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NATURE’S TURN: Savor spring’s firsts and draw a garden plan

When it is cold outdoors and chilled hands send us in, take the time to create or complete planting plans for the vegetable garden, perennial beds and borders.
March 30 – April 12, 2015

Mt. Washington — In the pussy willow thicket stems sparkle with furry silver flower buds that are pushing out of their smooth, black covers – scales that are the living bud’s winter coat. I’m quite sure I hear a shy (or cold) red-winged blackbird; there is a blackbird high in a great sugar maple and one in flight! But the alder and cattail marsh is snow covered, the mountain pond frozen. The expected commotion of migratory birds is absent. It is too still, quiet and white.

If not in February, March is usually the month of so many “firsts” – the sounds, smells, sights, tastes and touch of spring. Although most of our senses have been stymied, the sweet taste of spring is in our tea, brewed in maple sap, and on our pancakes soaked in maple syrup. We await the return to our community of the early ones: peepers, woodcocks, ducks, robins, phoebes, mourning cloak butterflies, skunk cabbage. Oh, for the touch of a warm breeze! Eyes, ears, nose, and skin reach for the fullness of spring.

Our bodies and spirits are ready to tend the land. We take stock of all there is to do when the snow has melted and the water receded. There will be fences to mend, winterkilled twigs to prune, and scouting around for rodent activity and damage. Compost must be spread on both perennial and annual beds that were not prepared in the autumn, not to mention completing any cleanup, plant division and weeding left undone.

A nine year old youth’s design for an Herb and Native American garden. This design was implemented by fourth grade classes as a part of an arts-in-education program conducted by Judy Isacoff at the now closed Roeliff-Jansen School in Hillsdale, NY.


When it is cold outdoors and chilled hands send us in, take the time to create or complete planting plans for the vegetable garden, perennial beds and borders. Having a diagram of the garden layout – whether composed of distinct areas, raised beds, permanent trellis areas or an unarticulated expanse – facilitates determining crop rotations in the annual garden and choices of annuals for open spots in perennial plots. It may be a rough sketch or a drawing to scale.

We’ve drawn a map of the vegetable garden with all the beds outlined to scale. This is reproduced as a blank to fill in every year. The drawing should be large enough to allow the entry of plant names, dates planted and, ideally, harvest dates and peripheral notes. The diagram thus becomes a document that keeps a history of the garden.

In rather small gardens it’s difficult to have more than a year or two rotation. Leafy crops should follow root and bulb crops. Plants of the same family should not follow each other, for example, tomatoes should not follow potatoes. Tomatoes are the exception to the rule of crop rotation, widely said to do well in the same bed successively. I think plenty of compost is key.

In addition to photography, the work of drawing, painting and/or mapping the garden is invaluable for season-to-season planning. Keeping a chronology of nature notes that includes both what is happening in wild nature and in the garden enriches our experience, provides perspective and can potentially contribute to the arts and sciences.

Upcoming educational opportunities:

Project Native Film Festival, April 11 & 12, www.projectnative.org 413-274-3433

Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association, Berkshire Garden Symposium, April 11, https://wmmga.org/berkshire

Sources of bulk compost and mulch:

Local Garden Centers

Steve Leining, Sheffield, Mass., 413.429.7537, steve486@bcn.net

McEnroe Farm, Millerton, N.Y., 518.789.3252 https://www.mcenroeorganicfarm.com/


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While we busily plant our annuals as a rite of the start of summer, just like Memorial Day, don’t neglect your perennial gardens.


I mentioned spongy moth caterpillars briefly last week. I hear Columbia County in New York has a tremendous outbreak now.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.