April 13 – 26, 2015
Mt. Washington — Speckled alders are blooming, their pendulous, red-brown catkins are pioneers among spring’s male flowers. Ancient looking, drooping spikes, catkins may be an acquired taste in flowers. Shrub alders, little noticed in our region, are members of a family of prized trees around the world and have stand out neighbors where they grow locally. Most early blooming shrubs and trees make themselves at home in the same wet swales and nearby high ground. Silvery pussy willow buds swell along their dark brown twigs, distinct next to yellow-stemmed willows. Also known to do well with “wet feet,” red maples are radiant with plump buds that look like rose-colored berries. Close by, where the ground may be a bit higher and thus less wet, sinuous limbed, small grey shadbush trees are still dormant.
The hills will soon be painted with washes of red-orange where groups of pollen-bearing male red maples bloom and with washes of burgundy red where female trees wear their charming pistillate flowers, the winged seed visible, embryonic within. Then, the white, five-petaled blossoms of shadblow will form creamy patches all over the Berkshire Hills. Most of these early bloomers leaf out after flowering.
When we view the native plants that surround our gardens and yards as an extension of our cultivated areas, part of the living, pulsating community that shapes our sense of place, we more fully express ourselves as gardeners and stewards of the Earth. Sometimes individual plants find a place inside the garden. For years I admired a winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata) for its profusion of bird-attracting red berries outside the garden fence. Before I realized it was there, a very fine specimen of a winterberry had established itself in what had been an unclaimed spot inside the garden where a tree stump was decomposing. A volunteer, in gardener’s lingo.
Many other native shrubs have much to offer to ornamental as well as edible landscapes. In addition to their structural beauty and ecological significance, shadbush (Amelanchier), also known as Juneberry and shadblow, offers edible berries; hazel (Corylus), proffers its nuts; elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) and blueberry (Vaccinium), their fruits.
When purchasing plants, request “species” individuals when possible so as to help maintain the gene bank for native plants. Project Native https://www.projectnative.org and Catskill Native Nursery https://www.catskillnativenursery.com specialize in native woody and herbaceous plants. Garden centers usually have many cultivars of each species, so look at tags for variety names that follow the species name in quotation marks, such as Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’.
The spading fork hits frozen ground about 6 inches down in shady spots and not at all in full sun, which allows the top layer of cover crops, such as winter rye grass, to be turned over immediately. Where beds were prepared with compost in the fall, it’s time to begin to plant onions! Sets and seedlings thrive when planted 3 to 4 inches apart, depending on variety, in rows 12 inches apart. In between the onion rows, plant a row of early spinach seeds 3 to 4 inches apart or radishes 2 inches apart.
Spring – the time of the perennial smile.
The Art and Science of Composting and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s Chromatography: a weekend workshop with Bruno Follador https://www.natureinstitute.org
About shad fish: https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7043.html
Coleman, Eliot, The New Organic Grower, Chelsea Green, Chelsea, Vermont
© Judy Isacoff