cleanup week 4: manna from heaven amid meteorological havoc

IT’S TRYING SO HARD, the lawn is, to find its inner green. I’m trying so hard, I am, to find my inner gardener. Each of us keeps getting hit on the head almost literally lately—but can the siege, perhaps, of the endless winter have finally ended? Might the next week or so actually bring spring?

A wind event of 18 hours’ duration April 15-16, more forceful than I have ever witnessed, tore off neighbors’ roof shingles, shredded the plastic “skins” on farmers’ greenhouses and massive silage covers at the dairy down the road, felled giant trees and put out the power for a couple of days (again!). But it also brought things not usually seen up close down to my level.

I regard what dropped from the sky as manna from heaven, as opposed to “incoming ordnance.” Limbs, of course, but that’s not exceptional—they just require a reprise of the season’s first chore, the game of pick-up sticks.

Littered among them were buds and barely open flowers of the giant native red maples (second photo above)—not something I usually get to examine in detail. And then down came the jelly fungus or jelly ears (just below). (I learned later from John Michelotti of Catskill Fungi, who gave a day of mushroom-growing workshops at my place yesterday, that they are edible, and a traditional ingredient in hot-and-sour soup.)

And then, after the wind quieted, it snowed, and then it snowed again (above).

Each white morning, an adult male rose-breasted grosbeak appeared for breakfast at the feeder as if nothing had happened, presumably blown in by the wind storm. His arrival was perhaps two weeks ahead of my earliest notations about his kind showing up here.

Blessedly, the previous Saturday had been clear and quiet out, and I actually did some chores:

Mucked out the ponds, finally, and got them running. Pruned some tree peonies and panicle hydrangeas. Oh, and ordered good bulk-delivered mulch (the next big task ahead of us).

There are brave souls in evidence, oblivious to it all: The so-called February daphne (Daphne mezereumabove) has been in bloom nonstop, and oh, how welcome was the awakening of one of my most treasured Eastern natives, the twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). When I posted its photo (top of page) on Instagram, someone took the words out of my mouth: It looks like an altricial baby bird (well, or organ meat). Remember from last week why plants like this emerge from the ground not green with chlorophyll but infused instead with the blue and red pigments called anthocyanins?

Bravest of all, and also most agile (as the rest of us clumsily maneuver persistent squishiness underfoot): a sharp-shinned hawk showed off up close. He or she is always here, hunting in the garden, as are the slightly larger Cooper’s. But this individual didn’t just swoop in in a flash to pick off a songbird every so often in the astonishing, unexpected aerial display such as they are known for. The little raptor actually spent each post-wind afternoon this week perched contentedly in a magnolia right outside my kitchen window, where I could get a rare close look, as I had at those other treasures. (Not close enough for a photo, sorry.)

And so it went: Wind, snow, more snow. Then Saturday, the temperature was noticeably warmer, and so is the forecast. It’s said that snow is nature’s fertilizer, and so maybe those two white insult-to-injury mornings were the dose we needed to get up and running. Is that the first flush of green I see trying to overtake the persistent tan and muck of the lawn? I think so; yes, yes. Here it comes.

  • (All the weeks so far of 2018 in the garden are gathered here, if you missed previous posts.)
Categoriesbird sh-t Nature
  1. Judy Goodell says:

    Thank you, Margaret, for including the segment on tree peonies. I was wondering which Espoma fertilizer to use and now I know to use Rosetone. I do have a question about emerging new growth from the ground. This is my second spring and the plant has buds and I was encouraged to see a few new red shoots coming up as there are onlythree original woody stems. Now I don’t know if these are good or from the rootstalk and should be snapped of. I guess I’ll wait and see, but don’t know at what point I will know the difference. I read your 2017 list of bird visitors and didn’t see mocking birds on the list. Until three weeks ago, we have not had them come to our homemade bluebird food(where we counted as many as 15 at one time in Feb.) At first we were delighted to see them, until they started driving off all our usual feeders. We hope they don’t return earlier next winter when the birds need the food more. I enjoy your blog and the detailed and useful information! Judy- York, Maine

  2. Joanne Toft says:

    Spring looks like it may be finding its way in Minnesota as well – warming temps, strong sun and melting snow. I noticed that as soon as the snow has melted things are popping up quickly. It is going to be a fast spring I think.

  3. Kathy says:

    As much as I loved the seasons of the garden Margaret, I am really a much happier person migrating – call me a Robin or Redwing. I don’t miss the frightful weather or the feeling that impossibly nothing can survive. I am so happy Spring is finally arriving in upstate NY and so, I will follow suit but it is to sell my Northern house this summer (and my garden), which is bittersweet but I still have a very rustic camp on a lake where I enjoy the wildness and don’t plan to tame the landscape in any way. I hope you have some sort of Spring transition and don’t jump right into summer heat!

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Isn’t it exciting to finally realize that spring is on the way. We had our first night of 50F last night. These horrid winds seem to be a new fact of life. Pick up sticks is almost a daily chore this spring here. How nice to have a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in your garden already. I haven’t seen one moving through here as yet. They should arrive at any time. I am not complaining about the winds. They brought in a bonanza of migrants not often seen here in SW Indiana this weekend. Two Ruffs and a Eurasian Wigeon. Cheers and happy gardening.

  5. Cindy donahey says:

    Flower buds and small twigs, especially those fallen by a storm before their time, once had special uses. Haven’t thought about this in years. You can rake these up and put them in water for the garden. Religious people would burn them and smear the ashes on their face with unguents. Sometimes the buds were dried and used various ways. I played around with pussy willow fallen buds this spring. The stuff is everywhere right now. I used to attend these old cemetery club meetings as aa young girl.

  6. John says:

    I never noticed the early emerging of the Jeffersonia. That’s lovely. I’m usually distracted by so many other things at that time. The J. diphylla comes after the J. dubia and I’m always photographing those it seems.

    1. margaret says:

      It is an extra little goodie, isn’t it, John? Easy to missit in the leaf litter here and I guess the first time I noticed I must have been cleaning up that area long ago and here it was.

  7. Jane Barnard says:

    I just love reading about you and your gardens….thanks so much…it really helps to keep me working on my gardens……and finally the daffs are blooming and some crocus and of course the hellebores……how I love them……..and in between the rains I have gotten some mulch down early this year……well , on we go ……….

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