Isuppose April 28 was the most beautiful day since Eden. I don't mind getting scratched and stabbed and itched and bruised while pruning and hacking, provided the weather is glorious and provided I can see a few things in the garden looking quite good in flower.
The epicenter of the blackberry explosion is my garden, in case you ever wondered where the briars came from, so I fight a continuing war with them along the alley fence, and they are not as troublesome as they used to be, though birds like to sit on the fence and in the young red cedars, ensuring an annual crop of briars and mulberries.
It is well to keep an eye on columnar yews, since they plump out with the years without the gardener's being quite aware of it. Every three years it is well to see if they can't be trimmed back to more youthful elegant proportions, and it's surprising how much wood can come out with good effect. This year I was sorry to have to cut out a golden arborvitae which looked all right for about 10 years, but lately has shown signs of wanting to become a tree.
I could not understand why a pink-flowering locust (the one called 'Monument') was so determined to lean away from the fence. It appears that a grapevine, which I allowed for a couple of years to provide its handsome summer foliage, had got going behind the locust, where it is all rather tangled and murky with kerria, cedar, mock orange, rose, etc., and the arm-thick grape trunk had simply forced the main stems of the locust down and outward.
The grape has been removed and I hope in time to persuade the locust to grow back where it should.
In front of the house is a square of about 30 feet, and near the sidewalk side there is a screen of various shrubs. They are too thick to begin with, and I don't want a solid wall of foliage, so a good bit of pruning is needed every year. It is painful to saw armfuls of beautiful young growth from a Japanese maple, but it must share a corner with a witch hazel (which grows slower than a dwarf conifer) and a couple of viburnums to one side (V. setigera and V. wrightii) while on the other side there is a 'Foster No. 2' holly and one of my favorite viburnums, V. juddii. Between these and the sidewalk itself is a prostrate juniper, a mountain laurel, a very slow-growing dwarf yew and such oddments as small daffodils, Chinese forget-me-nots, periwinkle and ivy -- the ivy was useful some years ago to keep the bank from washing, but is not needed now with the other plants; and a certain amount of agony is endured each year creeping and crawling about to cut it out.
This screen continues on the far side of the front walk with an osmanthus (which requires painful clipping, painful to the gardener who gets jabbed by the spiny leaves, each year), another holly, a dog hobble, a white Glenn Dale azalea ('Treasure'), a young 'Maiden's Blush' rose which replaces a 'Red Cascade' euonymus which sat there for some years refusing to fruit, and one of the most beautiful of all shrubs, the white 'Maries' viburnum. Named for a Mr. Maries, not for a girl named Marie. I suppose I forgot to mention a box bush now gaining some size -- anyway, all these shrubs grow in about 35 feet of space parallel to the sidewalk, a thing I would never recommend to anybody else, but I like the effect even if it means heroic whacking back every year.
Inside the square my early spring bulbs are not doing as well as they used to, partly because I didn't get up a heavy fall of oak leaves last December, but there are still a good many small crocuses (though the large Dutch hybrids have seeded themselves into the place, and I am resigned to them) and there are odd clumps of Italian arum, forget-me-nots, soldiers and sailors (the blue and red or blue and rose Pulmonaria), an occasional lily of the valley, some small dabs of Spanish squills, the giant chionodoxa, some yellow trout lilies, a sole surviving checkered fritillary which comes up every year and blooms with great vigor -- why? when all the other fritillaries have died out?
Along the walk to the house, which runs through this square, one side is edged with blue star flowers (Brodiaea uniflora) and the other with barrenworts (Epimedium pinnata). After the early bulbs -- a few stray old blue hyacinths, lady tulips, blue Greek anemones, a few smallish daffodils like 'Dawn' and 'Beryl' and a good-sized splash of 'February Gold' with some little 'Tete a Tete' at odd places, I have about a week in which nothing much blooms except an old small white daffodil with yellow cup, a kind that never dies out. Then the azaleas bloom, and some large tulips, which I plant as individuals, not in fat clumps or borders. The best is the pale yellow 'Jewel of Spring,' but there are some red and lavender and white and orange ones, not nearly as gaudy as it might sound. There are only about 50 altogether in the 30-foot square, and they keep me from looking too hard at the maturing foliage of the earlier bulbs.
The azaleas form a mounded background of ordinary Kurume, Gable and Glenn Dale varieties in white, pink, magenta and scarlet.
The late freeze managed to do in all except one bloom on the vaguely pink Clematis vedrariensis, which grows on the small porch and blooms with the azaleas, to be followed in a few days by the dark violet clematis 'Etoile Violette.' It is so dark nobody notices it in bloom except me, but I am fond of it.
On the glorious day I speak of all these things were blooming their heads off, along with the first flower of a splendid little red-violet blue-bearded dwarf iris called 'Grapesicle' raised by Bob Sobek in Massachusetts. Only one of the crown imperials has bloomed, a tremendously vigorous clear yellow one, and there are a few late daffodils still, on their last legs, and Azalea schlippenbachii, and the Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and two or three rather gnarled blueberries and some tulips, mainly Hybrid Darwins, and my nice old clump of bellworts (Uvularia grandiflora) and the pink locust, and four flower buds breaking the surface in the tub of the water lily, 'Pink Butterfly,' and some stray late flowers of the single yellow kerria and the first blooms of the yellow rose, 'Agnes.'
And of course the brilliant green and white leaves of the hosta, 'Thomas Hogg,' and a clump of bleeding heart and the first flower of the Virginia spiderwort, and the leaves of the grapes (not the one butchered, of course, but others raised for their fruit which is eaten largely by birds) at just that tender stage where they unfold in soft gray-green with pink and copper tints. And the fat buds on Clematis 'Henryi' and some fierce purple tree peonies and a shell-pink one.
You must not suppose the garden looks like anything, but here and there jammed in are plants that give intense pleasure to a gardener like me who cares little for anything except puttering about. And on such a day as April 28 I would not swap it for any garden I ever saw in England or France or anywhere else. A fairly dismal cat-run sort of garden but mine own, assisted of course by the hound and the terrier who waddle about as aimlessly as I, but who step on a lot more things.