Monday, April 23, 2018

Much to-do in the Garden


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's hard to believe, after the winter we've had, but I think spring has finally arrived here in New England. The dun brown lawn is starting to green up, and the narcissus are poking through the earth. We even have a few crocuses in one of the back beds. 

There are other plants emerging, which is where I run into my problem. Are they day lillys? Irises? Weeds? I don't know. The garden - and I use garden in the English sense here, because saying "property" sounds too grand - was my late husband's bailiwick. He spent hours out-of-doors every day during the summer, doing God-knows-what. (Some of it was definitely having a beer on the stone patio, which he laid.) My part was that of faithful handmaiden. I am good at pruning, weeding when the weeds are identified for me, raking and hauling a wheelbarrow around. The rest of what makes the perennial flowerbeds look good, and the blueberries, raspberries and grapes produce, is a mystery.

I have made up the following list of what I know needs to be done: 1) Pick up sticks. Between a succession of blizzards and several windstorms, the front and side yards are littered with everything
from minuscule twigs to branches bigger around than my arm.2) Cut back the forsythia. We have quite a lot, and it's a yearly fight to keep it from overwhelming the side yard.

3) Lay down tarps over the Japanese Knotweed before it starts growing. We've been slooooly pushing this invasive plant back over the past several years, but like the forsythia, you need to keep on top of it. There are several spots where I can't tarp over; those I'll pull up by hand as they emerge.
4) Rake out the flowerbeds. I think? We have several circular beds in the back with a mix of spring bulbs, day lillys, nicotiana and wildflowers like Indian paint brush and Queen Anne's Lace. The latter dries and falls over during the winter, so now everything looks like it's covered with straw. I get rid of that, right?

5) Later in May, when the last frost has passed, I need to get annuals for the front porch flowerbed. No idea what's going to go in there. Should it be mostly one color? A mix? Tall to short from back to front? Clearly, I need something like a paint-by-numbers guide, except with plants instead of paints.

So Reds, how about you? How are you getting the garden ready for spring? Planning anything new this season? And what would you suggest I put on my to-do list for outdoors?


DEBORAH CROMBIE: It has been so cold here! I know you
northerners are laughing at me, but normally we can put in tender plants by mid-March. Not this year! I finally planted my veggie buckets last Thursday, but am still having to cover them when it drops down into the 40s. And I have loads and loads of other stuff that has to be potted, impatiens and begonias and herbs, and a new David Austin rose--Gertrude Jekyll (a connection to the book-in-progress)-- that will have to go into the flowerbed. I'll have my yard guy help with that, but otherwise it's all me. Gardening in NOT Rick's thing...

Julia, are you doing veggies? I'm doing a garden in 5 gallon paint buckets. I got the idea from Lucy, actually from her tomatoes planted in buckets on her balcony in Key West. I have about 14 buckets with one plant each, on the south side of the house, but I can move them around if it actually gets too hot as the summer moves on. I'll let everyone know how it turns out.


JULIA: No veggies this year, Debs - I'm opting for a CSA share from my friends at Bumbleroot Farm. All the fresh taste, none of the weding.

INGRID THOFT: I live in a high rise in downtown Seattle and don’t have any personal outdoor space, which suits me just fine.  When we lived in Massachusetts, we had a yard and a pool, both of which required a lot of upkeep.  We enjoyed it at the time—I especially liked planting my containers each spring—but honestly?  We don’t miss the work.  I like to think of Pike Place Market as my garden:  The tulips arrived a few weeks ago.  The citrus is waning, and the mangoes are delicious.  The changing of seasons is evident by the bounties on display, and I don’t get dirt under my fingernails!

HALLIE EPHRON: Gardening gloves!

Everything here is sooo late. The forsythia has finally bloomed and
the quince is about to burst. Our Japanese andromeda is lush. We're having our first 50+ degree day just about since the fall. And I have two cheery pots of pansies bobbing their heads on the patio. Thx, Home Depot.

We've had a profusion of wildlife. Tons of birds and squirrels. A magnificent red fox and a powerful coyote whom we'd like to introduce to a pair of bunny rabbits, but they keep missing each another. It's a good thing those bunnies are cute, because otherwise they'd be extinct.

And of course the ants are back. Inside.

RHYS BOWEN: Alas, we live on a steep hill, surrounded by deer and jack-rabbits, AND we are away in Europe for much of the summer. So gardening is restricted to pulling weeds, picking lemons at the right time of year and smelling the lavender and rosemary which are the only things the deer won't eat. We do, however, make up for it with a lovely view and I plant annuals in pots on my deck when I am home....and dream of an English cottage garden!


JENN McKINLAY: Gardening is AZ is pretty much done for the season. My peach and plum trees will come to fruition in late May/early June and then we just slog through the summer to get to the other side, watering our sunflower patch for the rogue lovebirds in our neighborhood to chow on in August. If I want pumpkins for Oct, I need to plant them in July. 

Anything else we want to plant has to be down in February for a May harvest. I haven't done that since the Hooligans were youngsters. They loved digging in the garden, playing (and naming) the earthworms and the lady bugs. Now we have desert landscaping in the front of the house with pungent creosote, sage, and rosemary bushes. And the backyard is mostly lawn for the dogs with fruit trees and some yellow bells and plumbago thrown in for color. I love to be outside and I have loads of container plants on the patio that keep me busy without having the huge garden we used to maintain. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What a crazy year! This time last year, my tulips looked  like this. 

I know exactly when they bloom, because I always wind up at Malice when they are at peak. Not this year! Yikes!  They peeked up their first little shoots and zapped themselves right back underground. The crocuses  braved the cold and emerged, and flourished, but we re only just now getting the buds of daffodils and tulips. You can't even tell the colors yet. No lilacs, no forsythia, no magnolias.

I am girding for battle with the tulip-eating squirrels. I feel like Yosemite Sam, poised with a shotgun. We had them planted with chicken grit, something like that, that supposedly hurts the squirrels' paws when they try to dig up the bulbs. I put cayenne powder on the buds so it tastes terrible. and there's rat blood, too , that keeps them away.  Grrrr.

I dug up last years geraniums and put them in pots and kept them inside over the winter--they did fine, so we shall see when I can put them out.
And if I put out pots of pansies, they would instantly freeze to death.


JULIA: Rat's blood?!? I don't even want to know how you laid hold of that, Hank. How about you, dear readers? What are you doing for the onset of spring? Or, like Jenn, are you already done until fall? And what do you think I should be doing out there?

I had some lovely pictures of spring (including Hank's tulips!) but Blogger doesn't seem to like me today, and is not letting me post them. I'll try again later! 

52 comments:

  1. My gardening skill tends toward something like occasionally remembering that the plants like to be watered. On occasion, I manage to dump some water in the pots of white petunias on either side of the front door, but what I really want is for all the daffodils to finally bloom.

    The herb garden sits in its usual place on the front porch, which means after I’ve decided what I want to grow, John will plant everything and my efforts are largely relegated to showing up with gardening shears to collect whatever I need for whatever’s cooking in the kitchen.

    Fortunately for all those green and growing things, John has far more gardening sense than I, so when we’re off at Lowe’s and I’m looking at some plant I think would be just perfect in the side yard, it magically appears there and gets cared for, leaving me to simply enjoy its presence.

    As for the vegetable garden, my sole contribution is appreciating the fact that John regularly wanders into the kitchen with an armful of frying peppers . . . or tomatoes . . . or rhubarb . . . or . . . .

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    1. Joan, do you rent John out? I could use him around here!

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    2. John’s always amenable to helping; he says his biggest gardening issue these days is that there aren’t many bees around . . . .

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  2. Yes, cut back the forsythia, but wait until after it blooms. Don't worry about raking out the straw-stuff in the flowerbeds. It will return to the soil and may have seeds in it to sow for next year. Yes to the tall to short plants in the annual garden. Just go to your local nursery or garden center and find stuff you think looks pretty. There are no wrong answers in gardening, just better or worse places to plant things.

    And yes, yes, YES! to Hallie's suggestion of gardening gloves, only don't bother with those floppy cotton things that only get in your way. My gloves are serious work gloves (Huskies, from Home Depot) that protect my fingers from all the prickles on my roses.

    I am slowly, slowly building a front garden of native perennials, but I have to tell you that a) it's not what it should be yet and b) a good part of the fun is looking at pretty pictures of other people's gardens. I call it research. Also a yard guy is the best investment you can make. He will show up every week or so, do all the mowing and hedge-trimming for you, and maybe even advise you on stuff you can plant.

    Also, it's okay if you realize, after a year or two of trying to keep up, that gardening may not be your thing. That's when you plant hardy shrubs that need next to no care at all, and make it your yard, not a living tribute to your late beloved. That may be a hard one to wrap your mind around, but it's an option if you need it.

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    1. Good to keep in mind, Gigi. I always enjoyed working with Ross in the garden. Being out there on my own... I don't know.

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    2. Gigi, and Julia, look online for my very favorite gardening gloves. It's a company called Foxglove, and they have some very nice stretchy gloves with silicone palms and fingers that keep the dirt out of your nails (you can wash them as often as you like). And they have elbow-length gauntlets tough enough to protect from rose thorns (and all the noxious and prickly weeds we have in Kentucky, like horse nettle and teasel). These are also washable, and both types let your hands breathe. Worth their weight in gold.

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    3. Karen, I'm checking these out too!

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  3. No advice here - I'm the original black thumb - stuff grows in my yard because this is Florida. In Maine, it grows because, well, wildflowers grow everywhere! I do miss my peonies and columbine though. Love them both.

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  4. Hank, pansies are very hardy. I've had a pot on the deck since Easter and it's fine. Jenn and Rhys, I can smell those fragrant dry-climate herbs from here! Julia, ask your local garden center about your porch annuals - they'll have good ideas.

    I'm on the New Hampshire border one town in from the coast, and our forsythia is about to pop. I need to rake and spread finish compost on the asparagus bed, and fill my new raised (like three feet raised) bed with soil and compost and plant greens, and trim off old perennial stalks - but I have this damn boot on my foot. The stress fracture doesn't hurt when the boot is on, but it's very inconvenient. And I also live with a non-gardener! Ah, well, this might be the year to let stuff slide.

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    1. Let it slide! Last year, we got no gardening done, other then putting in the annuals - and that was the work of my mom and a kind friend. I don't see any difference this spring, other than the forsythia overgrowth - although I have to admit NOT being able to work in garden drove Ross crazy - you may find it the same.

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    2. Edith, we ate our first asparagus last night. It was delicious.

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  5. Yes Edith, you may have to let some of it go this year! I'm on the road so didn't have a chance to add, but we have been talking about what to plant in Connecticut. We have astonishing strawberries, if we can keep the critters away, and asparagus. We'll plant tomatoes and peppers and leeks and green beans and okra for sure!

    On our little deck in Key West, we had 3 huge pots of tomatoes, one pepper, mint, and rosemary. Somehow these giant tomato hornworms found us, so it was a battle for a while....at least the woodchucks were cute! Hornworms, not so much...

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  6. I'm raking, raking, raking! Mostly stones from the driveway, but leaves and sticks and other debris too. It seems to be too soon to tell what things survived the winter and what did not. I think I see some tiny signs of life on my blueberry bushes, but not anything on the raspberries. Best news of all - last week I noticed I had a crocus! I also have daffodil and narcissus leaves but that's it.

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  7. Julia, you already know what to do. As Gigi said, wait on the forsythia until after it blooms. Call a few of your "if you ever need anything" friends and neighbors and ask for a perennial person to ID what's in your bed, and mark it (plastic plant labeling sticks and a sharpie). For your annual bed, determine how many hours of sunlight it gets. Annuals are labeled "sun" and "partial sun." Have fun! Read the labels to determine front, middle, and rear bed placement. My mother used to plant her tulip bulbs in metal cages, which would save the bulbs over the winter, but not the foliage and flower, once the rabbits found them.

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    1. Julia, yes, Margaret's suggestions are great. And I'll bet you have a gardening friend who help you pick things out for those front beds. We have mostly native perennials in our beds, and iris (I gave up on tulips years ago because of the blankety-blank squirrels.) But I do MANY pots on the deck and the front porch. Usually some of the plants over-winter, but not this year, so I am completely starting from scratch.

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  8. It’s very warm today, 50 or so! Can you believe it? :-) So I wonder if things will start popping today… I will keep you posted! So amazing how everything just comes out all at once, you know? Walking down the street yesterday I could smell hyacinths. So lovely! I love to bring the hyacinths inside… They smell so springy ..

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  9. This turns out to have been providential - as I pulled out of the drive this morning to take Youngest to school, I saw several of our daffodils and narcissus had bloomed!

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  10. Blogger just ate a comment. Grrr.

    Julia, could your daughters help? Recent studies determined that gardening is a soothing and calming activity. Almost everyone benefits from it, in some way. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment is wonderful.

    I spent a couple hours last night before dinner cleaning up old dried out stuff from the beds, and weeding the day before. You can leave the dead leaves as a mulch, you know, which saves on weeding later, as long as the leaves are not from oak trees.

    We, or I should say I, am in the third year of a project to yank up and eradicate all the English ivy around the house. I foolishly encouraged it, and it wants to take over. We are arm wrestling each other for dominance. I'm winning battles, but losing the war, I'm afraid. Never plant English ivy, is my advice.

    Our hyacinth is done, and now the daffodils, tulips, redbud and flowering almonds are in full swing. The viburnums are opening now, so fast you can also see them popping open. Their fragrance is divine, too.

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    1. Don't plant ivy OR mint! I only put mint in metal containers.

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    2. I've let the mint take over a good part of the south side of house bed, where I also have lavender and rosemary. It does go a bit wild in the spring, but buy midsummer it's hot that even the mint dies back:-) This is the bed where I'm putting my bucket vegetable garden, among the mint and lavender. Smells heavenly.

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    3. I bet it does, Debs! My mom had a backyard full of naturalized rosemary in Ventura, CA, just south of Santa Barbara, and orange trees. It was bliss to go visit.

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  11. Another black thumb here, but this year here in western Maine there are still no apple blossoms or forsythia. Heck, the ice isn’t even out yet on the town pond! I just hope the forget-me-nots, which originally came from my mom and have come up on their own every spring since 1978, made it through the winter. No sign of them yet. Usually I leave for Malice just when all these things that blossom by themselves are at their prettiest.

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  12. Warm here today, too, and daffodils (plural--for a while I wasn't sure there'd be more than one) are blooming--the tulips are up around the back patio--and the maples are budding. But Julia, what everyone else has said--but I'd stress, get help--if you decide you'd like to maintain the gardens because they give you pleasure--then ask around and find someone who can keep it growing for you. With a broken arm (my left and I'm left-handed) that took a whole summer to heal, followed by three seasons of full-summer fieldwork, everything got out of hand here--so now I'm slowly letting go of what was there and trying to establish outdoor projects that are doable for me realistically.

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  13. We are promised 79 degrees today! The forsythia has started to bloom and there are big buds on the rhodies. The dogwood will pop in another week unless it turns cold again. We, and for that you may read "Julie", are working on adding more and more perennials plus things like pansies that come up year after year and four o'clocks that we introduced last year. We also have an insidious and beautiful little nuisance, Houttuynia_cordata, that is happily taking over the rock garden, is beautiful, blooms all summer and smells like oranges. We are so don with bedding plants.

    It took me about sixty years to realize that what I enjoy is having gardened, not the work itself.. I like the part where I stretch out in a gravity lounger with a good book and a cold drink. Julie has taken over more of the hard parts, and this weekend our Mr Guck the gardener arrived to clean out and mulch, tidy up and haul away. He repaired a few boxes for the raised beds, and all summer he will keep up mowed and trimmed and whatever else we want.

    I call him the Constant Gardener.

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  14. I'm a non-gardener, and every time I admit that it feels like I should be a part of a support group like AA. "Hi, my name is Kathy and I'm a non-gardener." Oh, the guilt. I have some things that bloom annually in the yard, but that's it. However, hubby and I were talking yesterday about having a small vegetable garden when he retires, so who knows, I might yet be converted.

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  15. Julia, I have a suggestion ~~https://extension.umaine.edu/gardening/. This will link you the Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard from the University of ME. They have online experts who are there to help! Obviously, living in Florida I haven't got a clue about your Maine plants. These days my gardening consists of tracking down someone pushing a lawn mower and hirin' 'em on the spot. Enjoy the spring! I miss it.

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    1. Great idea, Coralee! Thank you.

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    2. Good call, Coralee!

      Julia, the state extension offices have gobs of helpful information, between the agents and their published materials. Also, they often have free classes, depending on the location.

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  16. I posted several pictures taken over the weekend of Spring in our Portland garden. ( www.tipthewink ) we’re having lovely weather just now.

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    1. And now that I’ve read through the other comments...

      Our Forsythia has been done for a while also the Crocuses and Daffodils. The Lilacs are budded up now, the Rhododendrons are budded and/or blooming, the ferns unfurling, the Beebalm is shooting up and will need pinching by the weekend. Suddenly everything is bursting with Spring energy.

      Your list: don’t pick up the smaller twigs, leave them for birds to use in nest building. For the circular beds, and elsewhere, put down compost to improve the soil. It gets done every year. I’ll repeat what others have said about the Forsythia, don’t prune until it’s done blooming. Tall back to front, or just tall and short in groups. I like to put a few tall things near or at the front so I can get close to see and smell them. We plant our annuals in a raised bed, mixed between perennials. If you want easy, put in some perennial grasses, pretty ones with nice tassels, such as Karl Forester, or Japanese Forest Grass. Most of all, just make a place you can enjoy!

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    2. That should have been www.tipthewink.net

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    3. Rick, I hadn't thought of ornamental grasses, and I should - I love the way they look. As long as they don't escape and take over the yard...

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    5. Neither of the grasses will do that, Julia, they are both well behaved.

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  17. Julia, I keep reading more and more about how important it is for us to be outside everyday. Of course, I think we all know this instinctively, but it's very nice of science to back us up. It's healing and stress relieving and all those good things. But I tried to find the things that you enjoy. It maybe putting some annuals in pots rather than taking on big projects.

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  18. Oh, and I just wanted to add to the squirrel comments from the blog. We have a couple of huge native pecan trees, so we have a plague of squirrels, they not only dig up bulbs from the beds, they dig up all my flower pots on the deck, and sometimes hit the front porch, too. I've tried everything! I even bought some "critter repellent" that was supposed to deter squirrels, and they LOVED it. I've taken to grinding black pepper all over the plant and any exposed dirt every night. (Cayenne and red pepper flakes had no affect, but they seem to be a tiny bit put off by the black pepper, but that only lasts for part of a day.)

    Oh, and I had lovely cyclamens in pots on the deck dining table--they ate every single plant down to the dirt. Grrr. Anyway have suggestions?

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    1. My mom used to trap the squirrels in humane traps and release them in City Parks far away from her house. We used to tease her that the squirrels would run the phone lines and be home before her.

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    2. our neighbor squirrels have noticed we don't have a pecan tree. they keep planting pecans in our flowerbeds.

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  19. It's been too cold to do anything in Pittsburgh. We'll have annuals for the front eventually. I learned last year The Girl likes plants, so I'll draft her into helping me again. I gave up on our tulips - deer find them delicious. And something happened to pretty much decimate my rose bushes, so I have to figure out if I want to replace them or what.

    But the forsythia in the neighborhood is finally blooming and I see green buds on the neighbors' lilac bush. And the blooms are out in the church gardens.

    The vegetable beds were in dire need of repair this year. Plus we've put in a lot of work over the last few years with little reward - so we pulled them out. Now we just have mounds of dirt (how to get rid of those) and I'm sure we'll get a bunch of "volunteer" plants. We're going with herbs in pots on the deck this year. Any suggestions?

    Mary/Liz

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  20. I used to grow tomatoes, impatiens, violets, pansies in pots on my deck. Then life (and orthopedic issues) got in the way. But I'm retiring soon, and should have a little more free time, and I want to slowly get back to my deck gardening. I've decided I will do one tomato plant, and I plan to buy already-planted flowers. We'll see what happens from there.

    DebRo

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  21. Though I am not a gardener, I always enjoy other people's beautiful gardens.

    Diana

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  22. It’s 95 in central AZ today. I am feeling rather wilted and so are my plants. I envy those of you who throw off the shackles winter and embrace spring. We have two seasons warm summer and hot summer. And summer is a coming!

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  23. Our satsuma tree bloomed and it smelled and looked wonderful. The star jasmine is blooming now. Ditto to it. The gardenia bush survived. The magnolia is blooming. Almost everything in my side yard is gone, thanks to heavy-footed workmen and several hard freezes. We'll see what manages to come back up. Fingers crossed for my Carnation of India. I don't plan to do anything out there right now. Maybe my mood will bounce back and I'll fix things later.

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  24. I just came in the house from 3 hours of weeding, so I'm right there with you! We took our lawn out 3 years ago in the depths of the drought and thought we put in a low maintenance yard. Ha! But right now my citrus trees are in bloom and it smells heavenly, so I guess it's worth it. Thank heavens for teenaged neighbors who will do yard work to pay for new mountain bikes or we'd need a machete to hack a path to the grill!

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  25. When my dad died many years ago, I took over the garden. He did mostly vegetables and annuals but I changed it over the years to perennials, annuals (mostly in pots), herbs and one tomato plant. Last year the squirrels took bites out of green tomatoes so I had to bring them in green which didn't do much for the taste. If that happens again, it's farmers' market for tomatoes.

    My crocus and daffodils are over. The tulips and grape hyacinths are blooming now. I just cut back my switchgrass "Shenandoah", Russian sage, and spiraea "Goldflame".

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  26. The Callas bloomed nicely all over the complex, but I shouldn't pick any since I didn't plant them. I miss the flowering quince that was in my former backyard, it always was a great indicator of Spring. This year I'll be putting plants in pots of I ever take the time to find some nice plants that like the shade.

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