Six on Saturday: Just Standing and Staring

The first fiddleheads of the season appeared yesterday. This is a Japanese holly fern. A Japanese painted fern has debuted this week as well.

We’ve been on the springtime roller coaster here this week with a 50+ degree (Fahrenheit) temperature spread from day to day, and some odd mix of fog, heavy rain, wind, and bright calm sunshine. The trees and flowering shrubs got all excited with our warm and sunny days and released flowers and baby leaves this week. Daffodils continue to pop up and bloom like they are competing in a spring-time sprint. Suddenly, the dull evergreen Vinca vines have favored us with bright periwinkle flowers. And amazingly, the first fiddleheads of the season have begun to unfold.

Now, the flip side of all of this, which I don’t have photos to document, are the Japanese honeysuckle vines and Akebia vines springing to life with inches of new growth each hour and tender, lovely, leaves that make me almost feel guilty when I clip them out of flowering shrubs, where they are twining so tenaciously. I spent a happy few hours pruning out vines, thinning the mophead Hydrangeas, clipping back rose of Sharon, and removing a few stragglers among the perennial stems still standing here and there.

I’m a bit out of shape after a short winter with a series of good books, endless cups of coffee/tea, and a crackling fire. Those forays into the garden leave me satisfied, but way too sore. Which is why I’m also doing a lot of “Just Standing and Staring” and taking photos of each little unfolding wonder.

I came across a review this week of Andrew Timothy O’Brien’s new book, To Stand and Stare: How to Garden While Doing Next to Nothing. He begins by reminding us that our gardens don’t need us. They are perfectly happy to be left alone to do their own thing. Only, they won’t remain gardens for long after we stop our mowing, pruning, planting, planning, and tidying up. They will revert to their own true selves- wild places. What follows is a beautiful meditation on what it means to have a garden, and the value of working in cooperation with nature. Actually, he reminds us that we are being incredibly presumptuous to assume that we are in an egalitarian partnership. Nature always has the upper hand and the final say.

Flowering quince, Chaenomelese speciosa ‘Scarlet Storm’

How true his words ring for me. He also gardens in an area that would revert to woodland without his intervention. His prose makes me chuckle while realizing the truth of his insights. I highly recommend this beautiful gardening book, which is exactly what I need to absorb headed into a fresh, new spring. Standing and staring is a wonderful way to find inspiration for fresh efforts in a fresh year. It also reveals many little things that we can correct now as growth begins, and save ourselves much greater efforts later.

Last fall I gathered acorns, soaked and sprouted them, and finally planted them in deep flats. The first acorn to germinate and grow popped up quickly with a 6″-7″ stem and several leaves. All of that in the garage. I potted it up in a gallon pot last week and it is growing on happily on the back deck, well protected with granular Plantskydd to try to discourage the squirrels from attacking it.

Another of our redbuds bloomed this week. Now I see them appearing in a pink haze all along the Colonial Parkway in the edges of the woods.

There were several more tiny green stems popping up through soil in the flat. One appeared to have some tiny leaves, and I dug it out yesterday. I was amazed to discover that while the green growth was only a couple of inches, the roots, already well developed, were more than a foot long! They were wending their way all through the flat. That is exactly what Jim mentioned in the comments last week, and it is the first time I’ve noticed an acorn putting on so much root growth in a flat. He mentioned starting acorns in a drain pipe, which would be a great idea if I could dig a hole deep enough to plant the root system that would develop in the pipe. That just isn’t possible in this yard.

So I took my longest, narrowest shovel and made a deep cut in the wet soil, and worked the shovel as deeply as I could, just pulling the ground back to reveal an opening. All of this right beside a rotting stump where we lost a tree a few years ago in a storm. The stump should offer some protection for the baby red oak. Into that open wedge I tucked the roots, situating the acorn just below ground level with the leaves fully exposed. I’ve tucked it in well, covered it with fallen leaves and spread the Plantskydd. Fingers crossed that it will thrive. Now, a few more sprouting acorns remain to be rescued from the flat this weekend.

Evergreen ferns that hold their beauty all winter, like this Polystichum setiferum, make such a beautiful backdrop for spring bulbs and Hellebores. I love plants like these that require little or no effort once they are planted.

As March would have it, we have cold nights ahead over the next 10 days or so. I won’t be surprised to still see snow, even after our mild weather. That should put the breaks on the budding and flowering trees, at least slow things down a little. This week we’ve seen trees all over the area in full bloom. Everything from pears and apples to spring blooming Magnolias and Camellias shine with pastel flowers like it was nearly April already. The red maples are all blooming, too.

Sculptors talk about freeing a statue from a block of stone. Maybe the work of gardeners is a little bit similar. We’re moved to edit what nature gives us, to make some sense of it, and to guide its growth into a pleasing form. Pleasing to whom, you may ask? Why, pleasing to ourselves, of course. Why bother with gardening unless it bring us a bit of peace, some honest exercise, and a good deal of joy. The joy is the important part, and the wonder of participating in the unfolding of nature’s beauty and bounty.

With appreciation to Jim Stephens of Garden Ruminations, who hosts Six on Saturday each week.

You might enjoy my new series of posts, Plants I Love That Deer Ignore.

Visit Illuminations Each Day for a daily garden photo and a quotation



  1. ‘Scarlet Storm’ really is impressive. I really should go out to look at the ‘Orange Storm’ here. It started to bloom, but did not seem to be doing well with it, as the foliage was already starting to appear. It is canned, since it has not yet found a home, but I like to bring it out and put it into a larger pot while it is blooming.

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      • Each flower lasts several days. None have faded yet. The photos were taken on February 27. I noticed the flowers opening last Sunday, and they may have started on the afternoon of the 25th. None have faded, yet. What a display!

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    • I hope you’ll do a post on ‘Orange Storm’ if it is in bloom. I’d love to see it in full flower in your climate. I generally avoid orange flowers, but peach can be very nice. ‘Scarlet’ Storm is just breathtaking this spring, for the first time since we planted it. The first flowers came on February 27 and it had been showing color on the buds for about 10 days prior. I don’t recall how long it bloomed last year. It is very hard to photograph. I expect flowers at least through the end of March, maybe into early April, depending on the weather.

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    • It is so early here for this sort of display, Eliza. It feels like a stolen pleasure! Our last frost date is April 5 and we often get snow in March. Yes, it has come alive so exuberantly and beautifully! It is a beautiful treat to see early and mid-season daffodils all blooming at the same time, too. There are some beautiful color associations. And the Hellebores are especially happy this year. I just bought the first flat of perennials of the season at a local nursery, yesterday. I bought perennials that can slough off cold, but still! It is only the first week of March! Your snow is doing wonderful things for your garden. How many inches so far this year?


      • Do you normally get much snow after March 1? After seeing so many areas in drought I remain grateful for every rainy day- even though the ground is sometimes saturated and it causes the other problems it causes. I hope you at least have a branch to force indoors to have a taste of spring, Eliza ❤


      • Our biggest storms often come in late Feb. and March. Occasionally, we even get a storm in April. But at this point, the sun is warm enough to melt things during the day. I have a puny azalea forced from a piece that broke a month ago and I’ve been meaning to cut forsythia, I just haven’t managed to do it yet!

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