Expectations, expectations

Green Scene

Winter has taken a long time to leave, the wet, sloppy snow has melted, and we are feeling the strength of the sun’s rays. But winter’s residue is still found in the many branches that broke off during the storms and beckon to be taken care of.

Albert Einstein famously proposed that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Well, gardening is all about doing things over and over with hope, expectation and intention that you will get it right.

There is a ruthless repetition each spring to return the garden to some base line of order. So, let’s start now — baby steps, mind you. The soil won’t tolerate much until it dries out somewhat; the grass is still spongy. Begin the rejuvenation process by picking up what fell down to get some order into the garden.

Evaluate those shrubs and trees that were damaged. You might need a tree service to handle the bigger jobs, but see what you can do yourself before you call in the big guns. Use the proper tools!

Have you noticed a significant large accumulation of water in your garden? Maybe the time is right to install a “rain garden,” which takes advantage of rainfall and storm-water runoff in its design and plant selection — a very current topic and environmentally sound. Look up “rain garden” online.

Hot! Hot! Hot! is the hellebore (Lenten rose). It catapulted from a rather obscure, unknown plant to a runaway success. There are four good reasons to invite this beautiful winter-blooming plant into your garden:

• They are 99.9 percent deer-proof. I cannot vouch for 100 percent deer-proof, because there is definitely some mutated deer somewhere in New Jersey that will take a taste test.

• Hellebores are drought-proof and can tolerate long dry periods.

• Blooms in February/March and their muted rose, green, yellow and black colors match beautifully with snowdrops and daffodils.

• Hellebores help deter voles in your garden.

With names like Jade Tiger, Peppermint Ice, London Fog and Winter Jewels, is it difficult not to imagine their beautiful colors?

Our growing season is not as long as I would wish it to be. Look at websites and catalogs now to choose new, interesting seed varieties, like this Lebanese-style summer squash Magda with a nutty, sweet flavor, or Zucchini Bush Baby, a true baby zucchini, dark green with gray-green stripes.

If you are a tomato lover, try the Mortgage Lifter tomato, an heirloom pink tomato with fruits weighing 1 to 2 pounds. This tomato was cross-bred during the Great Depression by a radiator repairman; sales earned him enough profits to pay down his mortgage.

Grow the types of veggies and herbs that you use in your favorite recipes and order seeds early for best selection.

What to do now:

• Cut branches of flowering trees or shrubs and place in tepid water. While the garden is still asleep, you will create an early spring inside.

• Now is a good time to repot and fertilize your houseplants.

• Weather is still uncertain, so be cautious about uncovering garden beds.

• Clean up the garden gradually, removing leaves and winter mulch in layers, rather than all at once.

• Do not work the soil until it will form a ball that crumbles when pressed with your thumb.

• Prune trees and shrubs for health and beauty. Fertilize after soil temperatures have reached 40 degrees F., but before new growth begins.

• Take care of your garden tools. Clean and oil them now to have them ready.

And keep in mind: Gardening requires lots of water — most of it in the form of perspiration.

Gotti Kelley, past president of the Navesink Garden Club, is on the board of The Garden Club of New Jersey.