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Judy Isacoff
Woodland or red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) developing from buds to blossoms, May 21, 2019.

NATURE’S TURN: Melodious phrases, vegetable plantings with spires of camass flowers

By Monday, Jun 3, 2019 Farm and Table

June 3 – 16, 2019

“When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.” … Then one day … I saw the tree with the lights in it … It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.” –Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”

Mount Washington — From early March, when sap began to flow in bare maple trees, their tightly wrapped leaf-and-flower buds extended on gray twigs to the haze of yellow-green dangling tree flowers that lit every lane in mid-May, the coming of spring, the Sun rising to the top of the sky has kept us in a sustained state of discovery. There is movement and color on the ground and in the air. Every sense is stimulated as if for the first time. Is this experience possible without immersion in the lean beauty of the winter landscape, without having both withdrawn from and gone out into the cold?

From the rousing, quirky sounds and silhouetted flight of woodcocks in the late winter dusk to the melodious phrases and amusing spectacle of speed-walking robins on sunny, just-raked garden beds, the activities of seasonal arrivals have tuned our response to the swelling spring. And as soon as the ice was out – the frogs! Insistent voices of resident, overwintering wood frogs and spring peepers filled the day and night, the crescendo rising and falling with temperature fluctuations. When their season to sound concluded, trilling toads took up the chant.

My attention landed, all the while, on plants and planting. I brought back beautiful plants to share with you from wild landscapes I frequent. The woodland or red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa var. pubens is growing along a wood road on high ground at the edge of a wetland. It is a desirable shrub for any landscape, although it has the potential to grow to 25 feet. Common or American elder, Sambucus canadensis, has edible flowers and edible dark purple to black berries. It grows to 12 feet. Both are native to our region.

Yellow clintonia or bluebead (Clintonia borealis) is a woodland favorite whose yellow blossoms develop into large, blue berries. The illustration shows a perfectly managed wild ecosystem: Notice the plants tucked into a thick layer of leaf mulch.

Yellow clintonia or bluebead (Clintonia borealis), May 27, 2019. Photo courtesy Alison Gottlieb

In my garden, a showy spring flower native to the American northwest, Camassia leichtlinii, is in full bloom. Started from a few bulbs purchased locally, it has formed a large clump. The camass is frequented by ruby-throated hummingbirds. It is shown as the backdrop for autumn-planted garlic in the illustration.

October-planted garlic, foreground; camass (Camassia leichtlinii), background, May 28, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

The garlic and the beet seedlings, also illustrated, are planted in diagonal rows. Notice the stirrup hoe at the edge of the beet bed. It is an indispensable cutting tool for weeding. After cultivating, I will interplant cilantro and dill seed or mulch with rhubarb leaves, as shown.

Red beet seedlings: seed sown on the diagonal May 6; image, May 29. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Please send word of your experience of spring.


Camasia leichtlinii

Sambucus racemosa

Sambucus canadensis

Amphibian sounds

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