This season has been filled with what the Irish call “fine soft days”, and a better climate for transplanting there has never been. This calm saturation without flooding is just what the young plants desire, and soil temperatures are perfect. All the conifers have flushed, the Shore Pine candles have opened and the soft tips on the beautiful Hemlocks glow like fireworks, Irises are flowering, Bog Orchids are in bloom, and the whole town is glowing with color and aroma, it’s a delight to survey the landscape.
It’s really planting season now, the new shrubs, trees, and perennials all are being moved up for the next bloom flush. Lawn planting is racing along, and erosion control projects are being seeded, our germination window is open to its widest extent.
The whole spectrum of landscape and horticulture is alive with activity and progress, and our place in this maelstrom is as exciting as possible. We can choose a field of activity and wade in with a relish, since there is action on all sides.
If bed creation and soil development is your forte, this is the peak of the year for soil amending, as the long spring has made soil ready to turn and blend. Adding peat, manure, lime and compost to the sandy or silty soils, and sand or gravel to the peaty ones, helps create ideal growing mediums. We have beds of pure native peat in which we plant the choicest specimens for protection and where we also set the rescued ones for recuperation. There is something about growing in the native peat that heals wounds and stimulates recovery.
Pruning time is here too, as the rush of summer growth reveals the extent of winter damage. Taking out burnt tips, choosing new leaders and thinning out competing new growth so that the desired shape will continue is the most fun of any horticultural activities. Sharp shears, a good pole pruner and a sturdy ladder help in the task, but a few minutes of reflection before cutting sharpens the most important tool. Your judgment guides your pruning, as you strive to find balance between what is there and what you want to have there in the future.
Winter or dormant pruning stimulates future regrowth while summer pruning guides the current season’s activity. Shape conifers by working in new growth; guide rhododendrons just after they drop their flower petals taking advantage of their own growth rhythms, and prune lilacs by cutting bouquets. The new growth that will set flowering buds for next year, follows their bloom time, so this will be the best time to trim them.
Those lilacs blooming around town fill the air with fragrance. The incredibly fragrant “Miss Kim” Dwarf Korean Lilacs now blooming along the edges of the Goldbelt Building’s parking lot made a wonderful addition to the area, since the lilac concentration in that part of town is about a hundred times as great as any other.
Roses are opening too, and with their arrival, the last of the Big Three is on stage. Roses, Lilacs and Rhododendrons are the strong bones of the summer shrubbery for our area, and that they all bloom around the beginning of July heightens our awareness of the place we occupy in the natural world. We are here as full partners, we participate in the creation of the beautiful settings by placing the soils, setting the young plants in place, and tending their growth as they fill and swell into the mature specimens we enjoy, but we are not in control.
We can plan, and plant and prune, but the real effort is done on another level. The interaction between the flowering species and our own is so ancient that we have only rumor and myth to guide us as we shape the spaces and program the experiences of our gardens. Our response to flowers, and to the shapes and textures of the planted places is so automatic that it transcends language or ideology. We smell the rose, and our faces turn, we hear the rustle of soft leaves and our bodies relax. We are so intertwined with the sensations of the natural world that most of the time we don’t even notice. Just like them, we are part of it all too.
This is a column I wrote in 2005. I have received so many requests for copies and comments online that I have updated it.
• David Lendrum and Margaret Tharp operate Landscape Alaska, a nursery and landscape business located on the Back Loop Road in Juneau. Visit their website at www.landscapealaska.com, or reach them at email@example.com. This column “Landscape Alaska” appears every two weeks.