Nancy Goodwin, whose gardens at Montrose are known throughout the Southeast and beyond, once remarked to me that spring was such a cruel season. The longer I garden the more accurate her statement becomes.
Right now as I write this, snow is coming down, covering my blooming camellias and an early emerging hosta. The temperatures are hovering around freezing, threatening to dip as low as 28 degrees, forgetting the 70 degrees we had several days ago.
While I want to fuss at my hosta — the only one to reappear at this time, accusing it for being a silly hosta that can’t wait until respectable temperatures have returned, I can’t really fault it because this feckless weather has also tricked me all too often. 70° temperatures beguile me into thinking that perhaps winter really is gone, perhaps it is time to really dig into the soil.
And digging into the soil is what I really want to do. By late fall I’m tired of summer and the constant demands the plants make. Starting around January I begin to dream about the roses and by March I’m concentrating on plants that will get along with the roses — how can I wait any longer?
However, Nature is not about to admit that gardens are natural — in fact she does everything to prove that gardens go against her will. She sends up winter weeds: Chickweed produces the most innocent flowers that allow this annual to return year after year. The Carolina geranium — not to be confused with the hardy geranium — is a nasty, pervasive winter weed that happily settles in my garden.
Nature’s capriciousness extends, of course, to the weather as it fluctuates from 70° to below freezing. To complicate matters more, sometimes the final frost occurs two weeks before the final frost date but it’s been known to have a final frost three days after the final frost date. The moral of this spring story is this: Don’t be tempted to put out the annuals and tender perennials until after the final frost date — it will eventually arrive I promise.
So what is a determined gardener supposed to do? Some hardy plants can go in early while others have to wait. Bare root roses can be planted earlier than potted roses. On the whole, my advice is to wait until that final frost date has passed. It’s hard to wait but covering new plants with blankets is not much fun for either you or the plants.
One aspect of gardening that has helped my impatience is starting seeds indoors. The Click and Grow planters have worked for me and there is something magical about planting a seed in a container, only to see it sprout and become a plant. This year I am starting some African marigolds and coleus in this manner.
I could wait and go to the big box store to purchase these African marigolds but a sprouting seed in my kitchen at least gives me the feeling that I can garden. It somehow brings out the mother hen in me.
Meanwhile there are several things you can do before real spring planting commences. For goodness sake, get rid of those garden weeds. Above all, don’t permit them to flower. Clean up the garden. Get rid of those sodden masses of leaves and broken branches. Tidy up your garden as you tidy up your house.
The one thing you cannot do is to try to fool Mother Nature: She will win every time.
Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn are contributing columnists. Absent from their gardens, they enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of innovation and horticulture. More on Twitter @AbsenteGardener or email: email@example.com.