Marjorie's eLetter for Spring 2010

spring E-Letter
By Marjorie Harris


Once of the hardest things to do at this time of year, is to be patient. Patient in waiting for leaves to unfurl, wee snouts to push their way out of the soil and perennials to make it above ground.  But wait we must. Though spring has hit early in many parts of the country, we can still get hit with cold nights so don’t get hyper about planting early.

the garden in its spring glory

Trees are the most difficult for a lot of us to understand. Some wait for the longest time for even the slightest budding out. In our area, native trees such as Gymnocladus dioecus (Kentucky Coffee Tree), Chiononanthus viriginicus (Silk Fringe Tree) and Oxydendron arboreum  (Sourwood) look half dead when other things are merrily coming along.  But don't worry they will be out soon.

Think about trees a lot.  Think about how much you need them, how much you'd like to get rid of some and get new ones. It's always a good idea when you are investing in a tree to take into account more than just how big they are.  They are usually sold by the container size (a 20-gallon tree could be up to 10 feet high); and they are generally quite expensive.

The bigger the tree you buy, the more it will struggle to grow in this new site. It's fun to have the instant gratification of a huge tree, but it's risky. It might hate the site you've chosen and croak in a very few years. A smaller one will have time to acclimatize, build up the right association with microbes in the soil.

But by getting a smaller specimen and making sure it's properly planted will mean you've got a very good chance of having something spectacular in a few years.  

You can't rush a tree, but you can work out the scale by figuring out how big it will get in a certain time span:  in two years, in five years, or 15. Then you can imagine how it will look in its maturity with the other trees around it. If you can’t wrap your imagination around this, take a picture of the spot where you’ll place it.  Then print it out in black and white three times and sketch where it will be in in which year.  How does it relate to the accompanying shrubs, the perennial understorey and the vines or structures nearby.

Scale is hugely important in a garden but it's something you strive for along with your plants. By choosing the right tree or shrub for the right place you'll get it---eventually.  You just have to be a little patient that's all. And have a really good imagination about what it will look like down the road. Don't settle for second best (instant pleasure) it's sort of like sex, the longer you draw it out, the more pleasure you will gain in the long run.

Proper tree planting:

Make sure the hole is exactly the depth of the root system, and at least twice as wide.  Use only the local soil (that's the stuff you are planting in). Don't amend the soil.  Put the tree in the hole after you've tested it for good drainage, back fill with the local soil. Tamp it down so that no holes are left around it. Then top off with a good mix of compost and composted pine bark. Dribble in water with a hose for at least an hour.  Keep watered for the first three months.

Drainage test: pour water into the hole and see how long it takes for it to drain away.  The water should drain within 15 minutes or so.  If it disappears immediately you've got a lot of sand, so add lots of compost regularly.

Here's a Helleborus (itals) 'Ivory Prince' coming up among
the spring bulbs. I've cut away the desiccated leaves and this bloom stands upright unlike many other hellebores. 
If you've got clay soil, dig deeply add gritty sand and then back fill again. Dig into this mix for your hole but test the drainage again.


Cut back everything that looks crappy right now.  Those old stalks, mushy or dead looking foliage (this is especially true of hellebores); shove back heucheras into the soil (they often get pushed out of the ground in winter but they aren’t dead).  Move any leftover mulch from around these plants so the soil will warm up quickly.


Don't even think about putting out containers unless they are filled with pansies or other really hardy plants.  May 24th may be too long to wait but certainly the middle of May is important.  But plan containers now. Find out what your local nursery is planning to have and start thinking of colour schemes.  

I usually get a new idea every year. But some of the combinations I’ve loved in recent years have been variations on purples;  orange, purple and black (very dramatic); and blues and whites (really refereshing).

I’ll go into what to plant next month.  But for the moment, wash out containers, dump the old soil into the compost.  

It’s a crazy wonderful spring. But it is still spring. So enjoy it but don’t rush it.

If you need my services:  email me.

Yours Marjorie

If you want a copy of my e-flyer for the garden consulting business just click on this: flyer link