LANSING, New York—Strolling through the garden in this glorious summer weather, gazing appreciatively at the foaming masses of color and texture produced by the interplanting of herbs, perennials, annuals, and shrubs, I have that wonderful feeling of what-hath-God-wrought that comes over me every year when this piece of earth, which seemed a dreary waste a month or so ago, turns into a small paradise. Every year, in March and April, I wonder if it can happen again.
I was especially curious this spring because the past winter included not only more prolonged periods of severe cold than we’ve ever experienced, but also more snow. We gardeners often complain about not having enough snow cover, but when we get it, we complain for other reasons. What happened here was that armies of rabbits, unable to find much to eat and foiled by the fences I’d rigged up around my young trees and azaleas, decided that Korean lilacs, spireas, and even rhododendrons would do in a pinch. They mowed to the ground a great burgeoning southernwood bush that sits under a New Dawn rose and dealt with my new dwarf spireas so brutally that shrubs I had expected to double in size this summer are having to start again from scratch. I was glad that they didn’t devour the lavender hedge. I’ve always felt uneasy about lavender since reading in Beatrix Potter’s tales that Peter Rabbit’s mother called lavender “rabbit tobacco”. Apparently my rabbits neither smoke nor chew, for which I’m grateful.
Actually, the lavender hedge is not a complete success. I planted it in an east-west row that heads toward a maple tree, and though the end of the row is at least 12 feet from the trunk, the lavender bushes dwindle at that end while they rise to stout specimens at the other end; they look as though they’re going uphill. A pity I didn’t think of this eventuality before I planted. I’ve never fertilized lavender before, but I worked in an organic product around the scrawniest bushes and am hoping the hedge will even up in time. It should, unless the feeble lavenders grow too fat and weak on their new diet and die of the cold next winter.
I seem always to be talking about my pets, the sages. I try to resist, but this urge is stronger than I am. I must sing the praises of Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’, whose low, compact shape and handsome gray, grainy, very large egg-shaped leaves make it a stunner. If you love color, try S. nemorosa ‘Blauhügel’ (‘Blue Hill’), one of the best cultivars yet of this fine garden plant. It makes a tight, neat plant only 12 to 15 inches high, its flower spikes come closer to being a true blue than any other of its species, and it blooms indefatigably from late spring to fall if you cut back the spent spikes midseason. If you don’t have these in your garden yet, put them on your list for this summer or next.