Home & Design

Green Acre #93: While We’re Waiting

Pick up ranunculus at a garden center for a late-winter jolt. Or you can poke cut flowers into water holders and pop them into the garden for instant magic. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

IT HAS BEEN a chilly, wet week following one so warm and sunny that naked legs were scampering about the sidewalks in shorts.

If anything’s predictable, it’s that early spring is unpredictable. Actually, it’s not even early spring yet—it’s still winter. Early spring begins on March 20, which is several weeks away, and even then it’s too early to put out most plants or start seeds directly in the garden.

It’s tempting, though, I know. And you’re forgiven for trying with the seeds at least—maybe this time you’ll get lucky, maybe this time they’ll sprout, maybe you’ll have a cheap thrill. Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the sun beams, and every other day is warm enough to bask . . . while the rosemary died a miserable death in the window boxes along with the pansies you (meaning me) popped in last fall, and the ornamental cabbages have either sprouted or shriveled into nasty little clumps. Forgot to water them, eh?

I did.

Thankfully the garden centers are packed with replacements: pansies, of course, and anemones on tall stems that nod and smile, and hyacinth, which I prefer to plant minimally, since the scent can be a little overwhelming en masse but delightful if reduced to a whiff.

It’s too late to start tulips and daffodils (which are tiresome anyway after they bloom, all that straggly foliage flopped about waiting to wither). If you’re hungry for them (and the weather is chill, so they’ll last a few days) buy a few bunches at the market, stick them in those little plastic water holders, and poke them into the garden here and there. Same effect; no digging.

I’m not liking hellebores anymore. Thankfully, since they’re damned expensive even if they’re easy to divide and eventually, if you live long enough, will make an impressive display. For some reason, this spring they depress me. All those dusty, funereal colors when one longs for cheer. This is neither here nor there.

Forsythia also irritates me. It’s nice to see, somewhere other than my front yard where my pair, so thoughtlessly planted year one, put on this big-deal show for a couple of weeks in spring and then block the light from the peonies.

As always, I’m envying the fat, spring-blooming, candy-colored camellias and wondering why I’ve never bothered ripping out the forsythia for them. Somehow the expense in fall, when they might be planted and will do nothing for months, is off-putting, yet every spring or almost spring I kick myself.

Here I am again, kicking.

There are things you can safely do around now that might add some spring to your zing.

Mulch! This you can certainly do. It makes everything look fresh and neat. Make sure you smell it first: There’s a type that reeks and takes weeks before it’s tolerable. Feh. Consider black mulch: It makes any greenery pop. But don’t pile it too high: Tree roots can suffer if you do.

As I’ve repeatedly said, spray paint is your friend! Some of that miserable dead crap—the rosemary, the boxwood and other assorted evergreens that have somehow turned to brown frizzle—can achieve with a spritz some facsimile of health, rather like an undertaker’s makeup artist*, until it’s safe to bury and replace them. Which is, if you’re in Washington DC, around April 21. I know! It’s so far away!

To save your searching, Design Masters has a spray in a shade called Basil (also available in Spanish: Verde Albahaca) that is non-toxic and might not even kill the plant, if it’s just hiding and not actually dead yet, which happens.

Paint the front door. Paint the porch rockers. Pick colors that sing. For inspiration pick up an issue or two of House Beautiful: Every month they feature a section on paint colors, pairing them with shades that coordinate and contrast that stimulate the brain cells; like apple green or ballet slipper pink accenting charcoal gray. Delightful.

Paint the porch ceiling. A blue-green shade known in the south as “Haint Blue” repels restless spirits, if you happen to have that problem.  

Sand and repaint your railings.  Or, find someone else to do it—which I heartily recommend. You can drink while you watch.

Hide or disguise the trash cans, if you can’t stash them in the alley. And while you’re at it, disguise the pipes and meters and other eyesores, like phone lines. If you can’t tear them out, drape them with Spanish moss.

Like spray paint, Spanish moss is your friend.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” reports from her backyard every Thursday.


*Have you ever Googled corpse cosmetology? I hadn’t until two minutes ago, but it seems to be quite the ripe subject.  At the Thechickandthedead.com,  for instance, there’s an article about the “glamorous world of funeral makeup.” If it had anything to do with gardens, I’d write about it.  Oh wait. I just did.

6 thoughts on “Green Acre #93: While We’re Waiting

  1. Violette Capelluto-Schor says:

    I love the ranunculus, and I prefer the whites.
    Hugs and love to Nancy also,

  2. kelly janet says:

    Disappointed you’ve lost your love for hellebores. I saw some yesterday and they made me happy. Nothing else is sprouting and I don’t have any spray paint.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      ah, my Daphne odora shrubs are in full bloom now–and they smell incredible! i’d never heard of them till i was routinely walking Jeremiah around the neighborhood. i had to have one or two. the little waxy pink or white flowers start popping in winter. in the past i’ve been worried that they will then die when real cold comes back. but so far so good–they just keep on coming!

      1. Sounds like I have to have this in the pot beside the front door….how have I lived?

    2. They USED to please me, I don’t know what happened. I also used to love apricots, but that is neither here nor there.

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