For too long, my mailbox had looked forlorn and forgotten, as if no one lived in the house on the hill. To be sure, I had never given my previous box a second thought, other than to be thankful that rural teenagers hadn't whacked it to pieces with baseball bats. The old road had been dangerous and busy, an unpleasant spot. But the new house-in-the-suburbs was situated on a quiet street, a place where people walked their dogs. The yards were well-tended and well-loved. In the middle of this sat our neglected mailbox. If you're wondering why it was in such a state, let me explain. It was the most unusual box I'd ever seen, formal and elegant, with three separate planters. Built of Tennessee limestone, the structure was complicated yet symmetrical, shaped like an upside-down "T." The mail box was located in the center column. On the top sat a large concrete planter, bowl-shaped and rather shallow. Way below, at ground level, two planters hugged the center column on either side.
Indeed, the boxes seemed to give a preview of the homeowners--Attention, slackers live here! But in my heart, I was planting. All winter, the weeds had stayed green, as if desperately trying to cover the naked soil. And all winter, I'd imagined myself gently setting flowers into that soil. True, it was the tail end of winter, not the optimal time to plant in zone 7a, but I just couldn't wait. Each time I gathered mail, the boxes seemed to make tsking sounds. "There she goes," said a planter. "Miss Lazy Pants. Everything a Master Gardener shouldn't be." Another planter sniffed. "I bet she won't pass the exam."
During a recent Master Gardening class, our instructor, Justin, said it was possible to have year-round blooms in middle Tennessee gardens. What could a homeowner buy now (a homeowner with scruffy mailbox planters)? "Don't get pansies," Justin advised. Here's why: They look great for a few weeks and just peter out. Instead, he recommended that we plant violas, but with a caveat. Despite the balmy weather, no one should plant until April 15th. For a plant to die, temps don't have to drop to freezing. But violas should stand up to the cold.
Will we get another freeze? Who knows? So far, March has been so lovely, and it's tempting to go hog wild. "I guarantee you," Justin said, "someone somewhere is planting tomatoes." He shook his head. As a UT extension agent, he has seen it all and then some.
Armed with this knowledge, I drove to a large package store. When I saw tubs of daffodils, all interspersed with tulips and hyacinths, I felt my knees weaken. They began to shake when I saw smaller pots of violas. I promptly forgot everything I'd learned. "Oh, honey, no," my husband said as I placed pots into our cart. "Your eyes are bigger than your planters," he warned, even though he was buying plants like a mad gardener. :-)
This past Saturday, you see, I'd learned about roots. "They're lazy," Justin told us. Even if you "rough up" the bottom of a plant, the roots will continue to grown in circles rather than expanding into the soil. Obviously, you'd have to worry less with annuals, since they have such a short growing cycle, but almost all plants benefit from having their roots "fluffed up" a bit. This involves brushing your fingertips over the sides and bottom of the root ball--gently but firmly, move your fingers in circles, teasing the roots away from the circles.
No water source meant I would have to bring water to the plants. Another Master Gardener instructor told us to use old Kitty Litter jugs, the large plastic kind with handles. Save the screw-top lids, fill with water, and tote them in your car or wheelbarrow to far-off flower beds. It will be interesting to see if the tulips and hyacinths bloom. And if so, will they have pink, red, or yellow blooms? I believe the violas will last a while (if I don't kill them).
UPDATE: The tulips were pink--yay!
After the daffodils stop blooming, I'll dig them up and find a spot in the garden. In the boxes, I'll need to find plants that like sun and dry conditions.
Tomorrow, we're expecting a high of 72 and a low of 52. And more rain is on the way. Fingers crossed that I have not planted too soon.
But even if I did, it was worth it.
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