Friday, April 15, 2011

Still Life with Robin: How Does Your Garden Grow (The Sequel)

by Peggy Robin

Washington is in the full glory of spring. Our government may be trillions in the hole but if you count as riches what actually blossoms from our literal holes in the ground, we have immeasurable wealth. My own little front yard contributes to the bounty, I’m happy to say.  About a half-year ago, during planting season, I wrote about of my vast incompetence as a gardener. (See  However, last year I was presented with a second chance to make something of my yard, when, as a consequence of Snowmageddon, I lost virtually all my plantings from the years before. The blizzard had taken down the one good thing that we had, a plum tree, that never failed to delight. After its snapped limbs and ice-sheared trunk had been chopped up and hauled away, the stump-removal machine came in and churned up the soil to get rid of all the old tree-roots, and in the process, ground up all my previously-planted bulbs. Not such a loss, as all those bulbs had ever done, most of them, is manage is send up some scraggly green shoots. In any given year only a handful of them produced actual flowers. I never understood why the bulbs did so poorly, but when presented with the chance to replant from scratch, was willing to give it another go.  It was that, or just pave over everything and give up.

In response to that column I received a good deal of wise counsel and encouragement in the form of email messages from gardeners who actually know what they’re doing.  The consensus of opinion was that the bulbs must have been too much in the shade of the plum tree in bloom. With the plum tree demolished, the sun will shine directly on the shoots, I was told, and they will open up into the sort of flowers shown on the colorful labels attached to the bulb packages at the time of purchase. So I can expect bright yellow daffodils, red and white tulips, and some lavender things that I bought but no longer remember what they’re called. Not crocuses. Not hydrangeas. Hiawathas? Hyadoin? Hya-somethings, anyway.

I am both thrilled and astonished to report that almost everything that I planted actually came up. I think some pretty things have appeared that I can't even remember planting. I’m not sure how this happened. Maybe it was indeed the increased sunshine -- but I’m taking it as karmic payback for all those years I so worked hard trying make things grow, and got so very little if anything to show for my efforts.

I should also report that in addition to spring bulbs, I again have a flowering tree in the front. For this blossoming wonder, I know whom to thank: Casey Trees. At about the time I set out to replace the late lamented plum tree, the Casey Trees Foundation was doing a splendid job of publicizing its tree-planting rebate program: If you plant the right type of tree and take care of it, you are eligible for a $50 check from the foundation. Well, if someone’s going to pay me to plant a particular type of tree, and that type of tree is also hardier, better suited to the environment, and more likely to flourish if I take care of it as directed, that’s all I need to hear. I went on the Casey Trees website and found a list of flowering trees that qualified for the payment. One of them was called the “Cleveland Pear.”  It looked good in a photo (yeah, all flowering things look good in photos) and there was something particularly appealing about the idea of a Cleveland Pear in Cleveland Park. It just seemed right. Better still, the tree was supposed to be relatively storm-resistant, bug-resistant, rot-resistant, and fast-growing.

Now I have to admit, when the tree nursery guys came in the fall and put the bare-branched young sapling in the ground, I immediately wondered whether I’d made a mistake. It looked so spindly and ugly, and seemed to get uglier as the winter wore on. March arrived and all the other trees started budding, but from this new tree…nothing.  Then it was mid-March and other people’s plum trees were all pink and purple, but still from this new little pear tree…nothing.  I missed my plum more than ever and wondered how this new tree, when and if it bloomed, could ever be as nice. I worried about it, too:  Maybe it hadn’t survived the winter?  What if I hadn't watered it enough? Or over-watered it? I thought I had faithfully followed all the instructions on the helpful tree care sheet that came with the Casey Trees rebate check. The point at which I decided to stop worrying was just as we were going away for our spring break family vacation at the end of March.

When we came back a week later, it was almost April, and there was the pear tree, all covered in fluffy white balls, just like the full-blooming Cleveland Pear shown in the sales photo on the tree nursery's website, only better! Fantastic! So now I have a blossoming ornamental tree, just like the old days, and to go with it, in the small patch of earth under the tree, a garden filled with flowers. My guess is that going away for a week did the trick. I have hypothesized the "watched pot" theory of gardening. If I had stayed here, nothing  would have happened. The garden erupted into a full boil of blooms only because I wasn't there to jinx it.

So now I have my strategy set. Go away in the spring, come back and see the magic. I’ll let you know if it works again in the spring of 2012.


Have any good gardening tips for me?  I welcome your suggestions and comments below.


  1. Your purple "Hya-somethings" probably are "Hyacinths." See here:

  2. P.S. I forgot to mention that your garden looks really nice! :>)

  3. Yes, they are indeed hyacinths! But today's storm just flattened everything. Still, it was nice while it lasted.