Awakening

When spring finally comes, especially after a long winter, I think to myself how very brave it is for plants to send out buds and leaves and flowers again.  They have the courage to reach for the light and keep growing, despite the fact that they’ll inevitably die.

Magnolia

Magnolia

Especially courageous are spring ephemerals like Mertensia virginica, or Virginia bluebells; for these beauties are but fleeting bursts of color in the spring landscape, typically above ground for only a few short months before folding back into dormancy again.

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

And what about the sheer doggedness of our native dogwood tree, whose bracts unfurl in April to reveal the true inner blooms, tiny and button-like?

Dogwood

Many of our spring flowering trees send out blooms even before leaves emerge.  That’s like getting up in the morning and walking outside naked, in my opinion!

Yellow Magnolia

Yellow Magnolia

If only I could take a lesson from spring’s treasures, and learn to get back up with grace when life knocks me down, knowing that it’s all just part of the cycle of life.

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take a walk

Wanna go for a walk?  The trails at Kirkwood Preserve, in Newtown Square, PA, meander through 83 acres of mostly grassland; an open countryside that provides important habitat and resting areas for birds.  We discovered this preserve on the way to my 94-year old grandmother’s house (assisted living facility, actually.)

It’s all about the birds here (although I didn’t get any good pics-only had my iPhone.)  Kirkwood Preserve is home to many declining grassland species, including the American Kestrel, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Vesper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Harrier, and Barn Owl. The Willistown Conservation Trust employs many strategies to protect Kirkwood’s grassland birds.

Trail map features Owl and Kestrel box locations

Yep, we saw the boxes. But no kestrels.

We did see a few hawks circling high above, being chased by small brave birds.  The smaller birds form their own Neighborhood Watch, chasing the larger predator birds away from their territory.  (Red-winged blackbirds do this.)

Canadian thistle in bloom – an invasive species they try to eliminate. Still I think it’s beautiful.

The preserve also features equestrian trails, a half-mile stretch of the Crum Creek, approximately 21 acres of wet areas, and 1.5 acres of upland and riparian woodland.

Horsies!

There was a lot of milkweed growing, the pods still green.  I’ll come back in early autumn to look at the milky fluffy stuff that comes out of the cracked pods (used to make fibers for ropes and cords, etc.)

Milkweed pods

Although milkweed is known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, that hasn’t stopped people from using the plant medicinally in a number of ways, from laxatives to producing postpartum milk flow.  It’s unique qualities are also an aid to the Monarch butterfly.  From USDA plant fact sheet: “The cardiac glycoside in milkweed has also been useful as a chemical defense for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Chemicals from the milkweed plant make the monarch caterpillar’s flesh distasteful to most predators. Monarch butterflies are specific to milkweed plants; this is the only type of plant on which the eggs are laid and the larvae will feed and matures into a chrysalis. Eggs are laid on the underside of young, healthy leaves.”

We’ll be back again soon, to look for birds and butterflies, and whatever else we can find.  This land is protected from development forever, and is recognized by Audubon Pennsylvania Area (IBA) as an Important Bird Area (IBA.)  Visit if you can, but remember, no dogs allowed – dogs are viewed by birds as predators. 

a taste of the country

It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I made her two arrangements for her country house in the backwoods of New Hampshire.  This calming collection of blues and purples includes hydrangea, delphinium, monkshood and lisianthus…and white roses and white lilac, with a little bupleurum and curly willow thrown in at the end.

The second arrangement I made was more of an Easter arrangement, with yellows and pinks, including foxtail lily or eremurus, stock, sunflower, daffodil, peony, and tulip.

Rutha was also really happy to receive a garden gnome who will give her a bit of luck out in her garden beds.  (I guess I sort of believe in gnomes, since the Gnomes book was always lying around our house growing up and it’s so convincingly written and drawn.)  Here she is reading another of her presents, Cat Fancy Magazine.

While visiting, we always try to get out for some walks since the air is so clean. On this  afternoon’s constitutional, I saw this cute little yellow flower in bloom, looking a lot like a dandelion…but not quite.  I knew it was in the Aster family, but that’s about it!  Later I looked it up and found out it’s Coltsfoot, or Tussilago farfara.  It’s often found along roadsides and in ditches, and is not native to North America, brought here by settlers from Europe who used it medicinally as a cough suppressant.  (Some still do.)

But some of the real country action happened while we were sleeping.  We gave Robert, my father-in-law, a Bushnell motion-activated infrared camera (with audio!) for Christmas this year.   He strapped it to a tree a little ways into the woods near their house.  So far the camera has captured a host of wildlife including fisher cats, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, curious crows, and even a neighborhood dog.  But a few days ago a coyote showed up, and here she is caught on camera!

I just love the way she peeks around the tree towards the end.

P.S. Check out the Soulsby Farm’s recent post on coyotes…lots of great info there.

some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

life lessons

Taking a walk today at the Scott Arboretum, I was counting myself extremely lucky to be at such close distance to these grounds.  I’ve taken many (dog) walks here, and there’s always something to see whatever the season.  It’s especially exciting to watch the landscape return to life after the dormancy of winter, and noticing the little signs that spring will come (eventually) fills one with a sort of buoyancy.  The tinge of pink of this Higan Cherry tree starting to bud caught my eye.

Prunus subhirtella, Higan Cherry

Over the next hill, a flowery fragrance wafts towards me on the foggy misty air.  What could it be? It’s so promising, and clean.  Ahh…it’s Witch Hazel! I filled my nose with it’s bright scent while marveling at the strappy little punk rock petals, bursting lemon yellow from their red bud shells like party favors.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

It’s formal name is Hamamelis mollis ‘Early Bright,’ a cultivar of Chinese witch hazel which was actually introduced by the Scott Arboretum in 1988. They noticed one particular plant which consistently bloomed about two weeks earlier than it’s neighbors, and over several years selected, named, and released this winter beauty.  Here it is blooming in late January but it’s been known to bloom during the first few weeks of January.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

Among those responsible for this fine introduction is Andrew Bunting, now Scott Arb’s Curator and owner of Fine Garden Creations, a company I worked for in 1996/1997. I consider Andrew and his team responsible for getting me started on my journey into the world of horticulture, a world I’ve been sadly distanced from in my profession as TV producer.

Rose Hips in Rose Garden

But witnessing the bravado of buds and fruits in the winter landscape, my spirits are lifted.  There is rebirth, change, growth all around us.   I can grow and change too, and I am, and I will.  I spent a moment really examining these plants, and took in their scents and colors, and when I walked away I think maybe I learned some kind of lesson, that the cycles which govern every living thing also govern me; and that when I feel connected to Nature, I am more alive and more myself.