Hello, May

forsythiaThings have brightened up considerably in the last two weeks. The forsythia have thickened up, and though temperatures are still skidding around like Olympic slalom wipeouts, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The sun is up and working before I am in the morning, and didn’t set last night till about 8:30.  Brightness rules.

b daffsThe early daffodils finally shook themselves out, and the less-early pink ones have joined them. Once again the flower buds of the grape hyacinths were nearly all nipped off before they could get an inch off the ground. This is apparently a rabbit delicacy. Since it’s only the flower bud, the plants come back every year. Alas, so do the rabbits. Although yesterday morning the neighbor’s outdoor cat, Mac, went sauntering across my backyard with a very young bunny in his mouth. Whenever Mac ventures into Zerlina’s sightlines, she throws a hissy fit. Cats, you know, invented hissy fits. But she was sleeping by the front window this time, so he escaped being chastised for poaching.

b robinMac mostly sticks to the back yard. Meanwhile in the front yard, the birdbath sits near Zerlina’s window. She and I both like to watch it. Either I have lots of robins that like to bathe, or I have one robin that really, really likes to bathe. Here he is all puffed up from just having hopped out and taken a good shake. The cardinal, the mourning dove, the goldfinches, house finches, and chickadees also drink and bathe, but I’d say there’s a proportion of at least four or five robin-baths to each non-robin bath.

weeping cherryFollowing the daffodils, the weeping cherry’s blooming now, too. This is the tree with the giant scar down the whole trunk, from a lightning strike before our time here. Every winter it loses another chunk of branch and we think, that’s it; every spring it comes back. It’s a favorite of bees, and the natural pruning process has given it many twisty angles that are popular sites for bird nests.

tomato windowYou can see it again in the tomato photo. The seedlings are doing much better than they did last year, for no reason I can come up with. It’s still going to be two or three weeks before our last frost means they can go outside, so Doug cut some dowels for me and I staked them. They also have a better than average survival rate, so I will be giving some away. Not too many, though. I can never have enough tomatoes.

Spring Drags her Feet

b chionodoxaIt’s been wet, cold, and windy, and my bulbs and flowering trees are a good two weeks behind schedule. The chionodoxa are coming out but the daffodils, even the early varieties, are holding back.

b indoor tomatoI did scrounge up bigger pots for the seedling tomatoes upstairs, giving them all room to stretch their toes indoors while it warms up outside. Downstairs, the Cobra greenhouse tomatoes are just starting to get that little sheen that comes before ripening.

b deer yummiesWhile I was rearranging seedlings in the upstairs window, I looked down on what appeared to be off-season practice for Santa’s sled-pullers. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but they’re on the edge of a swale along the roadside. What they found there was either extra delicious or the only thing growing yet, because they stayed at it until an approaching car made them scatter. At which point they all ran in different directions, including straight at the car, which fortunately did not veer into the swale. Once they were gone I went out to see what the Deer Yummy was, so I could avoid planting any of it. Moss.

b sundialIt was drier and more pleasant outside today. We set up my sundial on the new plinth Doug made for it. You can’t use a watch to set up your sundial, especially not in Ann Arbor, which sits well to the west in its time zone. Clock time jumps an entire hour every 1000 miles or so, but the sun doesn’t hop like that. It’s on a nice, smooth roll (or rather, the turning earth is). Then there’s Daylight Savings time, which means nothing to a sundial. You need to line up the gnomon on a sundial with true north, which is not the same as magnetic north. You can get true north by pointing at the North Star, but not in the afternoon. You can put a plant stake in the ground, watch for its shadow to show the sun directly overhead, and line up your sundial for noon. Neither of these methods work on a day full of dancing clouds. So I hover with my watch, and in a fleeting flash of sunlight  subtract about 40 minutes for the time zone and another hour to get back to Standard Time, and twist the sundial into agreement. Will have to consult with stars and shadows when the weather clears up.

b forsythia and dark skyMeanwhile, I realized that my forsythia was blooming while mostly obscured by the plumes of last summer’s zebra grass. Since native solitary bees hibernate in the tall stalks of the grass, I don’t cut them down until a few things are flowering for the bees. Doug came out with the electric hedge trimmer and gave the zebra grass a buzzcut. I spread the fallen stalks around, unchopped, in case any bees were sleeping late. The forsythia was gorgeous against the moody sky.

Progress Report

b later helleboresMichigan Spring continues making fun of itself. We had a run of 60 degree days interrupted by 30 degree days, but the plants in the yard took all this in stride. The hellebores are very happy.

b tulips emergingDoug and I took advantage of a warm day to inspect the fenced garden. The tulips, safe from deer, are getting ready to provide bouquets for me. We found several broken places in the chickenwire that need replacing, and the clematis trellis was tilted at an alarming angle. I cut the autumn clematis to the ground, leaving three or four strong-looking stems at about 15 inches high, and we righted the trellis. Don’t try this with a spring bloomer, or you’ll be removing flowerbuds. Autumn clematis blooms on the new growth it produces in the summer.

b benchDoug had patched up my garden bench as needed over the years, but for my birthday he built me a new one. It spent the winter in the basement, waiting for its moment to emerge into the sunlight like a big wooden butterfly. We brought it upstairs in three pieces, and he assembled it on the spot. It is shiny and glorious, and now sports a few appropriate objects. Also the spare propane tank for the grill, which has to live somewhere.

b snow flowersThen another round of snow appeared, wet and fragile but snow nonetheless. It looked very like flowers on the hedges outside my window.

b tomato babyOn the inside of the same window, the Cobra greenhouse tomato seedlings are four feet tall and blooming. Since there’s no wind and no bugs – or, no suitable bugs – inside the house, I help the flowers set fruit by tickling them. They like that. One infant tomato has already appeared.

b tomato seedlingsThe outdoor tomatoes are doing well in their new experimental trays. They look droopy here, but it’s because I’d just turned the trays. The plants had developed a severe lean toward the glass in an unexpectedly short time — I have to remember to rotate them more frequently. I’m used to growing them in those big cardboard milk cartons, letting them get pretty big before they go outside. I can see that in these smaller circumstances they’re likely to run out of rootspace before outside time comes. I’ll need to scrounge up some bigger containers, and maybe start them later next year.