Moving toward April ...

Notes from the Garden

The asparagus tips are pushing through the cold, damp soil. The maple trees are unfurling their leaves. The fuzzy white sword fern fronds are straightening their backs and starting to show some tender green as they reach for the sky. The solitary crocus blooms that announced the new spring season have vanished and the daffodils have done yeoman duty this year in announcing the end of winter.

Now the deciduous trees are filling our garden spaces with hazy new growth, and today it looks as though the lilacs will soon be filling our gardens with their perfumed blooms.

We dream toward the early summer harvests. Fresh salads, tender radishes, arugula for that peppery hit, and we long for the early raspberries and luscious strawberries. This is a time for extreme patience. We are given a warm, soft sunny day between the March gales, and despite any sort of internal wisdom, we move viscerally into warm, productive summer days. But a March though lurks - perhaps we should abandon preparing our productive gardens and run to the slopes for that last sweet thrill of fresh powder skiing?

Drifting thoughts, but the seasons moves fast. Hopefully, you have prepared your productive garden plans, and the seeds and seedlings are just awaiting your installations in, of course, the perfectly prepared beds.

Those beds are just bursting with fresh compost and are free of any invasive weeds. Any system of irrigating has been thoroughly checked out and "certified" efficient. All paths are clear of detritus. All the stakes that might be needed have been thoroughly cleaned, sanded, and are easily available as they have been stacked in an orderly fashion.

Enough of this sort of dreaming. We are always a day late (or several), and yes, a dollar or eight short.

As the season progresses, one of my most favorite flowers has the ability to twine and grow and cover a multitude of my lazy sins. These are my nasturtiums plants. Along wit the California poppy seedlings, they both spring forth with great vigor every year. For me both of these plants are very well behaved. They never become invasive, and the ones I don't want (too close to my sacred haricot very beans) can easily be weeded out. However, my first season here in Seattle with the traditional nasturtiums was a total disaster. THEY WERE COVERED WITH ICKY-STICKY BLACK APHIDS early in August.

Since then I have learned about re-seeding those nasturtiums in late July, removing the almost mature, but soon-to-be-aphid-infused offending plants. Now I have great cascades of aphid-free, vigorous and happy nasturtiums until mid-November. I let them romp through most of my lower southwest-facing garden. I love when they clamber up into my sumac tree/shrub, and throw themselves into and around the fading peony greens, and then march into and climb a great big shrub rose. Such wonderful insouciance at the end of our fall season.

Recently our wonderful and ever-persistent hybridizers have been bring in to market many exciting new variation on the traditional nasturtiums. Not all of the newly available plants are the work of the hybridizers. The reason some of these plants are on the market is due to a renewed interest in this overlooked and common annual. An old-fashioned favorite of mine is 'Empress of India.' Its leaves are grey green and the plant mounds rather than vines. The deep rose red flower color beautifully offsets the grey leaves and I love to have the mounds interspersed with my lavender plants.

A recent favorite is the Alaska series with slightly mottled foliage and fragile orange, yellow and soft red flowers. This nasturtium needs a special secluded place, just for itself, because it looks washed out and pathetic when near the traditional vigorously vibrant nasturtium.

Currently, the darkest nasturtium is called 'Black Velvet.' It sounds a big thuggish, and plant enthusiasts who know their combinations suggest that ht pale yellow 'Milkmaid' variety be planted close by to soften the darkness.

Finally, of course, the hybridizers have produced a nasturtium, 'Margaret Long,' that does not produce viable seed, so that you can only include this plan I your garden by buying it as a fully developed plant at your nursery center each year. However, it has amazing double flowers of striped apricot colors. Your friends will not believe that this is a nasturtium.

And a small footnote-nasturtiums are known as an edible plant, both its leaves and flowers.

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