A new season of flowers begins in my garden, as clusters of long-stemmed columbine add pastel splashes of color above the last of the tulips. Soon dramatic oriental poppies, blooming in burgundy, purple, scarlet, white and pink, will draw attention away from the tulips’ withering leaves. I’ve always cut back those leaves as soon as they started to wilt, but this year I’m determined to embrace the scruffiness. I’ve cut off only the head of each stem after the petals fell, to stop the head from producing seeds and draining energy from the tulip bulb below ground. I’ll also wait to cut back the tulips’ foliage until their leaves turn yellow, because snipping off leaves too early stops them from absorbing moisture, sunlight and nutrients for the bulbs. Manicured flower beds now can lead to runty tulips next spring.
The sunflower hearts in our feeders attract small birds year-round, but late spring seems to be a homecoming season for house finches, with raspberry colored heads and chests; chestnut and brown sparrows, and bright goldfinches, whose neon-lemon feathers seem to glow. Several reference books describe evening grosbeaks as chunky, heavyset finches, which seems insulting. The sleek male grosbeak at our feeder has yellow and black markings with a white wing patch, and he looks muscular enough to discourage his smaller cousins from sharing his breakfast perch. Robins are among the few birds that actually bathe in our birdbath, chirping and splashing around, while tiny pine siskins perch on the rim as lifeguards — until they start daydreaming and tumble into the water.
My chief garden staffer, Benjamin BadKitten, welcomes all visiting birds, except the quail that show up every spring. I love watching them quickstep across our yard like feathered bobbleheads, and peck at the spilled birdseed in the garden. But to BBK, the male quail is a raucous bully, clacking down at him from high in the apple tree or stalking him in the driveway. Since the quail’s last appearance a year ago, Benjamin developed a false sense of toughness. He wins every fake fight with the homeless yellow cat I feed, because the big guy knows his days of unlimited buffets would end if he ever laid a claw on my BadKitten. So Benjamin is accustomed to strutting around the laundry room, hissing and batting at his frenemy, who ignores him while scarfing down a plateful of fancy cat food. The quail, though, delivers an annual reality check. I’ve seen it fluff its feathers and advance on Benjamin, backing him all the way to the top of our driveway, at which point BBK remembered an urgent appointment and scarpered inside through the cat door.
I used a dependable tomato trick recently when I planted eight seedlings in big pots on our patio. After filling the planters with potting mix, I laid each seedling horizontally in a shallow trench and buried most of its stem, leaving only the top few inches above the soil line. I learned that technique decades ago from a distant relative who worked in a seed store. He said the trench method encourages roots to form all along the buried tomato stem and produces a sturdier plant, compared to setting the little plant upright into a hole. The last step of the trench method always makes me nervous, because I have to bend the seedling slightly and gently nudge it upward toward the sun, without snapping off its top. In all these years, though, I’ve never decapitated a seedling.
Craft Rozen’s carefully sown lettuce patch stalled out at six heads, but the new seeds she tossed onto the raised bed are thriving. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org