Gardening

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

The varied thrush sings his one note song as he looks over his empire, seeing the nodding pearls on those wriggling withes that are the buds of salmonberries and the slippery fingertips of new growth clutching elderberry stems as the urge to grow expands over his domain. Wrapping the foreshore, sliding up the sunny slopes and concentrating in hollows hidden from the wind, the first shoots and emergent tips are returning to our part of the universe. They carry tales from the other side, that underground world; the root-wrapped paradise where life is lived at another, much slower speed.

Down there where cold stays even longer, and all life is adapted to the dark, there are other senses. The pull of gravity, that other pole of plant growth, is stronger than the pull of sky. Growth means reaching down or along under the surface, here roots are king. Shoots are the odd things, but as warmth penetrates even here, these white protuberances begin making their way up from the tangled safety of the roots.

The power of returning life floods the land, filling shrunken tissues, replacing old stems with the swell of new ones, and enlarging the circle of each perennial crown.

Strawberries show color, blueberries purple-red stems burst open at the joints as leaves and flower buds respond to the call of the new year, and earth heaves as rhubarb begins it's bulbous progress towards open air. Tulips have exploratory tips out; they have heard from the scouting crocus that there is good space, nice sun and warm air. Cautious as always, they are holding back while more adventurous beings rush up. Daffodils and Snowdrops are more eager; they will test the new world with their noses and toeses.

Frosty mornings are just part of being first settlers, a condition enjoyed by the hardiest as it protects them from being overwhelmed by the rest. There will be plenty of time for other species to have their own time in the sun; first days are reserved for those who can take it. Rockcress, violets, and eager Pom Pom Primroses are all feeling their ways into this new millenium. Leopard's Bane, Auricula Primroses and Saxifrage are right behind them, and then the door will be open.

The thousand and one species of ornamental plants that we treasure and guard in our yards and gardens will be pouring up and out of winter's dormancy and these seasonal friends will once again surround us. We will be picking their flowers for bouquets, cultivating their beds to keep them strong, and dividing them to share with our neighbors. These are the oldest tasks of the humans in our relationships with the plant world.

This week we began pulling the protective mulch off these perennials, the blanched leaves and stems looking so white and weak. It is hard to believe that only one week from today they will be dark green and firm again. The response to the light and air is magical, and then once they are ready we will begin feeding them with a very dilute fertilizer solution.

Gardeners all over the borough are eagerly examining their collections, checking to see which are ready to be encouraged into growth and which are already so far along that the mulch needs to be pulled away today. We are also looking greedily at those emerging plants to see which are ready for lifting and splitting. The general guide lines are to divide summer and fall bloomers in the spring, and divide spring bloomers in the fall, but we are so early right now that we can split the spring blooming species and they will still be able to reestablish. The real secret to all this is to have a good place prepared to replant the divisions before they are even lifted.

The excitement flowing from the gardeners and the rushing into growth of the plants creates a whirlpool effect. Each feeds the other; spaces are prepared and new plants set into them, young starts expand rapidly in soils loosened and warmed, and division into vigorous new individuals rejuvenates the older plants. The division process also provides a few surplus plants, which can be used as currency in the worldwide gardener's economy. There is no better way to introduce yourself to another gardener than by trading some of your divisions for some of theirs.

Our worlds mesh at that point, the plant kingdom and the gardeners fraternity supporting, and being supported by the other. The pull of the New Year acts on us as surely as on the thrush, if only we sounded so sweet.



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