Springtime garden dreaming

native withch havelJPG

Hello. It’s been a while.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been busy. I’ve been attending year end performances, cleaning out the garage, transporting children, filling out permission slips, trying to get a squeaky faucet fixed, and so on. And, of course, I’ve also been busy in my garden.

I started seeds, watched them grow, carried them in and out of the house to harden them off, and now, just this week, planted them outside.

I pruned a dozen inkberry bushes and then luxuriated in the resulting clippings and their glossy foliage and even made a wreath from the cuttings. Sadly, the wreath was a failure, as it turned brown about 24 hours after I hung it in my house, and before I took a photos of the final product, but the project was fun.

I’ve been Instagraming the flowers that have emerged in my garden and trying not to get too excited in anticipation of the ones I hope will bloom soon. (You never know when tragedy may stike in the form of a garden pest.)

I’ve been puttering, planting, and scheming about how to keep the rabbits from eating everything that’s not contained in the fenced enclosure around my vegetable patch. I’ve been thinking about moving some ferns and what to plant in their place.

may apple flower

I’ve been admiring my mayapple which came back five times bigger this year than last. In short, I’ve been happily caught up planning and dreaming in my garden, caught up in the spirit of spring. Happily, I am now caught up here on my blog as well. Happy spring my friends! I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

hot pink peony

A tree blooms in Boston

styrax japonicus

Every spring, this small tree blooms in my yard, its branches covered in these dangling white blossoms. For the first 3 years I lived here, I fretted, trying to determine what kind of tree it was. I asked arborists, landscapers, pretty much everyone who came near it. I googled “carolina silver bells” and “amelanchier” knowing they weren’t quite right, but hoping to get a clue to this plant’s identity. I felt like a failure as a botanist.

Finally, I remembered botanical keys and consulted Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas, arriving at the genus Styrax, a close relative of Carolina silverbells. After some internet research, I decided it had to be Styrax japonicus.

One mystery solved.


My next question (How did it get here?) was answered by an older, plant-loving neighbor. When I told her about my Styrax, she said, “Oh, yes, I belive the arboretum [nearby Arnold arboretum] used to give out seedlings and one year they gave out Styrax. There are probably others in the neighborhood.”

I have yet to see one, but when I do, I will definitely know it.

How to press plants like a botanist

ready to press

In May, my yard has been filled with Lily of the Valley. Perhaps this is why I felt so cavelier about pulling these flowers up in bunches for my latest project.

As a botany graduate student, I used to go plant collecting, pressing and saving weeds and specimens to learn and remember. That’s when I acquired this plant press and filled the layers with wild collected specimens of  Gnapthalium, Lespezeda, and Verbascum.

Only recently did I think to use my plant press to preserve specimens from my garden. Since I hadn’t used the press in years, I ordered new supplies: cardboard ventilators to go in between specimens, white paper blotters to help absorb moisture as the plant dries out, and new straps to pull the flat layers of the plant press tight. (That’s why the blotters look so fresh and clean in the photo.)

plant press

Once my new plant press supplies arrived, I pulled up some lily of the valley and got started. To press them, each plant should go inside a few layers of newspaper, and any notes about the plant or collection date can be scrawled on the paper. I wanted these specimens to be decorative, so I tried to spread the leaves out a little before closing the newspaper and placing it between newspaper and blotter layers.


Each specimen, inside its folded newspaper gets stacked on top of a white blotter layer and then on a cardboard ventilator. These layers – cardboard, blotter, plant in newspaper then get stacked up like a layer cake and placed between the wooden ends of the plant press.


With my stack of plants and papers organized in my press, I put the straps around it, pressed down on the top board, and tightened the buckles. Admittedly, there was a crunching sound – not something I remember from my earlier days studying botany, and something that made me wince.

pressed lily of the valley

A week later, I opened the press up and found this, beautifully pressed specimen. Not sure why but it was a thrill. I’ll let these pressed plants dry a few more weeks and then mount them, maybe frame them. We’ll see….

Tulip Time

pink tulips!

I confess to being enamored of my tulips these days. I’ve been so smitten by these flowers, that I posted this photo on instagram and facebook.

I cringe a bit, worried that I might seem to be bragging. Since no particular skill of mine made this lovely tableau come about, I should probably feel safe in celebrating these spring bulbs. That’s the thrill of gardening — the plants themselves do the work. Their growth seems effortless and their beauty becomes a simple, tiny miracle.

I am also a bit awed that planting bulbs actually worked so well. I was certain, last fall, that the squirrells would eat all my bulbs and when I saw a few bulbs poking out of the soil in February, I was then sure they would freeze and be killed before spring.

Of course, all this beauty is ephemeral. To try and make the most of these tulips while they last, I cut a few stems (from a different spot) this morning to bring inside. And they make me smile with how very alive they are, opening in warmth of the morning sun. The time for tulips is short, but thrilling nonetheless.


A carpet of flowers

scilla siberica

For 50 weeks a year, this yard is an untended woodland, a quiet and naturalized area in a sea of suburban lawns. People pass without noticing, without comment. But for 2 weeks, every spring, it is covered with these blooming spring flowers, Scilla siberica. The carpet of Scilla is such a striking and beautiful sight, neighbors often talk about that house, that house with the naturalized yard and that beautiful carpet of flowers.

Everyday this week, I have walked by this house and its yard covered with blooming Scilla and I think: now its is really and truly spring!  The spring show of nature has begun: soon, this carpet of flowers will be gone and dafodills will be up, and then tulips, and we will be moving on, onwards to summer. I look forward to these changes of spring: the succession of bulbs, may flowers and trout lilies in the woods, and peonies in May and June, but sometimes I wonder if anything can top this beautiful blue carpet of Scilla, this first spectacular show of spring.