Monday, April 26, 2010

An Alaska garden in April

Pick your favorite subtitle: “Like a Phoenix From the Ashes”, “Jewels in the Snow”, or my personal favorite, “Is That All?”  With so many bloggers showing (off) their spring blooms, I am eager to share just what is happening a far northern garden.  For all you smart aleck types out there: yes, this will be brief.

spring 003

I have gotten into trouble before jumping the gun, usually planting annuals out too early, but this spring I think I may truly have tidied up just a bit too soon.  I hold myself blameless (a good idea for my long term garden mental health): I’ve had nothing whatever to do in the garden since November 4th, so apparently, obviously, unmistakably, plainly, and clearly, I’m desperate (and have a handy Thesaurus).

spring 063

A soft drizzling rain kept me company for a quick bed cleanup.  Just to help the crocus breathe, I rationalized to myself.  First thing first.  I found the wheelbarrow loafing in the side yard (see above) and was heartened to discover it wasn’t frozen to the ground.  Step two: find Felcos and pruning saw.  Step three (after trying Felcos and saying some un-ladylike things about their performance): lubricating pruners.  Step four: slip in snow on way to prune.  Final step: the really fun and satisfying part, giving severe haircuts to anything above ground that catches my eye.  One wheelbarrow-full of clippings later, the big reveal.  OK, the only reveal.  Everything else is still under snow or a sticky, silty, sodden mess. 

spring 070  

spring 089

I made the same newbie mistake I do every year and went full throttle: two hours later I took a short break to assess just how many dead leaves and twigs were in my hair.  Answer: a few, but no spiders, hurrah!  I am unsettled to discover I have a twinge in my lower back, but the sight of some blooms, green things, and brown dirt more than compensates for the pain.  For now.

spring 085

Among the joyous discoveries, the Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ lives and may (steady on, Christine) bloom.  I have never seen a Mag growing in Alaska…so yes, a coup for me, but I’ll try not to let it go to my head.  The Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ lives, as does the Acer maximowiczianum.  Crocus are blooming like mad in purple, white, and yellow.  The ones not nestled in snow, that is.

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spring 104

The disappointments must lead out with the Bergenia.  I have extensive plantings and many are a brown, sodden mess.  Others are cheerful green (see below) or burgundy, which I much prefer to the dead look.  Honestly, who kills off Bergenia?  I guess that can be my claim to garden fame, kind of like the cook that burns water, “Psst, she kills Bergenia!” 

spring 075

I can’t end with a complaint because I worked in the yard today.  A real privilege after a long winter.  Perhaps northern gardeners should have a parade day to celebrate the start of work in the garden again.  (I’ll be the one in the pink coat with bits of twigs and leaves in my hair.)  We can even throw goodies into the crowds of spectators (my vote is for handing out back pain meds).  Now I just have to come up with a theme song and name for this parade.  It’s too late (and I’m too tired, as evidenced by all the parentheses in this post) to come up with anything clever (or even stupid) tonight.  If you have any ideas, do let us know….   

What’s your claim to garden fame?


  1. Are you sure the bergenia is dead? Mine don't turn that beautiful burgundy colour in winter either - they turn brown and look dead, but they still green up again eventually in spring. Don't cut them back just yet ... if it's not too late!

  2. Great post!!! I kill off easy to grow plants all the time (hostas!), rather embarassing but I try one of everything and stick with plants that I get along with. Your parade idea is great, and the back pain meds are much needed for Northern clime gardeners. After so many months of snow we get overzealous and overdo it.

    I can't think of a name or song, although 'follow the yellow brick road' is now going through my head, so a play on words might work well. :)

  3. Ah, your posts are always so nice. The crocus pictures are a plus because they are alive and outside, not on a rack like everything at my house. We still have like a FOOT of snow here in Willow.

  4. Are you kidding? Your garden looks really inspiring to me. Here I am down in the veritable banana belt of B.C. worrying if the wind is going to knock over my delphiniums that are already 3 feet high - I don't appreciate how easy I have it! And, as a matter of fact, your Bergenia looks great! Much healthier looking than mine, which haven't seen a flake of snow at all this winter. Keep up the great work!

  5. Just for fun, I linked to you today. Living in Alaska I can understand. Carefully, doubtfully. But Gardening in Alaska, I admire. (just seen the 'Garden, Alas' in there ;-) That first bed is promising, and I love crocus.

  6. Don't fret, Christine, all looks great and you will soon catch up. I love bergenia, one of my favorite companion plants with bulbs and spring flowers (about to do a post on them). Hold on ... they often look very sad but will perk up after removing all the dead leaves.

  7. Oh, I had to laugh at the Bergenia thing. I could probably kill it! I kill Coreopsis. (Coreopsis!) It takes a special talent to kill such easy blossoms but somehow I manage. Love your post. Be patient. Spring is coming even though it's taking its good old time about! :)

  8. Great post. I think we all jump the gun no matter where we live. I visit blogs from south of me and wonder why I'm not doing whatever it is. I walk outside and sink in the mud and remember why. jim

  9. A sure sign of the return to garden season is the moans and groans flowing on the air currents. LOL! Those muscles that we didn't use are aching. So why do we need them now.The groan whenever we straighten up from leaning over a flower bed. I feel your pain Christine. LOL! Yes you can tell a gardener by the twigs in their hair and the scratches from the roses on their hands and arms. Your bed looks good though if that helps your aching back. Things are starting to grow for you now.

  10. So glad to see your gardens are waking up. Soon you'll have daylight almost all day long and gardeners down here in the lower states will be envying you all your sunshine. I agree with Calgary Garden Coach: hold off on the bergenia, it may surprise you. I'm zone 5 and mine still looks ratty brown-green, but fills in nicely later in the season.

  11. I'm so sorry for the snow, but glad you could get out! I just read that someone in Louisiana had her whole veggie garden planted! can you imagine!.....but I bet they get really hot in the summer. We at least cool down nicely at night.

  12. I must say... you really are very brave! I bet your annuals beat anything we can grow in the lower 48! Larry

  13. Plants, I've killed a few, but then again too few to mention... I'm actually famous for allowing too many plants to live so that they choke each other to death.The first flowers of spring , no matter how few, certainly are a joy to behold. Yours are lovely!

  14. Azaleas. I kill azaleas like nobody's business. I live in the Seattle area. Everyone grows azaleas here. They hand them out to you with a latte' when you come into the state. So far my evil planticide has gone undetected and my brown reign of terror continues unabated.
    Where should I stand for the back pain meds? I want to make sure I get the best ones. ;-)

  15. Your crocuses are lovely; your hard work is obvious. I wish I could think of a clever song and parade title, but I am tired -- and I didn't even work in the garden today.

  16. You must be a great gardener to get things growing in the conditions you have! You put us further south to shame when we complain about the poor weather!

  17. A wheel barrow upside down tells a lot... snow overstaying is an attempt to redo the colourful painting Spring is embarking on. A period like this is a time to reassess of what's going on and answering the question "what's next". Cheers, ~bangchik

  18. Love the suggested titles. Especially "Is that all"? lol

  19. I love how clean and neat your garden looks. I always get carried away with cleaning and pruning and sometimes not at the right time of year. But, most things still survive :-)

  20. @Calgary Garden Coach
    Somehow, despite my best efforts, the bergenia in question have shown signs of life. Being patient (or lazy in my case) has it's rewards, I suppose.


  21. I'm glad you got a chance to work in your yard after such a long time. I think there should be a pre Spring exercise program us gardeners could do so we don't all end up with sore backs. I'm dangerous with pruners, I can't control myself with them and usually am doing it a the worst time of year.

  22. Christine you gave me the biggest chuckle today when you asked if I was sure I didn't live in Alaska. Sometimes I think I might as well! We certainly have some similar weather.
    Your garden looks pretty good to me. I don't think we're that much ahead of you and I bet you'll catch up (and maybe jump ahead) really fast! Glad you were able to get outside.
    ps I get those back twinges too! I think it's good we get bad weather even if I don't want to admit it ~ it forces me back indoors & therefore my back gets a rest!

  23. Thanks for visiting my Swedish garden-blog. It is really amasing how we can communicate all over the world by our blogs.
    Nice to see that you have crocuses and have started the season. I like the idea with a parade to celebrate!

  24. There's something about the way you write that makes me not want to miss a word and I find myself carefully studying the photos looking at the details.

    Hooray for crocuses and the color purple.

    It's always a pleasure to visit you and your garden in lovely Anchorage.


  25. Speaking as someone from the South (south alabama to be precise!), I am feeling very thankful for the growth that we have! Thank you for the reminder! I was just complaining that our bell pepper wasn't ripening fast enough!!!!

  26. I tried growing Bergenia twice (Southern Interior of B.C., zone 5) and it was a sodden brown mess and barely bloomed. Fun blog, and nice to someone with a more difficult climate than mine.


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