Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spending a Spring Weekend in the Gardens

At Chateau Papillon, we took full advantage of the fantastic weather this first weekend of Spring to get to serious work in our gardens.  Mother Nature, too, has been busy in and around our yard, bringing the first real signs of the season, from the birds singing each morning and dusk (including a pair of Eastern Bluebirds we hope choose one of our nesting boxes) to the early flowers and new growth on the trees and shrubs.

One of the more stunning images of the nascent season is the bark on our River Birch (Betula nigra), which for the first few decades of the tree's life flake away like paper each year to reveal the new growth beneath.  That River Birch, despite being bent over to the ground by the weight of three snowfalls, has done very well and currently stands at least 15 feet tall.  It was only 7 feet or so last March when Beth and I planted it.  We plan to add a couple more birches to create something of a curved wall of the trees, but as yet, haven't come across specimens we like yet in browsing the garden centers.

Another sign of the coming of the vernal equinox is mulch.  Last year, we filled several Rubbermaid containers we'd unpacked of clothes with load after load of free mulch from the Fairfax County recycling center, tallying at least 15 cubic yards combined across shredded leaf meal (which by this year has broken down into nice, rich, black soil) and more traditional hardwood mulch--stuff for which people pay $4 a bag down at Home Depot, all free.  This year, I got a hitch put on my Forester and rented a U-Haul trailer to make the loads a bit easier to manage.

Pictured is the first load of hardwood mulch, 2.5 cubic yards when all was said and done.  We picked up a couple of loads of wood mulch, using it to refresh our front planting beds and to begin on the same out back.  To that, we added another load of leaf meal, which we're putting to the task of an expanded "natural area" (read: grass-free) out back.

Late last Fall, in planting the front bed, Beth "mass planted" with spring bulbs along the border of the natural area we crafted, something which paid dividends in the crocus field which has sprung up despite having been buried beneath several feet of snow in February just as they began to emerge.

Next up at Chateau Papillon: springtime planting.  We picked up a trailerload of flora at the garden centers on Saturday, including an American Redbud tree we'd talked about since last year--and which I'm not quite sure how we'll move to the back yard (it weighs at least 350 pounds by my estimation).  For curbside appeal, we picked up a weeping Pussy Willow--currently covered in flowering, fuzzy catkins--and a couple more native Red-twig Dogwoods.  For the back yard, we found three Rhododendrons, two red-flowering and one pink.  And a Ninebark, which I'm not sure exactly where we'll place just yet.  Finally, we picked up two more Inkberry Hollies for the front bed, to fill in the gaps from snow damage.  (Still to come are a couple of American Hollies, with one to replace the specimen we lost out front.)

We picked up two bags of Holly fertilizer (also for dogwoods and blueberries), a bag of "bio-tone" (mycorrihizial fungi to help with rooting), six bags of composted "Merrifield Mix" for planting, and nine bags of composted manure for sheet mulching to expand our natural areas.

It's times like these I wonder why I have a gym membership.  Between the lack of time and the intense workouts I get from loading & unloading, carrying, digging, mixing, and the countless other garden chores, I sometimes think I singlehandedly keep generic ibuprofen manufacturers in business.  But Spring is here!

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