The summer garden party starts now

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

The first guests to the summer garden party are arriving, they walk slowly through the yard, swinging their heads from side to side, tracing elusive aromas and barely seen glimpses of color.

Thick black fur and big shaggy feet identify them as local, and four-footed locomotion proclaims them as bear folk, and the ease with which they appear from, and dissapear into, the forest is amazing. The branches barely tremble as the large bodies slip into obscurity, and in a second they are invisible.

Overarching foliage masks their progress as they travel hidden pathways and the call "Bear in the Yard" means that they have once again chosen to be seen. It also means June and the long days of summer, it means flowering stems are finally elongating and buds are opening on the early summer perennials. The first serviceberries are flowering, and the beautiful snowdrift crabapples are opening this week too. Azaleas and rhododendrons are adding their first notes and cherries have dressed for the festive week.

This year we have all been asking ourselves if it was ever going to get here. Spring came so slowly, and so much of the garden seemed paralized, as bare branches stood where rich delicate foliage was anticipated. Japanese maples have just made their appearance this week, a full month later than last year. Copper beech leaves still feel moist and tender to the touch since they are only days old, and even tough old astilbe crowns have lingered bare and apparently deceased for a full quarter of the growing season. We culled what were apparently dead pots of perennials, recycling the soils into the shrub planting program, only to find clumps of violets and fist-sized masses of campanula sprouting under white Sitka roses. We may never know how many of these late emerging sprouts are finding themselves in new environments. Homeowners appear puzzled - there have been much worse winters with less damage - why this much loss? Gardens we work in look devastated, with masses of spiraea burnt to the ground and even red-stemmed dogwoods barely emerging at what is usually the full flowering of early summer. Pruning back to live wood has never been so difficult. Stems are green, but there is no new growth, so the temptation has been to chop it out. Weeks later than expected, the leaves are appearing on many species. Hydrangeas that were consigned to the burning ground and potentillas that usually are covered with bright yellow buttons have begun to green up along their stems. Doses of B-1 vitamin and various plant growth enhancing substances have been applied and the resulting foliage is hailed as a triumph, even though there is no control or measurement to see if significant difference exists. All this indecision affects the annual celebrations, the full flowering summer parties that involve whole neighborhoods and sweep entire communities into the heady enjoyment of the seasonal thrill. These are still coming, they are just later than usual, the party arrangements are delayed but the event will be just as thrilling. The presence of the daffodils and tulips makes it seem like it's still spring, but lilac and mountain ash are helping to bring the decoration up to speed.

"Paul's Scarlet" hawthorns and those brilliant purple "Ramapoo" rhododendrons downtown are some of the earliest guests, and their long-anticipated arrival sends shivers along the staff. It's starting, and the expectation of long hours and too much fun make pulses race and expectations rise. Last week's National Primrose Society Show was one of the opening activities. Specimens raised by seed from local gardens boasted ribbons and flats of donated plants were available for the gardeners eager for regional favorites. I picked up some of Cliff Lobaugh's famous bright yellow, waterloving Florinde primroses, and scored with pale lavender Japonica ones, too. Talk echoed the early partylike excitement. Anticipation and speculation about what had started and what was still to come later was the subject most commonly expressed. The summer garden party has started and, like all parties, guests are invited to entertain as well as to be entertained. Participation is essential to enjoyment, Pick up your party favors, shovels, pruners and planting hoes, and join in the festivities.

These are the best of times, and any day unenjoyed will not be saved for use later. It will be gone. Like the Fourth of July, long anticipated and so crowded with activities and thrills that attendance of all events is impossible. This all-too-short summer garden time is here now.

Shine your shoes and get ready to dance.

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