During my first spring workday in the garden this weekend, my perennial garden received a major cleanup and haircut. It looks quite barren but for the snowdrops, crocus and the green tips of daffodils poking up. Cutting back the grasses is the hard part. I’ve enjoyed their taupy forms all winter and now they look a bit like stumps. Over the years I have figured out the easiest way (quickest cleanup) to cut them back is to tie up all the grassy blades with a bungy cord and use my hedge trimmers to cut the bundle in one level sweep. On the Highline garden in NYC the crews have been working since the last snow melted and the first little species tulips (Tulipa turkestanica) are blooming among these grassy “stumps”.
As the weather warms in late winter it is time to evaluate what damage the season has done to flowering shrubs and trees and an ideal time for pruning any dead, diseased and damaged stems or branches in the garden. As a reward, I often cut some branches for forcing into flower indoors. Forsythia is the simplest to force into bloom indoors at any time during the winter. But my favorite are the branches of the Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). After bringing them indoors I recut the branches and also make a vertical cut into the stem. I then arrange them immediately into a vase of warm water making sure to change the water regularly during the several weeks it takes before the flower buds open.
On todays rainy day, I fondly remember spending most of my summer on the sandy, arid terrain of Cape Cod, MA. A welcome respite from manicured lawns and perennial gardens are the wildness of protected seashore and marshland.
Cape Cod’s milder winter climate and its nutrient poor, fast-draining soil allow a lot of plants to succeed over those in my New Jersey garden (think rosemary, 20 ft privet hedges, yuccas, etc). Ideal for plants native to the Mediterranean region it is no surprise to encounter the family-owned lavender farm in Harwich, MA. Visiting a few weeks past the final harvest did not diminish the olfactory experience of the surroundings.