I 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.
Of 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.
Like 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?
Like 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).
The 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.
Speaking 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.
The 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).
I 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.
And 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.
And 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.
Scarlet 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.
- Nature’s calendar, or phenology
- Weed ID basics
- Dividing trillium
- Merrybells, or Uvularia
- A great golden grass, Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’
- Lily-leaf beetles
- Cornus mas, the Cornelian cherry (a dogwood, actually)
- Jeffersonia, or twinleaf
- Extra-early flowering shrubs