it’s the little things: photographic progress report on spring

paeonia golden angel emergingI KEEP WANTING TO GRIPE: Spring is “so late,” and the weather “isn’t cooperating,” I say, as if it’s all meant to be in service to me, and is behaving disobediently. (How arrogant my thinking can be!) But as frustrated as I feel, the quieter pace has also been fruitful. I want to take a moment to just celebrate the little discoveries—even if the big, bawdy stuff is still waiting quietly in the wings.

garlic mustard uprootedOf course, the unwanted bawdy stuff—read: garlic mustard (above, uprooted)—never waits on the sidelines, but at least generally moist conditions have been making it easy to dislodge (she says, looking at the bright side). Know thy weeds, my credo goes, and if you don’t know yours, start here.

cones of metasequoiaLike I said, it’s the little stuff that counts: Crawling around the other day in pursuit of Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard’s proper name), and again while patching edges of beds that voles and shrews had erased with offseason tunneling, I found my first Metasequoia cones ever (above, with one seed shown, too). My babies have grown up, apparently, to sexual maturity.

At first I didn’t even know what it was—the intricately fashioned seed receptacle that is technically the female cone. (It made me remember when my beloved umbrella pine, another ancient conifer and gymnosperm, came of age, forming its own curious seed-holders.) Maybe the three gold-leaf forms I planted 10 years ago, much later than the original old pair of trees that made the seed-filled females cones, have started to produce beadlike green male cones with pollen, and it drifted downhill to the older Metasequoia?

gold-heart-dicentra-emergesLike fall, this first bookend of the growing season teaches us about the pigments called anthocyanins—the red, blue and purple ones that can show up in an otherwise-average green leaf before the chlorophyll takes over, or after it recedes. The best bleeding heart, ‘Gold Heart,’ arises positively psychedelic (above).

molly the witch peony early foliageThe little species peonies (above); the blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides, maybe my favorite native woodlander); the twinleaf (Jeffersonia, below seen in flower) are all delightfully non-green upon arising, too–extra showy, well before their bloom time.

jeffersonia diphylla twinleafSpeaking of peonies, and of things non-green: Paeonia ‘Golden Angel’ is positively other-worldly (top-of-page photo shows its foliage, which started out even hotter-colored). It arrived last year as a gift from my old friend Roy Klehm, who is basically king of the peonies and collaborated on its breeding. More on it soon, after I get to see the whole show of this treasure (or learn more now). But, in a word: wow.

uvularia grandiflora emergingThe trilliums are blooming (photo at bottom of page), meaning soon they will be ready to divide (here’s how I do it). Last year I started moving around chunks of many big, old plants, including merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) (above, just coming up) and also epimediums, plus my favorite grass for semi-shade, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold.’ I realize I should have moved some of the blue cohosh, too (below).

caulophyllum blue cohoshI did relocated some of the more enthusiastic (and non-native) groundcover called Trachystemon (below), good for the tough spots with early blue flowers, followed by big, handsome leaves all growing season long. A tough groundcover and one of my standbys (with all these other extra-durable choices). Again: the leaves don’t do their thing till after the flowers start to fade.

trachystemon in bloomAnd oh, the birds and butterflies! Rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings joined goldfinches on the feeder this week, and catbirds are likewise part of the intensifying ruckus. The warblers are back; yesterday, a male redstart flashed by the window. Also: I had never noticed a large butterfly in April before, but last week I saw my first mourning cloak, a brown and blue creature that overwinters even up north here as an adult, hence being in flight so early. Another that I think is a red admiral is floating around here and there, too.

genus Andrena mining bee on PetasitesAnd there are bees galore (and this will be the year I start to learn their names). Some species of Andrena, or mining bee, was among multiple species feasting on the Petasites flowers lately (above).

Less-happy news: I’ve never seen more ticks—so much for theories that a very cold winter would diminish them.

lily leaf beetle 2Scarlet lily-leaf beetles, too, are in profusion. I drowned or squashed 23 Friday, and I can tell you that a handful of adults emits quite a high-pitched racket. Yes, they shriek; ghastly, but fascinating.

Perhaps best of all, in this cool, hesitant spring: You can really discern the order of things (also known as nature’s calendar, or phenology). Absent the blurring effect of an early heat wave, it’s easy to watch how each plant, and animal, has its own schedule. How the wood frogs mate at snowdrop time; how the Cornus mas is actually earlier than the spicebush (and that both beat forsythia). How the hellebores last and last, as long as it stays cool. Absent a hot blast, each can be savored, a moment at a time.

metasequoia cone and seedmore on all of the above

trillium erectum

  1. dirtgirl says:

    Such lovely photos, always nice to see the Spring plants appearing. Love the pics of the insects, such an important part of the whole gardening scene.
    The book looks wonderful, huge veg fan, have half my garden dedicated to growing veg for much of the year. We are heading out of a very mild Autumn here in the Southern Hemisphere and starting to get bulbs in ready for Spring colouring.
    Thank you for sharing your photos, enjoy your blog, even though we are in opposite seasons.
    Happy Spring gardening.

  2. Anne Wareham says:

    We’re being early – everything rushing into leaf and flower, and creating anxieties that it’ll all be over in no time. (how could it be? But that’s the feeling…)

    And after a winter of relentless rain we are forced to conclude that an awful lot of things we grow love relentless rain……

    They might. I didn’t…..

  3. Bart Ziegler says:

    I’m envious that you have indigo buntings already…they are such an amazing, tropical-colored bird.
    The grosbeaks have returned to our feeder as well, as they always do the first week in May. Like clockwork, they are a sure signal that spring has arrived.
    But I’m concerned about the lack of bluebirds this year. We have seen only one or two, and no sign that they are nesting. I wonder if the late spring kept them away?
    Do you have many bluebirds in your yard?

  4. Julie says:

    Just wanted to say, I have been visiting your website for some time. I so enjoy your writing. Thank you!

  5. Roy Klehm is the nicest, most generous guy that a person could ever meet. He is well known in these parts. I have been lusting over that peony since it first appeared in the catalog. It will be great to see how it looks as it comes along. We have 3 dawn redwoods and our neighbor has the No. 2 in the state, an almost “champ.” Love those tiny cones from such a huge tree. My Hellebores have been equally wonderful with a long, cool season here in southern Wisconsin but 70s and 80s are coming starting today. Alas the woodland peonies will probably explode and disappear in a flash. Your garden is always such a joy to visit - even if it’s only digitally.

  6. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Those cones are so architectural ! Love them.
    I use my abundant Japanese Black Pine cones as mulch, there are so many of them.
    Still, I love their geometry.

    I played in the PA woods a lot as a child and never saw a twin leaf. Very nice photo.

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