Chickweed & Despair, Hope & Dixter: A Letter to The Midwest

Chickweed & Despair, Hope & Dixter: A Letter to The Midwest

Lovettsville, VA

Might 7, 2022

Pricey Scott,

As a lot as I hate to emphasize you out with one more ambiguous deadline by instantly answering your letter, I discover I’ve so many ideas about it that it’s merely inconceivable to not. 

I believe you summed up March within the MidAtlantic/Midwest/Northeast fairly succinctly.  In reference to my bravery for strolling professionals round my backyard throughout the Mud Time, what do you assume the Prosecco was for? I couldn’t very nicely cease you – my solely hope was to boring your senses.

That’s extra prefer it – syneilesis, geranium and brunnera in April

 “Some ugliness in proof” is a powerful understatement – many thanks for pulling your punches.  As we donned our boots, our coats, hats, wet-weather gear, bear-repellent, and rose-colored glasses and walked exterior, you reached in your good digital camera. Bless your coronary heart.  

“Will I want this?” you stated, half-serious, nearly daring me to say sure. Your good digital camera I’m afraid was less than the duty. Even Nessa, stately and regal in her Irishwolfhoundedness regarded bedraggled and crushed via your lens (although that could possibly be an operator situation). My heralded black fence stood out like an unlucky pimple on the stubbly face of an adolescent boy. No you didn’t want your good digital camera my pricey, until it was to disgrace me. 

Wait only a minute……

Cinnamon fern — awarded Greatest Rising Foliage yearly right here.  Right here nestled into some lamiastrum.


March is winter pretending to be spring, and never doing a very good job of it.  It’s additionally the one time different gardeners have to go to one’s backyard as a result of they’re so determined to get away from their very own which they know they’ll be certain and shackled to for the following three months.  The truth is, visiting different individuals’s gardens in April, Might or June casts suspicion by yourself credentials as a gardener.

Nonetheless, I’ve been doing a whole lot of visiting different individuals’s gardens in April — pics under — and am nearly to do one thing fairly unexpectedly great in that very same line. Extra about that in a second.

gardeners in garden

Strolling probably the greatest gardens in Virginia – Invoice and Linda Pinkham’s backyard overlooking the James River.  Linda is a daylily breeder – Invoice, a proficient potter, and the couple began and ran Smithfield Gardens Nursery for a few years – a mecca for treasure-hunting gardeners. 


Brent and Becky heath

Brent & Becky Heath – Becky couldn’t be a part of us on the Pinkhams as a result of she was working her tail off placing beautiful summer season bulb orders collectively for purchasers everywhere in the nation. World’s hardest working lady. I needed to cease by and say good day on the way in which residence. [This photo also serves as the reminder you asked for to order more bulbs for fall. Now.]

daffodils with brent

Every of Brent’s cultivars has a narrative – a baby’s title, a favourite worker, a associative reminiscence – it was a uncommon deal with to stroll with him choosing flowers and listening to the historical past of every.


daffodil cut flowers

And for this reason we should say sure to visiting different individuals’s gardens even when our personal is looking.


harper garden

Pam Harper’s backyard in Seaford, VA awakening within the early morning hours. Pam is the creator of Color Echoes and Time Tested Plants and three different glorious books.  Nonetheless tending this huge backyard at 92!


An earthly paradise in Seaford – the herons have been nesting within the bushes, preventing over territory within the early hours.


Ripley Garden in the rain

Enjoying within the rain with Janet Draper and her magnificent Ripley Garden simply off the Nationwide Mall in DC. Steve Owens comes out yearly from his exceptional nursery – Bustani Plant Farm in Stillwater, OK, to ship GORGEOUS vegetation (specializing in a whole lot of tropical shade) to the US Botanic Backyard, The Ripley, Chanticleer, Meadowlark, and personal property gardens. Only one man and a superstuffed van. Nice day. Acquired some superb vegetation.

The reality of March is self-evident and I can not deny the ugliness, the muddiness, the mess, and your phrases; however, simply as gently criticizing the companion of a good friend who’s complaining about that companion will elicit a right away defensive response that can go away you gasping for breath in its viciousness, I’ve discovered myself strolling across the backyard, snapping fast images and muttering “How’s THAT for ugliness Scott?!?” Or “Not so ugly NOW, is it Scott?!?” Ah the human mind…what a factor it’s.

Nonetheless, I discover it outrageous that it is best to come to me in March and I to you in July.  Utterly and ridiculously unfair.

So many great issues have occurred spherical right here since your go to, fairly actually the day after.  Three great issues in actual fact.

The primary was the skilled re-grading and graveling of the world exterior the barn – you recognize, the place we dodged puddles and squelched our manner over to different, barely much less ugly spots?  We have now been pushing aside this job for a very long time, understanding it to be costly, and considerably ugly itself.  It’s so robust to spend cash on one thing that doesn’t really feel like a luxurious – re-roofing a home or changing a heating unit are comparable jobs – and fairly opposite to what the moneychangers of DC assume, cash doesn’t droppeth just like the light rain from heaven spherical right here. Each penny is counted.

Nevertheless, the beauty of this excellent factor was that it DID really feel like a luxurious as soon as it was completed.  It rained laborious that night and within the morning I walked all the way down to the barn in my slippers marveling at the truth that I may.  Dry, dry as a bone.  Nicely, a recent, barely damp bone in any case.  I did a fast run with the traditional golf cart to get a load of wooden from the woodpile (we had gravel laid to kind a lane again there too), and to my delight I wasn’t compelled to take part in a Monster Truck Mud Insanity occasion as per typical. Absolute BLISS.

gravel drive

The day after you left. An unlimited ugly expanse, but extremely lovely if you recognize what the choice is. That little coral-barked maple within the foreground is doing nicely after being laid flat on the bottom by the floodwaters. However as you may see, March takes the final of the “winter curiosity” out of all the things. One in all winter’s star performers, boring as an outdated penny.

As soon as this has had an opportunity to pack down a bit, we’ll costume it with dearer pea gravel, however truthfully the blue crush and run gravel just isn’t as unhealthy as I imagined.  It has outlined the totally different perimeter beds, and by laying the lane again to the woodpile too, the serpentine mattress can also be outlined on its again finish (which is a rattling sight greater than most of us can say as of late).

Additionally, after discussions with the grader, it appears like we are able to go forward with constructing a second pergola in any case to create a courtyard right here.  I used to be going to increase the hügelkultur to guard the barn from excessive and uncommon flooding, however it seems that on this spot it’s best to permit the water (if it comes) to movement slowly and shallowly over a wider house, reducing its rage.  Nevertheless I did get a grader’s stamp of approval for my present berms and hügelkultur which saved the vegetable backyard and different plantings additional up stream. It’s all a matter of levels, working towards a imaginative and prescient.

gravel and barn

And a fast snap as we speak. After about two inches of rain yesterday, there are solely tiny puddles remaining.

The second great factor that occurred was that, simply earlier than you got here, I used to be given a superb present of over 2000 snowdrops from a good friend who knew of an outdated property going beneath the chop and who had permission to take shovelfuls of them.  Fats, superb bulbs.  Truly there have been nonetheless a cool thousand sitting within the storage while we have been sipping mimosas and scarfing scrambled eggs upstairs.

This excellent factor have to be seen in two methods: A) The possession of that quantity of snowdrops, freed from cost and wealthy with provenance; and, B) The obviousness and cost-effectiveness of the truth that with all the opposite issues happening round right here, I merely needed to rent somebody to assist me get them in earlier than they dried up.

That second bit is necessary. It meant that I employed somebody.  To work within the backyard.  Big.

That second bit can also be necessary as a result of it results in the third great factor that occurred after you left.

Beautiful Sara planted snowdrops as I weeded and pruned and customarily tried to wrestle this place right into a state of post-March; and in between battery chargings for the Energy Planter auger which I gave her to plant them (#notanad – #noseriouslytheydidn’tpayme), she would assist me.  She’d even transfer mulch to cowl the bits I had weeded, after which she would transfer on to wash up the outlined, however as but uncultivated mess of the Serpentine mattress, thus liberating me of the self-same job (which, fairly frankly I’ve given up on till I end planting it).  I discovered myself hoping the batteries would cost a bit slower as I watched the define of that mattress actually emerge, freed from chickweed and despair.

The PowerPlanter. Unbelievably helpful.

Scott I used to be hooked like a junkie on heroin.  I began to consider the issues I may promote within the barn – in my front room – to maintain this superb excessive going.  Sara has come twice since then however sadly, this profligate nonsense should now finish till maybe the autumn.  However at the least I obtained a style of it…I sampled the enjoyment of claiming “may you clear up x” or “plant these there.” My disappointment in dropping the excessive of it’s balanced I believe by understanding that those that grew up with that type of factor from delivery can by no means expertise the profound pleasure of it. I really really feel sorry for them.  After which I don’t.


One different factor that occurred spherical right here – new chickens. However in any case these years, ready-to-lay pullets. What a miracle! Laying the week after they arrived.  These are Pink Stars – a cross between White Rocks and Rhode Island Reds – and very tame.

Sure, the cash should go for different issues…together with the opposite information I’ve for you.  A ridiculously final minute journey to the UK to attend the Great Dixter symposium!  I solid off the chains of center age when offered with a cancellation spot and stated “Sure!”  I’ve been monitoring these symposia because the youngsters have been small and so was my backyard. I even thought of faking my very own demise and attending with no matter bank cards I may discover in the home, however figured Mike would clue in to the worldwide fees and ship Interpol and it will get embarrassing. Handcuffed at Dixter – hmmmmm. Sure, this was the higher manner – simply wanted to attend fifteen years until my pupil loans have been paid off.

Which we did. By ourselves. With nice sacrifice. Simply sayin’

Oh I shall be insufferable after I get again – I believe I could come out to Cultivate in July merely to bore you with all the small print.  I attempted to get hort good friend and fellow journey nut Andrea Gasper to come back with, however she selfishly put her son’s commencement forward of staking perennials in Sussex.

Nevertheless, unbeknownst to me, the hilarious, witty, and manner an excessive amount of enjoyable, Leslie Harris of Into The Garden With Leslie Podcast fame solid off the identical chains on the similar time (there have been two spots obtainable).  From the dialogue we had on her latest podcast about it (drops Might 14th), we’re going to must work laborious at not guffawing at the back of the category. The considered Fergus Garrett letting 12 random strangers contact any a part of Dixter besides possibly a weedy patch within the neighboring discipline or one of many habitat piles makes me grin (in sympathy).  Methinks we can be closely chaperoned much less we break the Dixter magic. 

Mentally I really feel twenty-five once more. Pity my again doesn’t comprehend it.



P.S. Please deal with Michele nicely tomorrow on Mom’s Day.  It’s not truthful that she needs to be lumbered with a sixty-plus-year-old baby when she works so laborious.

P.P.S  Oh and the Chelsea Flower Present is a part of that journey.  Sure, I shall be insufferable.

irish wolfhound

Nessa patiently ready for the geese to depart earlier than she steals her breakfast egg.

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