There is much to do in the garden -- shortening excessive growth on roses, say, by pruning off a third of the long whippy shoots, and whacking back the polygonum vines to manageable proportions and tying in things liable to flop about -- so it is best not to think of it.
Most gardeners who have any intention at all of doing anything do not need reminding, and I see little point badgering people to get out there and cut down the old peony stems and give the lily of the valley bed a nice mulch of manure, etc., etc.
I find this an excellent season to make up one's mind what annuals will be planted for the spring and summer garden, because otherwise one will do it by fits and starts -- seduced, perhaps, by a packet of seeds in the grocery store about April 3.
No. No. The thing to do is consider well. You take zinnias. I do not particularly like them as cut flowers since they foul the water, and some years I never get round to planting them anyway. But now is the time to think, and my own preference is for the giant dahlia-flowered zinnias available (just barely) in separate colors, but think for a minute:
They take longer to start blooming than other zinnias, and their flowering season is shorter. Also there are not so many blooms, and when you cut them the plants are not showy in the garden.
All the same, they are my favorite type. But other gardeners might prefer smaller zinnias, with blooms about 3 inches instead of 5 inches, and they have a wide selection to choose among. And the smaller flowers have advantages, for how many living rooms or bedrooms really need a great urn of 6-inch-wide zinnias? Three inches may well be thought large enough, especially since the blooms are freely produced, and even when a bunch or two are cut for the house, the plants remain colorful in the garden.
I may have mentioned 'Dasher' zinnias as a good choice for growing in tubs and barrels on sunny terraces.
This may be the place to observe that for some reason seedsmen prefer all zinnias to be borne on plants as dwarf as possible. You may find that a variety supposed to grow 12 inches high will actually reach two or three times that height in our fine warmish summers.
Zinnias described as growing 30 inches high will reach shoulder height in good soil in open sunlight when grown fairly close to each other in a bed. All of which suits me fine. The taller the better. But do not put too much faith in the height of zinnias as described in catalogues, they usually start gaining height amazingly about July 10.
Then of course there are the really small zinnias, with flowers like butterballs. It all depends what you require in a zinnia. If I have a weakness for the largest -- 5 inches or better -- I confess they are not quite the thing for a narrow border around a small brick sitting-out place (for some reason I dislike the word "patio").
You also have to think, where space is limited, if there should not be a few tuberoses? The best ones are the single Mexican ones, and in my experience they do not last over winter outdoors in this cold city, but they might if you grow them against a sunny south-facing garage in soil sandier than my heavy loam.
Should there be petunias? What about marigolds? The only marigolds I ever liked were the 'Sunset Giants' kind we used to grow, though I admit they grew to 4 or 5 feet and went over in summer gales, and about half of them were not very handsome (the other half were spectacular). Anyway, you need to think how large you want them to be, and there is an endlessly wide selection nowadays.
Larkspurs and cornflowers, two of my own great favorites though I rarely grow them nowadays, like to do their growing before it gets hot. There was a disorderly woman (gardenwise) in my neighborhood when I was a lad, who had things worked out to her own satisfaction, and to general muttering of neighbors when they walked past her garden, which was open to the sidewalk.
She had an enormous bed of about 25 plants of 'Radiance' roses, which of course bloomed steadily no matter how hot it got, and under and among them was a regular thicket of larkspur and bachelor's buttons, all somewhat raggedy because they self-sowed every year and got closer and closer to wild types.
But now I think of it, nothing was prettier than the somewhat muted and shaggy cornflowers with the pink roses. When winter came, she whacked things down, except the roses, which she left alone to make 6-foot bushes. Every spring the larkspurs and cornflowers sprang up, and the woman simply kept her eye open for any truly noxious weeds like dock, thistle, Johnson grass and so forth.
Nasturtiums are among the best flowers to cut for the house. They look fine in white-wine glasses. Also marvelous are snapdragons, now available in greater variety than in past decades. The most wonderful snapdragons are the ones that grow up to shoulder height, but these are not very practical for most gardeners, I know. Nothing is prettier than assorted colors of snapdragon in a small bed only 3 by 4 feet, the plants and flowers reaching only knee height (20 inches). Even so small a planting will provide as many snapdragons for cutting as the usual gardener will want.
Another grand thing is to plant a snapdragon or two against a warm sunny wall, where sometimes the plant will last two or three years. Otherwise, they are annuals. A thrifty friend of mine used to buy plants as early in spring as he could find them at garden centers, then make tip cuttings. He would buy a dozen or so plants, and by the time summer really got here he had 30 or 40 nice blooming plants. They are especially good choices for small town gardens (provided there is sun) as they bloom far into the fall, this year until mid-December.
But all these things have to be thought of in advance, if the best use is to be made of space. It is sad to find oneself with a vast mess of marigolds simply because one did not get properly collected in time to grow a wider selection of things. And of course one can get a lot of pleasure growing something new, tithonias or nigellas or whatnot. It is still months before these annuals should be planted, but it makes sense to decide now, and order the seeds now, instead of waiting until April and finding only mixed color zinnias, say, available in stores. They are fine, of course, unless you happen to want a dazzling batch (as I did for a couple of years) of giant zinnias in white, purple and canary yellow. Three packs of seed did the trick, and then the next year maybe just scarlet or just orange.