NATURE’S TURN: Early bloomers and the plants that bind us

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By Monday, May 8 Home, Garden & Design
Judy Isacoff
Pulmonaria rubra, left; Pulmonaria saccharatta, right. May 4, 2017.

May 8 – 21, 2017

A bumblebee moved quickly among the blue and pink lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) blossoms at my doorstep while, down the road, another gardener heard the first hummingbird in her salmon-red flowering foundation planting of Pulmonaria rubra. The more common pink- to blue-flowering species is known for its silvery spotted green leaves; the coral blooming lungwort’s leaves are sans spots. At the far edge of my garden, both plants have spread and intermingled, the natural result of my admiration for the rubra in Harriet’s yard and her attraction to saccharata in mine many years ago.

Harriet chose lungwort for its very early blossoms that attract and feed returning hummingbirds. I received my spotted-leaf plant as a slip from the Jersey City garden of Robert Russell, husband of my mentor, ethnobotanist Helen Ross Russell, both recently deceased. Swapped and gift cuttings don’t often come with cultivar names, so I call mine Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Robert Russell’ in memory of the avid gardener who so fervently extended moistened newspaper-wrapped scraps of plants to me at the end of every visit.

Viola sororia. May 4, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Viola sororia. May 4, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Other plants, early and late bloomers, come to us in various ways. I noticed the appearance of a speckled violet in my landscape soon after I turned the lawn into an expanse of free-edge raised beds. Blooming now, this decorative edible plant has made itself at home in both cultivated and grassy transition areas, so much so that I often pull clumps out along with encroaching weeds. Assuming that it was a cultivar of unknown pedigree, I dubbed it the “Jackson Pollack” violet. Subsequently I learned that, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder, it is native to eastern North America. Violet leaves and flowers add flair and fresh-picked fare to spring salads, among other ways to prepare them for eating. According to Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants, it might be best to avoid yellow violets.

Taraxacum officinale. May 4, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Taraxacum officinale. May 4, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

I welcomed the first dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) rosettes last month when, with nimble fingers, I would gather the leaves tight to their centers, grasp firmly and pull hard to uproot whole, clean plants which I bit off at the base, consuming the fresh elixir en plein air. Nights were still freezing and so the leaves had just the right amount of tang. With warm weather, dandelion leaves become bitter, but the plant’s next edible part, its flower buds, grow in the center of the rosette. These are also delicious plucked and eaten raw from plants growing where soil and air are free of contaminants. When gathered and sautéed or added at the end of cooking a soup, the green-encapsulated yellow bundles of nascent petals are nutty and tart.

Chilly and wet weather is favoring transplanted alliums; peas and asparagus are up, as are greens and perennials galore. When the weather moderates, let’s plant potatoes.

Seed potato spacing. May 4, 2015. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Seed potato spacing. May 4, 2015. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Resources

Seed viability chart: https://www.highmowingseeds.com/blog/seed-viability-chart

Viola sororia: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=m820

Environmental activism – the hazards of GMO cotton: http://ronnie.organicconsumers.org/beyond-monsantos-gmo-cotton-why-consumers-need-to-care-what-we-wear/


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