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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Spring ascending

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I spent last weekend in northern New York, on Lake Champlain which is over-full with rain, a 40-mile long lake, over-full but the trees were just budding.

I drove north from the sweet scent of lilac to the essence of expectation, apple orchards are a haze of pastels, just a hint of what’s to come, changing daily, rain and sun. As I drove north I was thinking about time with my mom and dinner out and the day was clouded so I failed to notice the point along the route where emerged leaf became tiny bud.

As I drove home it remained only buds, at least, until the lower Hudson Valley where rain began and I noted that the apple trees were in blossom. As the trip continued green emerged and it was really interesting to drive through spring. It was dark by the time I got home but my eyes were dazzled by fireflies against rain-heavy leaves, sparkling seemingly as big as Tinkerbell and this morning’s dawn reveals the vibrant green of new life, unfurling foliage.

Early morning walk in the woods engulfed by the cloying fragrance of autumn olive the long, whip-like arms of which were bedecked with blossoms and heavy with captured rain, unfortunately filling the understory of the woodlands around my house, part of a preserved segment of land. Only part of the woods is dominated by these Eleagnus umbellata [el-ee-AG-nus um-bell-AY-ta] fortunately for natives that are often crowded out by the fast-growing invader from Eastern Asia that can reach heights of 20 feet as a shrub.

After the tiny yellowish blossoms fade the small, reddish fruit swells into being, a single bush known to produce as much as eight pounds of berries enjoyed by birds who then gladly plant more. I know a woman who makes fruit leather from the berries.

The first use in this country was as an ornamental then it was planted specifically for food and shelter for wildlife, and then it took over. The most effective control is to dig it out during its youth, cutting back a plant just encourages it.

There are many native plants that will feed and shelter wildlife while acting as larval hosts for beneficial: the winterberry (Ilex verticillata); highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) – lease do not put a net over such a feast for birds, they get caught in it and die; inkberry (Ilex glabra) a nice evergreen shrub with blueberries; northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin); shadbush (Amelanchier arborea), also known as the serviceberry; Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) and more.

Most of these specimens can be seen and acquired at local native plant nurseries such as Gino’s on Route 232 in Wrightstown next door to the farmer’s market, which has begun its summer Saturday mornings by the municipal building. Delicious locally grown vegetables, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and free-range chicken eggs are among the offerings. Dogs are welcome and entertainment options are usually present for children while musicians fill the air with song.

This Saturday, May 11, a Garden Festival will be happening in New Jersey at Gravity Hill Farm at 67 Pleasant Valley Road in Titusville, N.J. It is just south of Lambertville off Route 29. I am sure this weekend and those to come will be filled with fun events and the weather is perfect for planting. I think we have had our last frost but you never know, I would probably hold off on any really tender annuals.

In the garden continue to deadhead daffodils and tulips while leaving foliage to reabsorb. Trim back spring-flowering shrubs after the blooms fade and before they set next season’s buds. By now it is probably obvious which stems of your hydrangea are alive and well and which can be cut back. The Hydrangea paniculata (tree form) does well with heavy pruning now.

Enjoy the changes.


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