Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport


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Pussy Willows Galore!

The Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow has a history of over 20 years in our garden. My mom originally received the first cuttings from a work friend who had a connection to one of the Boston Garden Clubs.  She was excited to bring home five small rooted branches of this exotic plant for the garden. She even had a few to spare and shared them with a neighbor across the street.  Of course, the cuttings that ventured across the street took off and grew into a beautiful tree.  The ones my mother planted didn’t make it through the first season.

So the next year, she grabbed a cutting from the neighbor. This exchange took a few seasons for the plant to finally get established in the garden it was originally intended. Eventually, with pruning to remove bottom branches, my mother created a small, beautiful tree.

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In late winter the weeping, twisted, burgundy colored branches of the Fantail Pussy Willow are covered with tiny, soft, shimmery silver buds, actually known as catkins. By mid-spring, the branches become covered with gold puffs (I almost wrote ‘Gold Fingers’ in keeping with this story’s title!!) of pollen. By summer it leafs out to create a unique summer /fall ornamental shrub. 

Over time, new cuttings from the established Pussy Willow were shared with friends and neighbors, but unfortunately with a less than 50 percent success rate (mostly because non-gardeners wanted to try to plant them and didn’t follow the simple instructions.) The one other place where the cuttings did well was in Hampton Falls, on the New Hampshire seacoast. My friend Bobbi – a true gardener –  was able to create a beautiful tree from one of the early cuttings. It eventually reached over 8 feet tall.

Everything changed in 2011 when the now infamous Halloween Nor’Easter hit New England. The heavy, wet snow decimated many of the trees and shrubs across the region – including the Pussy Willows that we worked so hard to propagate in Nashua and Hampton Falls. The weight of the snow and wind split the trees in half, all the way to the ground. (Lilacs and Bradford Pear trees were also hit hard across the area.)

Bobbi chose to simply remove the damaged tree from her Seacoast garden. In Nashua, my neighbor did some pruning and was able to keep most of the height of the tree shape he created.  On the other hand, in our garden, a decision was made to cut the damage all the way back to ground level to see what would happen. (We also knew we could start all over again with a cutting from next door!) 

While this Pussy Willow grows relatively fast, it took a couple of years for it to eventually fill in the back area of the garden.  Since receiving the first cuttings 20 years ago, my mother always called it a ‘Weeping Pussy Willow’ (Fake Gardening News!)

We finally learned this plant’s true name at the annual Boston Flower Show in 2014 – it is a Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow.  There was a vendor at the show from the midwest with thousands of cut stems, selling them for about  $15/bundle.  My mom and I talked to the grower and learned this Pussy Willow is meant to be a shrub and should be cut back hard every year in late winter, just at the silvery catkins start to emerge.

Even with this newfound knowledge, we never got out in time during 2014 to cut the branches back – then in 2015, during our hysterical/historical winter, the deep snow cover through late March made it a challenge to even get to that part of the garden.

Finally, all conditions were perfect in 2016!  I went out on a bright late winter afternoon and cut the beautiful branches back by almost half.  By the time I was finished, I was worried that I’d cut too much from what suddenly became a bare tree trunk. On the plus side, we now had a huge pile of Pussy Willows branches to use for decoration.

Yes, Pussy Willows Galore!

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I used many in my own home and shared even more with friends and neighbors. They could also be enjoyed on Main Street in Downtown Nashua at Scontsas Fine Jewelry & Home Decor. My friends, Philip and Amalia are both gardeners and used many of the Pussy Willows to decorate their beautiful store, inside and out last spring. (If you visit their store, tell them I sent you – they are regular readers of this blog, too!)

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Pussy Willows for a Decorative Spring Touch at Scontsas Fine Jewelry & Home Decor

The cut stems, dry and keep their silvery buds when put into dry containers.  For people who want to try to grow their own Pussy Willow shrubs, a little bit of water in the container keeps the branches alive, allowing them to root and eventually transplanted. Here are examples of keeping the branches in dry containers in my home (on the left) and also being enjoyed at Liz’s home (right). Liz was highlighted in the Garden with Grace Blog a few years ago when we Gardened at the Gardner Museum in Boston.

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Pussy Willows in my home

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Pussy Willows in Liz’s home

As March 2017 arrived, I’ve now CAREFULLY followed a full cycle of the Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow. While it was cut back hard last year, there were still some beautiful curvy branches to cut for decoration – but not nearly the bushels we had in 2016!  dsc_0636I went light on the cutting this year, so that that we can have a larger and more mature bounty in 2018. In late February, I put five branches in water (with a few branches of magnolia and flowering crabapple) to force some early spring flowers in the house. The magnolia bloomed within a week – the crabapple should open within the next few days.

DSC_0649The Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow is already self-rooting and will be planted back into the garden in late May.

The cycle continues.

Special Note: I’ve had this blog – with its clever title – in mind since last spring. But held off on posting because I wanted to highlight a full growing cycle of the gorgeous Japanese Fantail Pussy Willow in our garden. I planned to publish this story in late fall of 2016. Ironically and unfortunately, when I first completed this post, one word in the title was making headlines tied to the US Presidential Election – and honestly, I didn’t want to change it. As a result, I held off to rewrite the ending and finally finished and posted this story in early March 2017!  (I’m sure that some Google searches will unexpectedly bring some search results to this blog since this word is still appearing in news feeds today — for those who found my story this way, thank you for reading until the end!) 


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Find the Seed at the Bottom of Your Heart…

Gerber Daisies are one of my favorite flowers. Being an annual, there’s always a pot of them in the summer garden to add splashes of color among the perennials. That means I get to pick out a new plant each year – and there’s always a bright array of options ranging from red and orange to hot pink. My closest friends know that I can’t resist seeing one of these flowering plants or a bouquet of cut stems without taking a moment or two to absorb their beauty.

Gerbers are a plant that I can usually find at a local grocery store by mid February (Whole Foods in Nashua usually has great ones!) Bringing this live plant into my home during the later part of winter, as the days start to get noticeably longer, gets me excited for the start of the pending gardening season. (Especially on days like today, when the three storms over the past five days bring a fresh accumulation of over 25″ of snow.)

The ritual of adding this annual flower started about 15 years ago with a pot of bright red Gerber Daisies to welcome visitors at the entry to the backyard garden.  The blossoms were about 4-6 inches across were show-stopping as they bloomed all summer. There were always at least three flowers in bloom with as many buds pushing up through the dense soil. I diligently deadheaded the plant to always encourage new growth – until one day I faced a dilemma.

One of the newly emerged buds, on a stem still less than an inch tall, didn’t look like the others. It was very flat and lopsided, as if someone had tightly pinched it. Being close to the end of the growing season, there was only one more bud pushing through the soil. My first thought was to snip the odd bud. I didn’t.

About 10 days later, the most beautiful flower was revealed — a bright red Gerber Daisy with a beautiful, perfect heart center.

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I pull out this image every year, to share it with friends for Valentine’s Day. It’s a heartfelt reminder to look past perceived imperfections because there may be something perfect inside just waiting to be revealed.

Side Note: I think it’s important to share this factoid, since this is the ‘Garden with Grace’ blog. When Grace, the dog, was in a New Jersey shelter, her name was Gerber before she came to New Hampshire via an animal rescue group.  There were thoughts of adjusting her name to Daisy, keeping the thought of Gerber in place, but since she responded to Grace and arrived on Good Friday, the rest of history. That said, I think of that girl whenever I type the words Gerber Daisy. She had her imperfections too, including scars from years of abuse, but when cared for and loved, she had a perfect heart, too.

“Find the seed at the bottom of your heart and bring forth a flower.”

~ Shigenori Kameoka

 

 


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Keep Your Face to the Sunshine…

There is always so much hope when seeds are planted  in late spring.

Especially sunflower seeds.

We look forward to their golden petals all summer, while at the same time, know that their arrival signals the transition to shorter days and the autumn season.

The New England weather challenged backyard gardeners all summer long as severe to extreme drought conditions gripped the region. (We lost our little bit of lawn — again — yes, that ‘Sad Sod Situation’ continues to be a challenge – but we’ll discuss that in another post someday.)

Beginning in  June, we watched the sunflowers struggle.  The dozen or so inch-high seedlings were a much sought after ‘garden buffet’ delicacy for this year’s over abundance of chipmunks and squirrels. In the end, we were able to grow a TWO eight foot tall sunflowers that became a stunning, late early autumn focal point, adding much-needed color to the garden. (Even the hydrangea failed to bloom due to the challenge of changing climate conditions.)

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It was amazing to watch the single large flower on each stem slowly open and come to life over the course of four days.

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Day 1 – Ready to Burst

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Day 2 – Time to Wake Up

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Day 3 – Almost There

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Day 4 – Hello Sunshine!

HELLO SUNSHINE!

Once each flower opened, the bees quickly began their pollination process.  It was amazing to watch the bumble bees AND honey bees over the course of about 10 days navigate around and around the flowers’ centers to pollinate and bring the sunflower seeds to life.

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As the seed head grew bigger and heavier each day, I was looking forward to harvesting some of the seeds to save for the 2017 garden. The plan was to leave the majority of the seeds for the songbirds to enjoy.

THEN THIS HAPPENED!

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A squirrel used a nearby trellis as a ladder to reach the seeds.  Fresh sunflower seeds became another menu item in the backyard garden buffet. Delicious!

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The seed head continued to swell for a few more days and approximately three weeks after the flower first began to show its sunny face, its head bowed deeply toward the earth as autumn set in.  By day 30, the squirrel came back, hungry and in full force, to strip the seeds row by row – creating an interesting pattern.

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Second to peonies, sunflowers have always been one of my favorite flowers (lavender would round out the top three.)  After enjoying hundreds of sunflowers from self-sown seeds in the Greeley Park Community Gardens a few years ago, it was gratifying to grow sunflowers in our own backyard garden this summer. Perhaps in 2017, we’ll double our crop …. and raise four of them!

This feeling of optimism that sunflowers bring must be part of the story behind the Helen Keller quote that inspired me to share the story of our 2016 sunflower success:

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows. 

 It’s what the sunflowers do.” ~Helen Keller


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Red Solo Cup, I Fill You Up…Let’s Have a (Garden) Party

(I’ve edited the title of this blog thanks to the inspiration of my friend Liz…and Toby Keith)

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the promise of a new gardening season by starting a few seeds in my house in early to mid March. Usually one or two varieties of tomatoes and hot peppers, along with a culinary herb or two thrown in (most often basil or cilantro.)

Seven years ago, that annual feeling of promise turned my gardening hobby into a full-blown commitment! A Costco-sized package of Red Solo Cups, that would have been more appropriate for a college keg party, became my new favorite gardening tool in 2009. Using an icepick, I carefully poked three holes for drainage in the bottom of every one….that in itself took over an hour!

FB_IMG_1459601989890A variety of organic seeds were ordered online and a new shelf for warming trays and adjustable grow lights that were stored in the basement, transformed my little sun porch into a tiny green house. By early May, I had over 100 plants ready for my garden (and all my friends’ gardens!)

By Memorial Day, the seedlings were outside in their summer containers and garden beds.

In August, we enjoyed the fruits of our nearly six months of labor. Of all the heirloom tomatoes, the Black Krim were the hands-down favorite with Brandywine being a close second.

It’s been seven years since I’ve started seedlings indoors in late winter. While I really do enjoy the ritual of researching new seeds to plant, I’ve been leaving that part of my gardening process to local nurseries and greenhouses in recent years.

Today, after I fell across the 2009 photo with all the Red Solo Cups, I admit that I had a sudden urge to pick up a bag of potting soil while I stocked up on woodpecker suet cakes at the Nashua Farmer’s Exchange this afternoon. I let the urge pass, and will save my impulse buys for my first visit to the local greenhouse in early May.


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Gardening Epiphany

The post-gardening months of November and December were remarkable as 2015 came to a close.  It was unusally warm as autumn transitioned into winter.  And, for the first time that I can remember, the outdoor water spigots were still open on December 31st. (I just shut them off this week vs. the standard ritual of this happening by Thanksgiving weekend.)

Either Mother Nature was offering penance for last winter’s historic snowfall in New Hampshire, or she was just resting up for the coming New Year.

Most notable as the year ended, an amazing sight appeared on Christmas Day. Mother Nature offered the gift of a single viola (Johnny Jump Up) blossom in an area of the garden that is literally ‘between a rock and a hard place’. The honeysuckle on the back trellis pushed out a few orange-pink blooms, as well. It was a sunny, warm day on December 25th (the First Day of Christmas!) So warm in fact, the furnace was off for the day and the windows and doors had to be opened…..oh, and yes,  the flowers were blooming!

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It was so different from Christmas Days past when it was almost impossible to go outside with temperatures in the single digits. But as always in New England, you just need to wait for a moment (or two) and everything changes.  Snow and ice finally arrived four days later and the garden is now under a soft white blanket to sleep for the next few weeks.

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Don’t let a sleeping garden fool you.  Now is the most exciting time of the year for this garden blogger.  January is the month when I find that gardening activities are the most focused and important.

I browse the hundreds of photos that I’ve taken over the past season and make notes of what needs to be moved and removed. And this year, I’m adding the best photos from the season to my new Garden with Grace on Instagram page to complement this blog.

I flip through catalogues that still arrive by mail in January and February to see what is marked “NEW!” for 2016.

I read old gardening books and journals that are stored in my potting shed.  And this year, I’m reading a new book (a thoughtful Christmas gift from my friend Liz) that is a fascinating guide, called Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities

I confer with my mother (my gardening mentor and co-gardener!) about plans for the coming spring. Our discussions over the past few years always involve the same three basic questions:

  1. Should we start some things from seed? (No. Not after that time in 2009 when we ended up with nearly 200 red solo cups of seedlings in our sun/garden room.)
  2. Will we order any special or “NEW!” plants to add to the landscape? (No. Let’s mark what we want from the catalogues and patronize local nurseries in the spring, instead.)
  3. What are we going to do with the two areas of grass that died again? (Don’t know yet. But the grass from my Sad Sod Situation story, just over a year ago needs attention again!)

These questions will no doubt be brought up in the coming weeks (usually during an evening ritual that my grandfather called ‘Coffee Break’. Others call it Cocktail Hour!) No matter the season or time of year, gardening is a 365 day obsession in my home.

So here it is, my 2016 Gardening Epiphany that arrived on January 6, the 12th Day of Christmas: You can take the Gardener of out of the Garden, but you can never take the Garden out of the Gardener.

 

 

 


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Rediscovering Inspiration

It’s that time of year in New Hampshire. The garden is done…hit by multiple freezes over the past week. I spent this morning in the garage and potting room organizing tools, putting away hummingbird feeders, and just looking around to see what could be salvaged or recycled for 2016 and what will no longer make it through another gardening season.

The Garden Cat, who continues to stalk me, found that I was in the potting room at the back of the garage, so he joined me for a while…he settled into the perfect spot to look over the spent garden to keep an eye out for chipmunks.

20151025_112138After I finished my “chores” I took some time to browse through the “Garden Library” in the corner of the potting room. It’s an eclectic mix of gardening guides and books collected over several decades by multiple generations of family gardeners. Some are gifts from friends, as well. This special library is stored in old wood crates, including one from Producer’s Dairy in Nashua.

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Today, my eye was drawn to one of my all-time favorite books by Adelma Simmons. I met her in 1993 at her farm/garden that was known as Caprilands in Coventry, Connecticut.

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At that time, I had a fascination with herb gardening and my visit to Caprilands turned that fascination into what is now a lifetime obsession. She signed this book for me 22 years ago this month.

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A lot has changed since that visit to Connecticut. Ms. Simmons passed away in 1997 and her herbal paradise is no longer open to the public. You can read more about her via this link.

The one thing that is unchanged is my obsession of growing and using herbs for culinary, mixology, and aromatherapy purposes.

I loved rediscovering this gem of a book today and remembering back to the day that I visited Caprilands in October 1993. I look forward to reading “Gardens of Delight” again to find renewed inspiration for the 2016 garden. (Thank you Adelma! )


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Beauty – Always in the Eye of the Beholder

At the end of a very rainy day, I felt the need to stroll through my now fading garden. After a few minutes, I was feeling a little down that the flowers, especially the mandevilla, are starting to shrivel and drop after a very dry summer season.

I heard a car pull up and stop on the other side of the hedge and could see a woman in the driver’s seat waving to me.

She rolled down the window and asked about the “beautiful red flowers” on the trellis. (The mandevilla that I was looking at as she pulled up.)

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The woman got out of her car and told me how she enjoys looking over the hedge and into my garden while she waits to pick up her daughter who visits nearby. (She enjoys listening to the wind chimes and watching the birds, too!)

We chatted for a few minutes about gardening and nature and peacefulness. It was an interaction that lasted only a few minutes.

The irony hit me. I felt sad about the exact same thing that brought her joy.

Before she left, we exchanged introductions. Her name is Grace.


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Fuller Gardens: A Fragrant, Rose Lover’s Paradise

I’ve spent so much time in my own garden this summer, that it was a treat to visit someone else’s last week!

I could have not have picked a better evening than last Wednesday to visit Fuller Gardens in North Hampton, NH. It was the night of their Annual Garden (and Art) Party!

A long time Granite State resident and frequent visitor to our 13 mile seacoast, I’ve passed the sign for this well-known NH garden hundreds of times over the past few decades, but never turned off of Route 1-A for a visit.

The property is within view of the Atlantic Ocean, among the sprawling estates that line the narrow and curvy road along NH’s scenic seacoast. I was a guest of my friend, Bobbi, who is a new resident of this area – she’s also a long-time gardening friend. Plants from each of our gardens have been shared with one another and our families for many years. This was Bobbi’s first visit to Fuller Gardens, too.

We were both in awe of the rose gardens that include 125 varieties and 1700 bushes. Immediately, we noticed that the roses in our own gardens aren’t planted like the ones at Fuller Gardens. Neither of us mound the soil around the crowns of our own rose bushes.

The beauty all around us was almost overwhelming. Right away, we found the path that lined the area of the David Austin roses. The fragrance enveloped the area — there’s no better scent than that of rose mixed with the misty sea air (if it were bottled, I’d buy it all!)

There were hundreds of people at this garden soiree. But, I didn’t notice until I looked through my photos the next day that I captured a moment when the gardens appeared to be quiet and lonely. The reality is that the air was not only filled with the fragrance of salt air and roses, but also with the sounds of jazz and people laughing and talking, and ooohing and ahhhing! Only one of the artists (and none of the party-goers) was in what is now my favorite photo from that evening. Several artists from across the region were sprawled around the property, all painting their own beautiful interpretations of the gardens.

Garden2015-FullerThis is how I will always remember Fuller Gardens. Serene, fragrant, and overwhelmingly beautiful.

While the estate also features a gorgeous Japanese Garden, Conservatory, and English Perennial Garden, Fuller Gardens is definitely a rose lover’s paradise. It is now at the top of my list of “must-visit” places for people who travel to and through New Hampshire.

I can’t wait to go back! (And tend to the roses in my own garden a little bit better!)


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Pussycat, Pussycat, Where have you been?

As plants in the garden evolve and change over the years, so has the collection of “Garden Cats” that have taken ownership of my property. It’s funny, because not one of the “Garden Cats” of the past 20 years has belonged to me!

There are too many to mention, but some of the favorites are remembered in a collage in my potting shed.

L-R clockwise: Momma Cat, Cuddles, Bradley, Peppermint. (Momma Cat is the only one still living at 19 yrs old!)

L-R clockwise: Momma Cat, Cuddles, Bradley, Peppermint. (Momma Cat is the only one still living at 19 yrs old!)

For about 10 years, a long haired black cat with bright green eyes has visited the garden somewhat regularly. He’s always been shy, until this year’s gardening season started. His name is Oreo and his owners live a few houses away. Oreo prefers to be an outdoor cat and can be seen here and there and everywhere around the neighborhood.

When Grace was still with us, Oreo would watch intently as we’d walk by, always staying out of her sight (Grace was a big dog!), but I’d always see him peering around corners or from under bushes nearby.  I think that he realizes that there’s no longer a dog at my house.

This was especially evident today. Oreo’s ‘cattitude’ was in full force. Everytime I looked out the window, or walked outside, there he was, taking ownership of the garden.  He especially loves being near the Wine & Roses Wiegela (it seems to be an aphrodisiac for cats when the pink flowers are in bloom, similar to a kiwi vine that was in the garden a few years ago!)

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Oreo resting near the Wine & Roses Wiegela today.

Of course, he’s interested in the Catmint too, but I think that’s due to the fact that the chipmunks have a path nearby.

Oreo enjoying the view (and fragrance of the Catmint flowers in bloom!)

Oreo enjoying the view (and fragrance of the Catmint flowers in bloom!)

I never thought I’d blog about cats. I’m allergic to them. I don’t own any. And, I’ve always been a ‘dog-person’ as is evident by the premise on which this blog was created a few years ago.

However, I do enjoy the company of my “Garden Cats.”  And as any cat-person would tell you, you don’t own them. They own you! In this case, I feel honored that Oreo, and all the other “Garden Cats” of the past two decades, have selected to take ownership of such a special place (and of course, me!)

Just as “Good Queen Bess”, (who inspired the nursery rhyme ‘Pussycat, Pussycat’) decreed that an old cat could wander around her throne room as long as it got rid of mice, I allow the old (and young) cats to wander the garden as long as they do the same! Meoww!


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Suddenly Spring

In some cases, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

This Garden with Grace update provides a snapshot of one of the most beautiful spring seasons that we’ve enjoyed in southern New Hampshire in recent memory.

Apparently, Mother Nature had a wonderful plan after subjecting us to a winter, that with each passing day, becomes just a distant memory.

Weeping Japanese Fantail Pussywillow was one of the first perennials to come to life in April.

Weeping Japanese Fantail Pussywillow was one of the first perennials to come to life in April

Magnolia & Weeping Cherry bloomed together this year.

Magnolia & Weeping Cherry Tree

Japanese Weeping Crabapple and standard Crabapple

Japanese Weeping Crabapple and standard Crabapple

Our State Flower, the (perfumey) Lilac, bloomed most of May

Our State Flower, the (perfumey) Lilac, bloomed most of May

Pansies grew everywhere, except where they were planted!

Pansies grew everywhere, except where they were planted!