Joys of spring


In about a month, the shade garden in front of the house will look like this: orange columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and pink wild geranium (Geranium maculatum).

I just spent a glorious hour clearing my shade beds of last fall’s leaves and the winter’s detritus (all carefully raked on to the leaf piles to preserve overwintering insects and their larvae). I realized a week or so ago that all the snow that fell on the driveway had been thrown on to the very spot where my earliest spring ephemeral, Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), is planted. Now that the snow is gone and the rain stopped, I raked that garden clear and uncovered emerging leaves of columbine, wild geranium (both in bloom in the photo above), asters, tiarella, heuchera, Virginia waterleaf, and, of course, last  year’s ferns. It was lovely to see them all.

My very dry, sandy soil won’t support some of the showiest spring ephemerals, such as bloodroot and Virginia bluebells, and oh, how I wish it could. But here are some plants that come up reliably for me every spring.


Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), surrounded by foliage of fern, columbine, and shade aster, will bloom in April.


Don’t forget that violets are natives as well, and they are an important butterfly host plant. I encourage them in the lawn and in the shade beds.


Dutchman’s breeches, the earliest flower in my garden, usually blooms around April 1. It was buried in snow until very recently. No sign of it yet.


Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum Virginiana) will bloom in May. Solomon’s seal needs a wetter site than I have so it doesn’t spread much; the waterleaf loves the dry soil.


Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) is a great groundcover for part shade. It spreads almost a bit too enthusiastically.

What plants are popping up to delight you in your garden?


Snow day


Spring will come, so prepare for it now! Today wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are sleeping under a foot of snow, but they will bloom in little more than a month.

What better time than a snow day to prepare for spring in the garden? Are you one of those people who doesn’t plan for spring until the weather warms up? There’s a problem with that approach: the best suppliers of native plants are sold out of the plants you want long before you’re ready to order. Right now, today, when you have a little extra time, go online (you’re already there!) and browse native plants. Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon, and Toadshade Wildflower Farm are all excellent, reliable mail-order suppliers and growers. Toadshade is right here in New Jersey.

While you’re online, do a little research. Check out the website of the Native Plant Society of New Jersey: read about native plants, find local suppliers, and register for the annual meeting, to be held this coming Saturday. Or take a look at the fabulous website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, with its searchable database of native plants. Or check out the Xerces Society for fascinating information about pollinators and the plants they love.

Finally, for the simplest way to plan and order a pollinator garden, Glen Rock residents can take advantage of the Environmental Commission’s preplanned butterfly garden project. But hurry up! The order period ends tomorrow.


If you want to enjoy a colorful garden this summer, the time to plan and order is now.

5/13/16: In the garden this week


This season’s first native geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are opening now. This lovely woodland native does well in poor soil and deep shade.

It’s really, really spring when the geraniums start to open. Our loveliest native geranium is a true spring ephemeral: it appears, blooms, and sets seed within no more than two months, then disappears until next spring. It’s so easy to grow that you can dig it up and move it while it’s in bloom. And as you can see in the photo, it combines will with other shade lovers–notice all the aster leaves.

As I write this the rain has begun, a few hours later than predicted so I was able squeeze in some planting this morning. Two of my clients’ plants arrived yesterday (as did mine). It will be a busy week! But the relatively cool, rainy weather is ideal for planting.

And here are some other things you might accomplish in your garden this week:

divide hardy perennials and grasses. Spring is the best time to divide plants; many will even bloom the same year if you divide them early enough. I start dividing as soon as each species is ready and stop when the weather gets hot, and I try to do it right before it rains (saves watering). Exception: it’s too late to divide tap-rooted plants such as columbine and orange butterflyweed, and many native grasses don’t respond well once they’ve put out a couple of inches of top growth. Wait until next year to divide these plants.

Harvest cool-weather crops such as lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, arugula and peas. Plant parsley and dill plants, but hold off on basil for another week or so.

— you should have started vegetable seeds for warm-weather crops such as tomatoes and squash a while ago. (You can find a list of dates for starting seeds in this post.) Hold off on putting these tender crops in the ground until around May 20.

Plant! The weather is perfect. Most reliable mail-order nurseries have started shipping. Once the plants arrive, get them in the ground as soon as you can. If you must hold them for a few days, open the boxes, water as necessary, and keep them in the shadiest spot you can find.

— if you or your lawn service has sown grass seed, water several times a day until the grass is up. Otherwise you’re just scattering birdseed. And unless you’ve seeded it,  lawn certainly doesn’t need watering, and it’s still too early to fertilize. Wait until Memorial Day. Even better, don’t fertilize at all this year. I bet the grass will do just fine.

It’s very hard to stay out of the garden in spring! Enjoy the garden this week.


Our native Tiarella combines well with other shade-lovers, such as asters, ferns, columbine, and Heuchera.