Spring Carries On

img crabappleThe yard is so beautiful right now, it’s a pleasure to be out there even if pulling garlic mustard. Petals of crabapples and pears drift down on me while I kneel, and it’s only by getting down to ground level that I see all the wonderful, desirable things muscling their way up. I know I planted some of them in the fall, but many of my markers have been heaved up by frost or hoofed up by deer, so I’ll just have to wait and see what’s where.

img lamium


I always try to get something else to establish when I pull out garlic mustard, and some of what I planted has turned out to be excellent at holding undesirables at bay: nepeta and lamium especially. Nepeta is called catmint, but my cat has informed me that the variety I’m growing is not catnip as she knows it. Lamium is called deadnettle, but I ask you, would you ever willingly plant something called deadnettle? It’s too lovely for that name.

My third confusing, but flourishing, groundcover is plumbago. In Pasadena, plumbago was a fairly tall shrub with thick clusters of pale blue flowers, which did like to sprawl but was definitely not a ground cover. It was also definitely not cold hardy – in our quindecennial frosts it either died back or died altogether, depending on how well it was rooted. How could they sell plumbago in Michigan? It turns out there is a variety called ceratostigma plumbaginoides, which is cold-hardy. It is also delightful, coming up just when needed to cover the fading daffodil leaves, and having deep blue flowers in summer and bright red leaves in fall. It’s hard to believe the two plumbagos are related. Taken together with the catmint that’s not catnip and the deadnettle that’s not dead nor nettley, I’m wondering what they were smoking when they named all these plants.

Meanwhile in the upstairs window, img tomato seedlingsthe tomato plants have started waving at me over the tops of their milk cartons: hello! Over here, person who calls herself a gardener! So I thinned them to one plant per container, and filled in around their stems with more dirt, almost to the cartons’ brims. They look happier now.


This weekend Doug took the chainsaw to the fallen trees, sliced them into fireplace lengths, and disengaged their tangled tops so they would no longer trap and protect the oncoming garlic mustard. Meanwhile, he was not the only woodworker on the premises. I went to the garage for some tools and caught the woodchuck in the act of, well, chucking wood. She was shredding the wooden molding at the base of the garage door, making good progress on ripping an entrance for herself. She ran away when she saw me, zipping right under the deck. Great. A nesting woodchuck. I sprayed some deer/rabbit repellent around the garage door, hoping she will find the smell of it as repellent as I do. Then I called the other resident woodworker over for a consultation; he said the woodchuck was nowhere near getting inside. Yet.

As of today she hasn’t been back to work on the garage, but this reminded me to check the garden fence for security breaches. I found a few. Some of them might, charitably, be blamed on weather or rust, but really most of them looked deliberate. Too small for the woodchuck, and though there’s no shortage of garden-loving critters around here, I wondered if these were failed attempts at making a bigger opening.

The possible prize growing in the garden right now is a double row of tulips. bunny tulip 2This is an experiment. It was suggested to me that, since the tomato beds are protected by the garden fence and are empty from fall through spring, I could plant tulips there and cut them for bouquets. The tulips would be done when I needed the beds for my tomato plants.

The fly in this ointment would be the squirrels, which parachute into the garden at will and sometimes eat tulips, sometimes not. Just to keep us on our toes. I’ve been watching the tulips carefully so I can beat out the squirrels. Today I gathered my first three tulips. I cut them, though some people pull them up bulb and all, which makes a pretty display in a glass vase. But I’ve noticed the squirrels are attracted by disturbed ground – no doubt hoping to steal some other squirrel’s newly-buried treasure – and since they’ve ignored the tulips so far, why risk drawing attention to them? Move along, squirrels. Nothing’s happening here.


It’s a season of overlap in the yard now. The beginnings of things wanted and unwanted come up together in the woods and need to be sorted out. Garlic mustard, low to the ground and hard to pull, mingles with the much-desired nepeta. Tiarella hides under mystery weeds. Forsythia throws its yellow arms across a mess of nettles.

This year there’s an added layer of confusion due to our huge windstorm: the remains of the broken tree, sawed randomly by Edison to get it off the wire, were dropped in tangled chunks onto what was then a lot of dead mulchy leaves. But soon that spot will be an arena for ferns and lilies-of-the-valley to fight their way through skunk cabbage and motherwort. I want very much to weigh in on the fern and lily side of that argument, but the interlaced arms and fingers of the fallen treetop are really going to be in my way.

I didn’t know the name of the weed called motherwort until about half an hour ago. It wasn’t something I had to deal with in my Pasadena garden, and though I’ve learned a few names – garlic mustard, stinging nettle – from the common complaints of other gardeners here, this plant was still anonymous to me. So, what was it?

It turns out when you google “Michigan weed finder” you get a list of marijuana dispensaries in the state. But, like a true weed, I persevered, and “noxious” weed finder did the trick. Some of the finders supplied were pretty useless – the latin name? If I knew the latin name, would I be searching through the traits in your plant finder? It seemed hopeless until I remembered it had a square stem, so it was probably some kind of mint. After a brief detour through money management and the history of coinage, there it was, mystery solved: motherwort. Sounds vaguely insulting. It’s said to have medicinal properties. If anyone would like to gather several dozen bushels of it for their health, please let me know.

Here They Come

Looks like nothing’s happening as I walk into the room, but a peek down into the milk cartons reveals that the tomato seeds have been busy in their cozy new dirt homes. Hello, tomato plantlets, waving your cotyledons at me! Here Come the TomatoesSpring is here; can bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches be far behind? Well, yes, but not very far behind.

Since I can never believe all the seeds will sprout, I have planted two or three to a carton and when they get a little bigger I will have to thin them. This will make me sad for a bit, but a gardener is always making judgements: thou shalt live; thou shalt die; thou art a weed; thou art worthy of a place at the table. Not to mention interlopers causing trouble. No wonder our creation story starts us out in a garden.

In Pasadena we had a killing frost about once every 15 years, so the tomato plants would keep right on going through the fall. Being lovers of heat and light, they were a sad and scraggly lot come December; and being annuals, they had exhausted themselves by then. It was hard to face that I had to pull them up, but the fruit they bore in winter had sunk to a hothouse-like ghost of its former glory. I gave them an honored place in my tiny compost pile, and in turn they nourished the next year’s crop.

I have also started some basil indoors, and will sow some directly outside. This is a ploy to keep it coming, since I use it as a landscaping plant and therefore let it flower and go to seed. The flower stalks of basil are really lovely and very attractive to bees, so it’s a shame not to let them go; but then it’s a shame not to have any more fresh basil to eat. Planting successive waves of it satisfies both the landscape and the kitchen.