…from a few of my good friends who have always enjoyed a pesticide-free garden zone. Join the movement!
Click on any photo.
Our long winter has delayed spring in New Hampshire. Every gardener I know feels confined and itching to get outdoors to garden. In our yard, we have picked up sticks, raked a bit, pruned dead and damaged branches from the weight of snow, and transplanted a few shade plants, hosta, bleeding hearts, where they were once happy beneath pines, now gone. Folks are flocking to nurseries because they need to see color, to dream, to plan, and to buy pansies, pansies, pansies!
It is the New England Mud Season. And it is cold. And it is rainy. And windy. And we have coastal flooding. The temperature today hovered in the mid to upper 40’s, with 50’s in the forecast for the next 10 days, dropping to the high 30’s at night. But, in spite of the delay, the plants and animals know spring is here. Red maples are bearing their bright red blooms, branches of the willows have turned golden, spring peepers and wood frogs are singing a chorus in every ditch, osprey and great blue heron have returned, and our winter pine siskins and juncos have left us.
And finally… the violas. Along with crocus, the violas are the only plant giving us tiny blooms of color in the garden. They are just waiting for better weather to be joined by more blooming plants and then the mulch.
It may seem that I am grumbling about the rain but I know how fortunate we are to have water. Between the rain and snow melt and lakes, reservoirs, ponds, rivers in New Hampshire, there is no immediate threat of water depletion as in several western states where the epic drought has caused crisis conditions…. a crisis that belongs to all of us in the end.
Just feet from our front door is a small woods that drops off gently to a marshy area that is still partially blanketed in snow. Yesterday, I decided to make my way down the incline to the meandering stream in the midst of the woodland to search for the first or one of the first native plants to flower in the spring.
The ground was spongy and muddy where there was no snow cover, and slippery where the snow patches were turning icy before melting altogether. This is just a small spit of woods but once inside, the tree canopy enveloped me. The earthy smells, the birds twittering, the squirrels moving along the tall hemlocks and pines, intensely green moss covering every fallen branch and tree stump, made this tiny wooded area a magical spot away from civilization. I felt I had just entered the magical portal linking me to a miniature Narnia.
Growing out of the snow at the edge of the stream, I spotted what I’d come to find, Symplocarpus foetidus, skunk cabbage. The first part of the plant is the spathe, a purplish mottled pod that is able to generate heat and melt a hole in snow. None I saw had opened yet but when they do, they will expose the spadix, the flower cluster inside that will attract insects. The green bud next to the spathe will become the massive leaves of the plant. When the days become warmer, these leaves will unfurl to a very large size… up to 2-ft. in length and a foot wide.
Not related to a true cabbage, the name of the plant, skunk cabbage, comes from the smell of the plant, a fetid odor that attracts early flies to visit and pollinate the plants. The raw leaves are eaten by insects but are toxic to most animals… including the human animal.
Some may think these plants ordinary or common, but I am fascinated by these natives, a true harbinger of spring, that can actually melt snow. Knowing how to do that this winter would have come in handy in New Hampshire!
April has arrived! As Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales prologue, with April comes the sweet showers that bathe and strengthen the roots of plants. We’ve had a couple of days of good rains followed by temperatures that seemed warm enough to drag out the lounge chairs and hammocks… but not really. I’ve seen young folks shed layers and prance around in shorts and sleeveless shirts but the old folks like me still wear a layer of two of protection from chill of the “sweete breeth,” or sweet breath of the West Winds. This morning I rolled out of bed with a temperature of 30° and with new frost on the landscape to greet me. I left my greenhouse pansies outside overnight and, thankfully, they seemed unfazed by the icy temperatures. The snow is retreating and I can finally see most of what survived the record snowfalls and what did not and what was damaged and what can be salvaged. With the ground fairly frozen a few inches beneath the surface, it’s too soon to get down and dirty in the garden but there is a lot I can do now…. like taking care of dead and broken limbs. My tiny plants covered by frost covered glasses seemed to do the trick for tiny late season cuttings and plantings.Summersweet, my clethra, mostly laid on the ground during the winter storms. I will need to wade into this thicket and overhaul it…. a shrub that was definitely planted in the wrong location in a prominent foundation spot because it is so darn late to leaf out. But I could never part with the plant because of its insect loving and sweet smelling blooms. All of my summer rootings of Tide Hill boxwood (Buxus microphylla ‘Tide Hill’) survived beneath 8′ of snow… well-insulated against the cold. The three parent plants did well, too, although the leaves were chilled this morning with tiny hoar frost. Happy to see that my fall planted Pieris Japonica is greeting the season with zero damage. Not a native, however I love this plant with its drooping clusters of early spring flowers. This is a good foundation plant. Sadly, I found damage and loss. The new Dwarf Hinoki Cypress lost its beautiful fern-like top branches to the weight of the snow. But, whew, this Japanese ornamental can be salvaged. The new 5′ female blue maid holly has some winter burn, but the male blue holly, much smaller, survived intact sheltered beneath the blanket of snow. Azaleas took a hit. … along with several yews and arborvitae that either split, fell, leaned or all three. We can’t tell if this one can be saved yet. Buried deep within the iceberg is a border of viburnum, hydrangea, dwarf deutzia, dwarf clethra, upright holly (Steeds), soft touch holly (Ilex crenata), and more. Tips of our steeds holly are beginning to appear at the base of the iceberg below. I just hope the branches I see are from the bottom of the plant, not the top!
Perhaps by next week with more of Chaucer’s sweet April showers and warmer winds with 60° temperatures in the forecast, we can evaluate the damage beneath.
Some covert activity occurred in the wee hours of April 1st. Exeter had been Yarn Bombed! We all awoke to a downtown that had been turned into an outdoor gallery of art…. and all for a good cause, the greater Womenade of the Greater Squamscott, an organization that provides financial assistance when it is not available through other sources. Not only does this artistic graffiti event bring awareness to Womenade, it helps the organization financially. Last year’s yarn bombing in Exeter brought in more than $4500 through sponsorship, business support, and individual support.
I, along with many others, followed the trail of whimsical and colorful trees, railings, fences, and doors that were tagged along both sides of the street. Some of the artistic grafitti I recognized from last year’s event but I saw plenty of fun new creations. Here are a few photos shared in a slideshow:
After a month, these works of art will be carefully removed and packed away, leaving nary a trace of yarn behind.