The Spiritual Gardener: Magnificent Spring at Last

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For some reason spring just seems more “musical” than the other three seasons.  Do you know the sound of this vernal music?  The color symphony of spring, I mean: shy, tentative white of snowdrops, then a small rush of yellow, white and purple (crocuses), then a louder color tone of pink, blue white and purple (hyacinths), then the loud major theme of yellow (forsythias and daffodils), then a milder white echo of that theme (star magnolia and pale cherries), then the pink crescendo wave of plums and weeping cherries. Then comes the assertive magenta of the magnolia soulangeana, verging on purple, then those shocking purple azaleas that are so much earlier than all the others.

And all this is only the overture for the first main and very diverse color theme of spring, the tulips which are about to begin fluting everywhere, and then of course all hell breaks loose with irises, peonies and roses, and we completely forget for a while the colorless landscape we have lived and brooded in for so long.  It is like Tchaikovsky, re-scored madly by Mahler.

To honor this symphony of color, I have planted three new “Eden” roses, a neglected classic rose that is possibly my favorite rose and the one I would grow if told I could only grow a single rose.  The buds are a fairly strong pink, almost carmine, then they open to a pale pink and then fade to a mellow cream color.  I was trying to train two to grow over our back door at our former home in Colorado.

I can only afford tiny specimens of classic roses like this, but I will take good care of them and they will not, I know, be small for long.  I also got four gorgeous and not very expensive hydrangeas from a big-box hardware store, so I can replace the four unhappy forsythias in the shady hedgerow, where of course they are most unhappy (duh), and move them to the sunnier spots as they deserve.  For now, the blooming hydrangeas are brightening up the house, and we still have some late-blooming amaryllis looking beautiful indoors.

Inside the house, the dining room was finally wallpapered last week with a red and gold Chinese wallpaper that looks well with the massive oak trim and window embrasures, so we are going to put that room back together at last.  The completion of a “big” indoor house project coincides nicely with the (slightly) warming weather and I am aching to accomplish much in the garden.  There are many signs of life outdoors even though at times it is still wet and cloudy, and fairly blustery.  There are electric yellow crackles in the dun landscape, provided by daffodils (far along) and some forsythia around town (just opening).  Our forsythias, more shaded, are just beginning, but the tiny crocuses and iris reticulata are blooming cheerfully in their diminutive way.  Every so often around town you will see a magnolia soulangeana fully open, a magnificent vision of pink/purple, and everywhere bushes are putting on a fuzzy blur of clean and fresh light green.

Meanwhile, both of the roses I collected wild from the Chesapeake are flourishing, which is well because it looks as though we lost a nursery-bought rose in the garden over the winter, a rather weak one in the crescent bed.  Our (little) magnolia in the arch bed has precisely one flower on it that is nearly open and by our garage we have two huge palms that my wife wanted to buy at a local garden center, destined eventually for our summer patio but now looking rather miffed and sulky on a cold April morning.


Finally, I managed to get out in the garden.  I finished rooting out the ivy by the fence and, despite popular prejudice, apparently you can teach an old gardener new tricks.  Digging there is a dangerous job because this site must have been used for a long time as the rubbish tip for one or both our property and the neighbors’, to whose land our land once belonged, and I find a lot of broken glass in the soil.

I have to be extremely careful here, having cut myself several times weeding this area.  Now I wear gloves when weeding this bed, proving that even an older gardener can go on learning, if he cuts himself enough times and sheds enough blood to pay for his obstinacy.  I moved seven rose mallows, with their snow white hibiscus flowers and crimson throats, from the porch bed to the middle of the crescent bed, to provide height and structure there.  I then staked up the honeysuckle tripods, providing a stout vertical element for them to smother, which they will of course enjoy doing, the wicked things.

This morning I first heard and then saw two woodpeckers in the tall trees across the street, drumming furiously to each other, and then one flew over here and was drumming on our house, just like the one at our former house that used to drive us nuts by drumming loudly on the roof flashing above our guest room at 5:30 every morning.  This is a territorial ritual and mating call that one never tires of, although it alarmed quite a few of our house guests over the years.

On the way home Friday, I stopped at a garden center and got their last pink magnolia, to go in the hedgerow near the dark, black-green yew, which should make a striking backdrop. Too, I bought a big pile of bricks at 52 cents each. It is insane how much fun a guy can have with an inexpensive pile of bricks like this.  When we moved to town we noticed a neighbor’s driveway was lined with handsome bricks and it made their house look like it belonged on embassy row.

Well, I dug and pounded them into a strip along our blacktop driveway and, though this job is not finished yet, it looks amazingly improved.  I stopped and had a limoncello with my face in the sunshine, then had a nice nap, then back to the hardware store for more bricks. Life is far too complicated and sometimes it is just good for the soul to sit in the dirt, at any age, and hammer bricks into the ground with a nice stout mallet.  I also barbered the battered irises in the bed on the street corner, which spent much of our hard winter under several feet of snow, and then put down fresh bark mulch around them.  There, five square feet of this planet are now briefly perfect.

Ah, spring at last!  Pears and cherries in town are in full flower, daffodils of course and even some early tulips.  The world is clothed again in magnificent spring at last.  We put all the houseplants outside, including the two large urns with our dracaena refugees who overwintered indoors.  I filled the urn by the arch and planted some ivy in it, training it onto the two-ball topiary it fully covers by summer.  Now we can once again begin out outdoor life!

David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.