Spring is dilly dallying

Aprinl 22, 2012

Tulips poked up inquisitive heads long before they were prepared to allow their blossoms to come up.

In spite of the very early spring this year, the greening of the trees is still to come. The lilac, which showed such promise two weeks ago, is still showing promise, but that is all. The flush of green is still just a flush of green on the lilac and a few other overeager trees in the city.

Our native plants have an innate intelligence about these things – even though conditions appear optimal for starting, our trees don’t get too excited until it’s time. It’s only the imports and the hybrids that can’t wait – and they end up being burned – or frost-bitten, rather – for their hurry. Even the lilac, although most would think it to be native here, is not. It was imported from Europe by our early settlers who left their lovely remnants on farm homesteads across the prairies. Lilacs can live to be 200 years old and there are groves in odd places throughout the province that must be well over 100. It is the newer hybrids that have been rushing into leaf, not as savvy yet about how fickle our spring weather can be.

Today will be a lovely day, though, and folks might be tricked into thinking that it is time to plant. It is not. Be guided by your local garden centre which has been holding back their annuals and perennials until the second week in May, when it may be safe enough to begin planting out.  And even though plants, such as petunias, can withstand quite a bit of frost, Gail Braun, who grows the most spectacular potted plants, advises that she waits until the first week of June to put her plants out. She says that even though many will survive the odd late frost, it sets them back and they never fully recover.

That brings me to the issue of the plants in the big box stores. They have been hurried along and are flush with leaves and blooms much earlier than the local garden centres, but don’t rush into anything yet. And if you simply cannot resist, at least store your plants in a garage and take them out only for a few hours during the warmest part of the day for the next couple of weeks.

The trouble with bargain cedars is keeping them alive.

The box stores also sell six-foot cedars at a very low price and I see many homeowners who have been enticed to buy and plant them, only to be faced with a row of brown, lifeless sticks this spring.  Save yourself some heartache and money in the long run and go to your local garden centre where you can be sure of getting a plant with a viable root ball that has been well cared for throughout the season. Your garden centre will advise you on the best way to plant your new trees and tell you to water them well all this season and especially before freeze up this fall. They will also suggest putting up a proper sun and windscreen this yea,r and perhaps, for a couple of years after, that to prevent needle drying if the trees have a southern exposure. Most garden centres will also guarantee their trees for the first year if you follow their directions and many will also come out and plant the tree – properly – for you.

Happy Bacteria
Meanwhile, I need the garden. I need the chance to get back down on my knees, to dig in the dirt and tug at the weeds all the time breathing happy thoughts into my body. The happiness comes, they say, from a bacteria found in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, literally the happy bacteria which has the ability to turn on serotonin production from the tryptophan in your gut. Did you know, by the way, that 90% of the serotonin in your body resides in your gut?

So we gardeners have wisely, but unknowingly, been soaking up this happiness trigger for years. Have you ever known a grouchy gardener?

Apparently, gardening is also a good way to stave off dementia. Strength and resistance training both encourage the “growth factor”. A growth factor is a protein or steroid hormone capable of stimulating cellular growth. When we gardener squat, and lift and lunge and carry, we are encouraging this activity which has been shown by a Vancouver Hip and Health group to reduce symptoms of dementia in older women.

Who knew?