Spring Cleaning — Better Late Than Never



“My name is Allison MacKenzie.  Where I was born, time was told not by the clock or the calendar, but by the seasons.  Summer was carefree contentment.  Autumn was that bittersweet time of regret for moments that had ended and things that were yet undone.  And then winter fell, with a cold mantle of caution and chill, it nipped our noses and our arrogance and made us move closer to the warm stoves of memory and desire.  Spring was promise.  But there was a fifth season, of love.  And only the wise or the lucky ones new where to find it.”

This is the opening monologue from the film Peyton Place.  It’s here because a few weeks ago a reader, Camille, commented on an earlier post entitled Autumn In Peyton Place.  She had been searching for the verse and could I help her.  I popped in the DVD and took some dictation.

But after I read over the words, it occurred to me that if only seasons could be so easy and uncomplicated that their description could fit into a single — albeit melodramatic — paragraph.  If only . . .

Because lately, it seems, seasons are not so neat and tidy.  This spring, for example, has been one of the coolest — make that coldest — and dampest ones that I can remember.  Even this Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, had snow falling in upstate New York.

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Bloomin’ Update 40: La Dolce Muscari


When my friend Maria presented me with a small bag of Muscari bulbs as a gift years ago, I had no idea that that would be the start of a beautiful relationship.  My first thought was, “How cute.  Grape hyacinths — even the name sounds petite and demure.”  Nothing, though, could be farther from the truth.

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Bloomin’ Update 39: Spring Awakening!

Climbing Hydrangea

I am so distracted these days, and spring is to blame.  There’s the smell of freshness on the breeze, the chirps and calls of birds in the morning, and the daily display of fifty shades of green.  All I want to do is work in the yard: clean the beds, rake the lawn, bring out the terracotta pottery, inhale deeply — but I do have a day job that demands much of my time and a post to write.

Writing, though, is near impossible.  Spring stimulates all of my senses, and each time I step outside, I am overwhelmed with words, feelings, and adjectives.  Rather than write them down, they swirl inside my head as I become lost in the intoxicating world that is spring.

And so, I surrender to those who have already placed their words on paper, words that illustrate the beauty of the gardener’s most magical season.

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Bloomin’ Update 38: It’s So Easy Seeing Green


With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and me tuning up my bagpipes, it suddenly occurred to me how appropriate it is that this most Irish of celebrations, where green is the color of the day, is held in March.  This third month, after all, is the time when green returns to the landscape.

Irish eyes may be smiling, but on a recent walk through the garden, as I brushed aside brown winter leaves, I found my gardener’s eyes smiling at the excitement and promise of once again seeing green.

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How Bagpipes Changed My Life


March is an interesting time for gardeners.  It’s the month when the first warm breezes begin to melt winter’s icy grip, when the garden begins to stir, when hints of green suddenly appear, when it’s time to get outside and get things ready for the gift that is spring.

At least that’s how my March used to be until about five years ago, when my March literally became MARCH — as in parade.  I’m a bagpiper and March is piping season, with each weekend devoted to at least two to three St. Patrick’s Day parades — making this St. Patrick’s Month.

But as the first of the parades gets underway, March is also the time that I reflect on how I came to be a piper and how thankful I am that bagpipes entered my life.  This post is that story.

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I Canna Believe It’s You!

Once the Elephant Ears were cleaned and planted, it was time to turn my attention to Canna.  Like their large-leaved companions, Canna are also over-wintered in brown paper bags filled with peat moss and then stored in the cement bunker at a steady, cool temperature.  (One year, I stored them in the garage, which was too cold and too moist.  The result was a smelly, mushy mess.)

For this demonstration, I’ll use my absolute most favorite Canna, “Black Knight.”  The leaves are big and bold and bronzy red, with hot red blooms.  And the rhizomes, well, they’re meaty.  That’s right.  Meaty.

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100th Post: Water For Elephant Ears

Attractive, aren’t they?

The last time I saw my Elephant Ears, they were clipped back, packed into peat moss, and stored in a cement bunker.  With the very warm April temperatures, I couldn’t resist opening up their winter palace.  But unlike Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s vault, I found my treasure.

 1. After a long winter’s nap, the stems, leaf remnants, and roots have withered from tropical green to paper bag brown.

2. To clean each bulb, I shake off the excess peat moss and dirt.  Then, it’s time to husk the dead leaves, stems, and roots. 

3. It takes a little effort, but once cleaned, there is usually a pinkish shoot at the heart of all that brown – the promise of new growth.

4. Some bulbs may still have healthy looking roots.  These I leave on – might as well give the bulbs a head start once they’re planted. 

 5. This Elephant Ear collection began years ago with the purchase of one bulb. Over time, smaller bulbs developed, like the one pictured here (toward the right), and these can eventually be separated, either manually or on their own.  I’ve also learned that the bigger the bulb, the larger the leaf.  But the smaller bulbs also have value – they can be kept in pots and moved around the garden as filler.

6. To plant the bulbs, the toughest part is choosing the right sized pot.  I add some potting soil to the pot, settle the bulb into place (shoot side facing up, of course), and then fill until the crown is just below the surface. 

7. I’m sure I make more work for myself by first potting the Elephant Ear bulbs.  With the pots, however, I feel I have more control over the plants.  If there should be a frost, I can move the collection indoors.  If a bulb fails to bloom, I won’t have an empty area in the garden.

8. Once planted, I place the pots in a sunny location and water daily.  These are tropical, and they thrive on heat and moisture.  Once they develop leaves, it’s into the garden they go – usually to a partial shade location.

A special thank you to Elaine from Ramblings from Rosebank for suggesting that I post a few photos of Elephant Ears in their glory days of summer.  


Next Post: I Canna Believe It’s You

Bloomin’ Update 20: Bulbalicious!

The other day when I pulled into the driveway and stepped from my car, I was overcome by the sweet perfume scent of Hyacinths.  It’s a smell that I call intoxicating.  In fact, I’ve referred to this scent as intoxicating so often and for so many years that it has become a sort of running joke between myself and Joe. 

“Can you smell that?” I begin.  “It’s . . . “

“I know, I know,” answers Joe.  “It’s intoxicating.”

Now I’m thinking of breaking out of predictability with a new description for Hyacinth — and I’m going with Bulbalicious.  I figure if the vernacular can work for Beyonce, why not Hyacinth?

While Hyacinth may be the headliner on the Spring stage, we mustn’t overlook the supporting bloomers.  Afterall, we all know what happened to Diana Ross & the Supremes.  Besides, these back-up harmonizers are all Bulbalicious in their own right.

Tulip — a little shy now, but emerging slowly.

What’s her name again?  I’m not sure what to call this dainty flower, but she’s reliable.

Watch out for Muscari.  With a name like that, she’s the vixen of the bunch, and she just might push Hyacinth out of the spotlight.  In fact, I believe she’s exploring a film role as a tree in a Dr. Seuss movie.

At this time of year, I have all the drama and diva attitudes I can handle right in the garden. What’s that I hear? “And I am telling you, I’m not going. . . You’re gonna love me . . .”  

Bulbalicious all the way.



Spring, “The Secret Garden,” and You

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate spring than with a visit to The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic piece of children’s literature about a willful girl, pain and loss, and the healing power of gardening.  By the way, do not be turned off by the “children’s literature” label — it’s a story that knows no age.

I must admit that although this book was first published in 1911, I never got around to reading it – and that was a huge mistake.  Yes, I am familiar with the various film interpretations, but I never treated myself to the beauty of Burnett’s written words. 

My second mistake was downloading the free Kindle version.  With each “page,” I found myself nodding along as Burnett captured in language all of my thoughts about gardening.  And with each nod, I craved an illustration.  Fortunately, the strength of the prose allowed me to paint the images in my mind.

Before The Secret Garden was published in book format, it ran as a serial – sort of like posts on a blog.  To correct my mistakes, I would like to invite Frances Hodgson Burnett to be today’s guest blogger via a few spring-like passages.

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Bloomin’ Update 19: The Wearin’ O’ The Green


It’s truly a green day! 

I’m on my way to march and play my bagpipes in the NYC parade,

but I wanted to share some of the greenery in my neck of the woods. 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Swirls of Sedum.

In a matter of warm days, the northern-growing Magnolia went from this. . .

. . . to this. So close!

Crocus make an appearance.

Bela Lugosi Daylilies greeting the sun.