A Plan (and Hope) for Spring

After days of temperatures in the 50s and 60s (Fahrenheit), yesterday’s forecast on my Weatherbug app read, “Cloudy with rain showers likely with a chance of snow showers in the morning… Little or no snow accumulation.” Wait, what?!… Snow???  Nooooooo…… Hasn’t anyone told Mother Nature that Spring officially started last Sunday? OK, we’re talking about flurries at worst and only during the morning hours but… *sigh*  And more snow in the forecast for the weekend…

Last weekend we began prepping for spring by tackling the yard. A neighbor loaned T. a limber and he pruned the lower limbs on the bigger oak trees in the front yard. There are 9 mature oaks on our small half-acre lot — good for shade and the environment but raking up the leaf fall in November and December was challenging, to say the least! Now it’s up to me to clear out the remaining leaves along the fence line and to plan some of the landscaping. Of course, we’re going to include as much edible landscaping as possible.

We haven’t had a yard in which to plant since we left Germany — and that was in 2005, so we’re really excited about having a garden this year. Our new house came with a raised garden bed, and the front of the bed is already planted with asparagus (from the previous owners), so it will be interesting to see what comes up from there this year. We also “inherited” some raspberry canes along the west side of the fence, and we’ve purchased 2 varieties of blueberries (the Reka, Arandano reka, is pictured left) to plant alongside them. Shortly after we moved in last fall we were gifted with two mature black currant bushes from a friend’s garden, and we intend to supplement those with red currants as well. The black currants are already budding (see, they were fooled by the warm weather too)… let’s hope there won’t be a hard frost any time soon. We’ve also ordered a sour cherry tree, which should ship sometime in mid-April and we’re on the look-out for a Nittany apple tree.

The house came with some terraced planters built in to retaining walls around the patio (east side of the house) and in front of the basement (west side). The west side planters have rhubarb and horseradish planted in, and we hope we’ll be able to move both to free up those planters for herbs. In border areas we’re planning to grow lots of lemon balm, lemon verbena and lavender. And I recently learned that lemongrass grows well here as an annual, so that will have to figure in somewhere too.

This week we also sowed some seeds. So far we’ve started rainbow chard (photo, right), spinach, zucchini, Tuscan kale, pumpkin, bell pepper, Italian romano beans (photo, left), blue lake beans, sunflowers, shiso, basil, borage, oregano, dill, flat leaf parsley, and donne (Guam) peppers. We’re not sure yet about planting tomatoes this year. After only 3 days, some of the seeds have already already sprouted. Don’t you love starting seedlings — there is so much promise in such a tiny package!

One big thing we have to consider in our landscaping plans is mitigating rain runoff. A couple of weeks ago we had a torrential downpour and discovered exactly where rain runs off and pools around the backyard (and, unfortunately, into the crawlspace… yuck). Much of the backyard is on a slope so we have to think about planting hardy ground cover to prevent erosion and trenching to direct the worst of the run-off into a rain garden. It’s going to take some work (and $$$) but we’re looking forward to doing it ourselves. Fortunately we just happened to find one our favorite ground covers at a local garden show last week — sweet woodruff, which we know better by its German name, Waldmeister (Galium odoratum)As its name implies, Waldmeister is a shade-loving plant found in wooded areas (Wald is German for woods) and is perhaps best known as the key flavoring agent in May wine. We bought a dozen and they should feel right at home beneath all those oaks in the backyard…

Should we or shouldn’t we?
The state of Maryland encourages residents to plant native trees and offers $25 coupons towards the purchase of preferred native trees. Since we already have so many oaks (I think they’re pin oaks and black oaks, the former are natives), we’re planning to use the coupons to get a couple of paw-paws (photo above, courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) — the only natives on the approved list that produce an edible fruit (for humans). What is a paw-paw? Not being a native myself, I had to look it up too! According to the all-knowing Wiki, the common paw-paw (Asimina triloba) belong to the same family as soursop and cherimoya, and is the only member of that family that can grow outside the tropical zone. It does look kind of like a papaya (hence the name, which is Spanish for papaya), but is said to have a banana-like flavor and texture. What do you think?

Besides the cold rain (and snow) forecast for much of this week, perhaps the biggest obstacle to spring yard projects will be the competition for T’s attention now that he knows that the ponds and lakes around us are stocked with bass and full-grown trout! On Saturday, our next door neighbor stopped by while he was outside pruning to tell him the lakes around the county had been stocked earlier in the week. First thing Sunday morning we were at the nearest pond (1 mile away), he with his fly rod. Since there is a stocked pond so close, he was back Tuesday evening after work, and plans to fish after work regularly.

And you know how friendly fisherfolk can be… T. has since learned where the key fly-fishing spots are within a 20-mile radius, so I may be a fly-fishing widow until May. I don’t have a problem with that as long as there is fresh trout to be had. So far, no such luck. So that leaves us warming ourselves by the fire, waiting on our seeds, pampering our starter plants, and designing a rain-friendly landscape.

Help us forget about the weather outside… tell us what you’re planting this spring!