the number of little oak seedlings that are sprouting in and around my garden is staggering. One night we had a heavy rain, and I counted about 30 oak seedlings in one small area the next morning!

  3. June 6, 2017 3:02 pm

    Hello Jean, I love the fresh green plants emerging from the new borders, they should fill out very quickly. Once they establish and knit together there’l be less and less weeding, thankfully!

    • June 10, 2017 10:00 pm

      Sunil, One advantage to putting in my new garden over a period of years is that it limits the area in that first year of explosive weed growth. By contrast, the porch and patio borders, which were planted two years ago, had very few weeds this year.

  4. June 8, 2017 7:01 pm

    Your gardens look very tidy and I love the rhododenrons!

    • June 10, 2017 10:02 pm

      Joanna, That pink rhododendron was a wild seedling that my mother’s next door neighbor dug up from the woods behind her house and that I planted to hold the soil in place on the slope when I first moved into this house more than 25 years ago. Now it is a dominating presence on the back slope and makes my heart sing each May when it blooms.

  5. June 12, 2017 7:12 am

    That is definitelty a plant to treasure!

  6. June 19, 2017 6:16 pm

    I can imagine that shredded leaf mulch as smelling delicious, and being a pleasure to walk thru as you garden.

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