Gardening is timeless. I hosted and produced gardening shows on HGTV for 13 years and wrote garden columns for newspapers starting with the Toronto Star in 2004. Because sound gardening advice is never out of date, Bay Observer will be reprinting some of the top columns of the past. Starting with this ode to April.
It’s time for the ritual changing over of window boxes and containers from the winter tableau to spring exuberance. Now that the pine and cedar branches have turned a grim shade of rust, and the red twig dogwood has faded to mother of the bride pink, it’s edifying to compost that material and bring on the spring showoffs.
But this year I wanted to raid my own garden for more material to give the window boxes structure.
I first headed for the curly willow. This shrub needs hacking back to the stump in the spring, and afterwards, it provides excellent material for arrangements.
I hauled the big branches to an outdoor table, and cut off the whippy side shoots of willow. Those I gathered into bunches and tied together with florist wire. Inserting them into the soil in the window boxes, anchors them in place, and adds height and curvaceous movement to the arrangement. I gathered together another group of the slim willow stems, wired them together and fastened them to the front edged of the window boxes, sort of like a spring garland.
Why not also use the piles of ornamental grass clippings from your garden, in spring containers. I cut back one planting of panicum or panic grass, and used the very top of the grass as a filler in the back of the window boxes. Before placing in the soil, I wired the grass together like little bundles of wheat.
The fun and dangerous part of window box make over comes when you visit the garden centre for flowering plant material. Sitting there in the sunshine, the tulips, daffodils and pansies make you swoon.
I bought some big, fat, Big Shot pansies in school bus yellow and royal purple. There so big you can see them from a speeding car. But I have to say I like the adorable little viola’s better. I bought a hilarious one called Sorbet Orange Duet, a completely childlike colour combination of orange and purple. But these little violas always have their petite faces lifted to the sun, never droop and seem as airy as butterflies.
Into the window boxes went mini tulips and daffodils, perfectly in scale with smallish containers. I splurged on an endearing double primrose called ‘Eugenie’, it has true blue flowers, with a delicate white edge, and apple green foliage.
The combination of the bulbs, pansies, perennials and woody material create a miniature garden right at eye level. In the cool temperatures of spring the flowers will last for quite a few weeks. And in a summer when temperatures remain on the cool side, the pansies can even be left in the window box through the month of June.
As I finished up the window boxes, I turned to see a butterfly on the snowdrops. A butterfly in April, could it be possible? All things seem possible in the spring.