Category Archives: wildflowers

May Flowers & Other Nice Things Around the Yard

Red Hawthorn --Crateagus iracunda

Red Hawthorn –Crateagus iracunda

So I’ve become interested in learning the names of plants growing wild around me. I “blame” (in the best, most thankful way) this on a local herbalist/organic farmer, Cynthia, at Piper’s Knoll Farm just over the town line in neighboring Newfield, Maine. Cynthia has begun offering monthly foraging and identification walks, and after participating in the first one a week ago, I’ve been compulsively LOOKING.

A simple walk up the road now becomes a wild-things expedition. This week I was drawn to the white flowers on this shrub, and, looking more closely, I was captivated by the dark pink anthers clustered in five pairs of stamen on this red hawthorn. NOT that I knew it was a red hawthorn. I had to go home and look it up. Which is fabulous fun, kinda like a treasure hunt, so thank you, Cynthia!

I don’t even have to walk up the road to explore the wild things and not so wild things around me. So what else is growing around my yard right now?

Two days from Memorial Day, the garden boxes begged me to plant something even though it is risky here in Maine to jump the gun. At the Newfield Farmer’s Market this morning, I couldn’t resist purchasing the first few plants–a lavender perennial to go next to the French tarragon, three varieties of tomatoes (going into the box over the septic tank in hopes the heat will appeal to them), a green bell pepper, and a sage. Except for the lavender, they all went into that same box so I could cover them with a sheet last night. I may be impatient, but I’m not completely out of my mind.

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Neighbor Debbie was kind enough to give me a lemon balm from her garden, so I stuck that in the garden box as well, right next to the chocolate mint. That mint will be watched, of course, as we all know how they like to spread and spread.

Now for Mother Nature’s garden beds. These plants live near or beneath the beech trees in front of my house. It’s a forest in miniature!

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria virginiana

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Partridge Berry (Squaw Vine) Mitchella repens

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Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule

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Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia

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Starflower, Trientalis borealis

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Canada Mayflower,Maianthemum canadense

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False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum

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It is so much fun to walk around the property now. I am determined to get myself a plant identification guidebook, though the internet is a great resource, as is Neighbor Debbie who has documented many of the native plants species over the past couple of years.

What do you have growing wild in your yard? When you find a minute to take off the gardening gloves and set down your trowel, drop me a line. Remember, it doesn’t get more local than your own back yard.

Eggsellent Spring Supper

Spring Herbs

Dear Reader:

It may be hard to believe, but the garden, thanks to perennial herbs, produced ingredients for a wonderful, fresh-tasting spring supper before I even sent in my order to Johnny’s Seeds yesterday.

Perennial herbs are a gift of spring. Nestled up beside the first little feather fronds of yarrow and the recently divided rudbekia are the healthy clumps of reliable chives. The first grayish-purple flower heads poke up through the succulent spikes, and a few snips of the cooking shears yield a small handful of spicy, slightly oniony flavor.

Chives

Another unassuming, grassy-looking clump perfumes my fingers with the slight scent of liquorice when I roll a blade between thumb and finger. This is French tarragon–useful in soups, sprinkled on roasting chicken or vegetables with olive oil, or stuffed into a bottle of vinegar where it will impart its Mediterranean essence to that humblest of condiments.

French Tarragon

A short walk down to the perennial bed beneath the beech trees, my tiny but refuses-to-die thyme plant has put out new green leaves. I snip a few sprigs, roll a leaf between my fingers to inhale the woody aroma. Thyme is good, of course, in chicken soups and other stews. It is also remarkably yummy with eggs…and this is what I’m intending for this night’s supper.

Fresh Thyme

Bouquet in hand, I stroll to the house. From my ‘fridge comes a carton of locally-raised eggs; delicate shells in various hues indicate a mixed flock. The chickens that produced these eggs get plenty of protein from insects and plenty of fresh air and grass to scratch in. Their beaks haven’t been clipped. They have room to move. The yokes inside the eggs are golden-orange and plump, healthy, reassuring.

If only I’d thought ahead and purchased some local chevre, I think as I whisk a couple of eggs in a bowl and pour them into a buttered skillet on the stove. Instead I make do with some sharp cheddar and feta from the Limerick Market. I vow to try making my own mozzarella soon.

Sprinkling on the chopped herbs, I flip over one side of the set egg mixture. I pop a slice of my homemade bread into the toaster, tuck a handful of organic spring mix (Note to self: next year, use cold frames and start greens early!) onto a large plate, and slide the omelet next to the greens. A little butter on the toast and bon appetit!

Simple Dinner

If I’d started an asparagus bed, could I have added that to my meal, I wonder? Is Maine asparagus ready this early? Another note to self: create asparagus bed this year.

As for greens, I could have harvested all the dandelion any girl could want…wild food is even better than perennial food. (See “Not Your Grandmother’s Dandelion Greens.”) I have the store-bought greens, though, and the dandelions aren’t going anywhere.

Dandelions

Now, imagine some homemade hard apple cider to go along with this meal. Or some home-fries from local or backyard potatoes instead of the toast. Rhubarb pie for dessert. I wanted a quick meal, but the possibility for something more substantial is all right there–inspired by the fresh flavors of perennial spring greens. If you have even a small area in which to plant, these hardy and versatile herbs would serve you well.

Ephemeral Spring

Crabapple Blossoms

Dear Reader:

So we’ve had one of those kind of springs. An overcast, rainy, drizzly, foggy, chilly, turn-on-the-furnace, will-the-sun-ever-come-out, I’m-gonna-stick-my-head-in-an-oven-if-it-doesn’t-clear-up-soon spring. Despite the lack of sunlight, I fell in love with Spring this year. The beauty overwhelmed me.

The budding leaves on the trees glowed neon green. Every window in my house framed dazzling squares of bright, yellowy-green glaze, and every trip into town offered views of wide, verdant expanses from the ridges overlooking lush valleys of oak and maple and birch and beech trees budding out after a long, snowy winter.

My Reiki instructor reminded me that green is the color of the heart chakra, the energy center that corresponds with compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness, faith, receptivity, and acceptance. Either all that green was feeding my heart chakra, or my heart chakra was so energized I was drawn to all that green, or perhaps the energy and the color and the season were all just aligned for me this year so that despite the rain and gloom I was able to feel hope and love and faith for a brighter future.

Later in the season, the light color will deepen into emerald and forest and moss, but this early spring . . . well, it was all golden-green, the color Robert Frost wrote about in his short poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Award-winning poet, Dana Gioia, wrote an excellent essay about Frost’s 1923 poem. In the essay,“On Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Gioia contrasts this type of short poem with more the formalized forms of sonnets and epigrams. He talks about the construction of the poem, simplicity of the words Frost chose to use, and the movement from nature themes to philosophical observation about the passage of time.

Exuberant Rhubarb

This poem could be depressing, like the rainy weather, a note on the ephemeral qualities of youth giving way to duller attributes. Okay, true, but here’s the thing about life–it goes in cycles. Yes, this rainy yet somehow bright green spring will yield to summer and heat and dust and shady spots beneath the mature leaves of the trees. And, yes, the leaves will dry up and fall in autumn, and the branches will seem bare and dead through another long winter, but then . . . Spring, once again!

Lamium Maculatum

Nowhere is this more apparent than in my perennial flower beds. Year after year, these plants die back in the fall and then come back to life once again in the spring, bursting out of the cold wet ground and spreading themselves up and out to catch the fall of rain and (theoretically this year) the rays of sunlight.

Most of these plants are divisions from friends’ and my mother’s flower beds, and because I’ve never been too interested in the science of horticulture (I’m more interested in having pretty gardens) I rarely even bother to find out the names of the plants. A quick search this morning for “purple flowers ground covers” brought up pictures that seemed to match my bunchy cluster of purple flowers with heart-shaped leaves that grows on the north-east side of my front steps. If I’m right, this is Lamium maculatum, a ground-cover than does well in partial shade. It has come back bigger and better than ever each year. I highly recommend this hardy perennial if you are more of a putterer and less of a horticulturalist in the garden.

Another Lamium

This is another Lamium, with the more characteristic dark-rimmed silvery foliage and pink flowers. I love the way it looks against the rock, so delicate and pretty.

Trillium erectum

Meanwhile, out in Nature’s garden, otherwise known as “the woods” or “the side of the road,” this red Trillium briefly blazed like the red star she is. My friend Sandi (check out her Waughtercolors artwork on deviantART) and I noticed these beautiful ephemerals while on an early-morning bike ride one cloudy-but-not-quite-rainy spring day. Spring ephemerals are woodland plants that bloom and go to seed very quickly. Like Frost’s spring gold, they quickly fade to something less spectacular, but while they are here, oh boy! Beautiful. And maybe all the more appreciated because of their ephemeral quality?

Like youth and poetry. For me, a poem is an ephemeral thing, capturing a brief moment in time, a fleeting feeling, an impression.

When I was newly graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington, I got it into my head to write a sonnet sequence. I was inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE.
I was young. I was in love, newly married. I wanted to chronicle that time in my life. So I wrote 48 poems. Three are lost. I think I sent them to a magazine and when they were returned in my SASE, I failed to put them back in the pile. I didn’t know back then that my urge to create poetry would fade, like the browning blossoms I wrote about that spring in 1992. Lately, though, that poetic part of me has regenerated, perhaps part of a creative cycle like Gaia’s seasons?

Anyway, most of the sonnets are horrible (I keep them for sentimental reasons), but I’ll share one not so horrible one that seems appropriate to the season. Enjoy this brief season, Dear Reader. Summer is right around the corner.

A FEW BLOOMS BROWNING

I

I used to climb into the apple trees,
their white-pink blossoms browning in the heat
of waning spring, and dangling dusty feet
and toes in childish peace among the leaves,
I began to dream of love. The breeze
that swayed the branch was new and sweet
with whispers I would blow to meet
the wind. How easily it was to please
the innocence of me until I sighed
another moment at the solitary sound
a songbird made upon an upper bough.
Weighted with the song, I sat and cried
because that sad and sudden beauty tore
from me the child that I had been before.