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  • Claire Schuchman

Welcome Spring!


Have you ever noticed as winter turns to spring, the air actually changes? It’s like it’s supercharged. The sun shines bright and the air is just a little hazy. The light is fractured through tiny particles of water and the world sparkles.


That’s how it’s always felt for me, and as a young child I clearly remember the joy that came with the start of spring. Finally after a long winter cooped up at home, I was free to play outside or visit with a special neighbor. You see, our neighbor across the street was an avid gardener. During the cold of winter she thought about her summer garden.


Unfortunately, arthritis robbed her of the ability to do much of the work on her own, but it did not rob her of the joy she found in planning. Once those plans were ready to go, she would discuss it in great detail with the local landscaper. Like a long awaited Spring adventure, I looked forward to the day and anxiously anticipated the arrival of the landscaper’s trucks. Sure enough, right around Mother’s Day, his trucks would come rumbling down the street. They would be loaded with sweet black topsoil, shrubs, and annuals. I would run out of the house and sit on the step. I was close enough to hear the persistent sound of metal rakes pulling leaves out of the garden beds onto big tarps.


Once the garden beds were prepared, gorgeous spring colors were handed down from high in the truck and carried to the beds in front of the house. A kaleidoscope of pink, red and white begonias along with impatiens were used for the shade and red geraniums for the sunny spots. I was awestruck and then the show was over too soon.


My neighbor’s home was transformed in an afternoon by these men, and I got to see it happen! It was nothing short of miraculous in the eyes of this little girl. I was just a little person and this idea -- that men in trucks could come and change the world as I knew it -- made a mighty big impression on me.


This is just one of so many experiences that made a profound impact on me and created a touchstone that pointed me in the direction of gardening and landscape design. I took a rather circuitous route and sometimes I strayed from my path, but the messages persisted that this was what I was meant to do. I came from a family of social workers, ministers, and business people -- not artists. I spent a lot of time working through the weeds within my own garden bed of doubts and found the courage to bring Exceptional Gardens to life twenty years ago.


Today, just like when I was a little girl, I can feel my excitement grow as Spring quickly approaches. Even though there are signs of new life in my garden, and a growing change in the air, it’s still pretty cold here in Western Pennsylvania. Still, those first flowers are like a bright beacon in the dark world.


The snow drops (galanthus nivalis) are blooming in great swaths in the shade garden, the crocus have just opened in up in a sunny spot, and the hellebores have quietly set bud under the leaves, waiting for when the time is right to push through the leaf litter and bloom.


So, I’m getting my beds ready. My first order of business is to clean up the worn out winter-ravaged foliage on the hellebores. In order to protect the newly emerging buds, I put a couple of handfuls of fall leaves on each hellebore to cover those tender blooms so they are not winter burned during the cold at night.


Preparing for the planting season and getting ready for spring is always an exciting time and I’m glad I get to share it with you.


~Claire Schuchman


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