The Garden Life: Take garden into the warm embrace of spring

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist


photoRobb Rosser

Once again, with the help of my garden writers' group, I took a look back to the spring of 2004. What I remember most about that time was the impact that maturity had on the look of my garden. I had been in my house for more than 10 years and the plants I added to the garden were finally showing the stature of mature trees, shrubs, groundcovers and perennials. The picture I envisioned was coming into focus and spring held me firmly in its grasp.

In my youth, all references to spring fever seemed to hint at love. Nowadays, I can't seem to get my mind out of the garden. In many ways the feeling is still the same: an antsy, restless anticipation. A longing for who knows what; a halting need for the onset of a new adventure. We want something to happen, but on venturing into the garden we are overwhelmed by the metamorphosis going on around us.

Spring fever has its ups and downs; it comes and goes. We fall into the tempo of our variable Northwest weather. We take one step forward (a sunny day) and give the lawn its first feeding, high in nitrogen for green color and strong growth, then we take two steps back (a week of rain and gray skies), and the lawn mower can't keep up with the pace of growing grass. One thing we know we want to do is clean away all traces of winter.

Imagining the garden through visitors' eyes is helpful at this time of year. See your garden from the perspective of someone coming up the driveway, parking, getting out of the car and coming to the front door. Your list of things to do could begin with something as simple as cleaning the front porch. Sweep it down and make sure any pots or planters give the first impression you'd like them to give. It's all about new growth and fresh seasonal color.

Just as the days begin to warm, the to-do list grows at an equal pace. The ardent gardener goes out to plant a petunia, and ends up on hands and knees for two hours pulling weeds. Until a sense of discipline returns, you just have to take advantage of the first thing you see and get it done. My latest mantra is, "Do what needs to be done where you are when you're there." Carry pruners with you and when you see a shrub with dead twigs and branches, prune them back to good wood. If a vine is taking off, give it the direction and support it needs.

While you're doing these odds and ends, you will come to see what else needs to be done to get the garden back in shape. As existing perennials emerge, fill in large gaps with complementary-colored annuals. Create a different mood with a new color scheme. Take a chance; go for a combination of colors and plants you have always wanted to try. Combine cool pinks and blues with a hint of confident yellow, or mix hot reds, yellows and oranges with a backdrop of deep blue. Plant any summer-blooming bulbs you have purchased.

The pink and white blossoms of flowering cherries fade as the more intense pink and white bleeding hearts emerge in full flower. The onset of spring refuses to stay in one place and so we hurry to catch up even as we begin our gardening season. If it was a hot afternoon in late summer, and the lawn had just been mowed, all of these feelings could be taken care of with a short nap, but it's May and the garden is begging for us to snap out of it and get back to work.

One morning you'll just happen to find yourself out working in the garden. Go ahead; dig right in. Get your fingers dirty and the knees of your pants muddy. There is a point in spring when both the gardener and the garden get past their winter differences and come together. The fever has passed. We wake up one morning knowing what we want to do for the rest of the day and for the coming summer. Maybe all the encouragement any of us needed was to let the feeling of the garden take us back in its warm, spring embrace.