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Here it is, six weeks later, and some seedlings have s-l-o-w-l-y begun to sprout. The spinach has been up about a week and a half and is only now putting out second leaves. This past week some carrot and kohlrabi sprouts began to show.  At least this give me some hope for the seeds remaining underground—they might spout yet. So okay, up here in north central western Michigan, you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked, but the results, like the weather, might be mixed.Six wees to sprout? Really? Kale, a very cold tolerant plant has shown no signs of germination, neither have the beets, radishes, or Swiss chard. It might work out better for me to plant some of these in late August and grow them through the fall, and just wait until about now to put other seeds in the ground. On the other hand, the annual seeds of camomile and parsley are all over the garden! They have literally turned wild and are competing with the Veronica peregrina, in other words they’ve joined the weed community. I don’t really want to pull any of them out. Perhaps the veronica would make a good ground cover on the walkways between the growing boxes? Gardening is an adventure and an experiment!

My daffodils. scilla siberica, and hyacinth  are all blooming, and in the wild, so are the Amelanchier trees, so I can state spring is well underway here. Doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow! However, the blueberry plants from White Flower Farm arrived last Friday and I planted them Sunday. Hope they survive.

Kale

Kale

Spring is going to start early this year. Already the normal 12″ of snow covering my garden this month is gone, the snowdrops are blooming with many honey bees hovering over them. Since most garden books say as soon as the soil can be worked, the cold crops can be planted, I’m going to try it. Just watch, a week or two from now a heavy snow storm will dump on the sprouting seeds. I’ll discover what happens to those baby plants then. I’m ever a pessimistic optimist.

So what are cold crops? Mostly leaf or root crops started from seed that actually prefer growing in colder temperatures. They vary in hardiness, but most will survive frost, and some of them even snow. What makes them great are they are typically short season, too, meaning they’ll be on the table quicker. Many ‘cole’ crops are cold hardy, but cole refers to crops from the Brassica genus or mustard family, vegetables like broccoli, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi, cabbage, or cauliflower. While these are cold crops, many other vegetables are similarly cold hardy.

Most root crops such as carrots and onions (basic cooking foods) parsnips (mashed like potatoes only sweeter), turnips and rutabaga (essential for pasties), beets (borscht and pickled beets, yumm), and leeks (leek and potato soup) prefer cool temperatures. Some leafy vegetables like arugula, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, maché (a old leaf crop in France relatively new to the states), and parsley (combine all for marvelous salads, plus spinach and Swiss chard make good cooked greens) favor cool weather. I’ve seen parsley still fresh and ready to use growing up from snow. It is also biennial, meaning it harvests for two years, but it has also reseeded itself in my garden. Peas, which are grown for their fruit, produce best in cooler temperatures.

Some of these leafy crops like spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard (I’m not fond of kale or collards) will be ready for the table by the end of April. If the summer is relatively cool, they’ll keep sending up new leaves even after several harvestings. The root crops will take longer to develop, but will be ready to harvest when tomatoes and pepper plants are only becoming safe to put in the ground (May 15th to 30th depending on your last frost zone).

Two more good things about cold crops are that they can be planted again in mid-August to the end of September providing a late season crop, but most seed companies have seed sales in the fall, so you get the seeds cheaper. One more good aspect of this is those cheaper seeds will be just as viable for the spring growing seed. I’ve grown fall season carrots, which are very cold, even freezing, hardy, and while I can’t get into the snow covered garden to harvest them, I have dug them from the ground in the early spring.

I don’t have any daffodils yet, and the only blooming things in my garden are the snowdrops. After visiting Olathe, Kansas, where daffodils were in abundant display along with many blooming shrubs including forsythia, redbud, and crabapples, I know how far behind Northern Michigan is. But the signs of encroaching spring are showing. I took the photo of the pussywillows (Salix discolor) just emerging today while taking a walk.

Emerging catkins of willow trees emerge, a sure sign of spring.

Emerging catkins of willow trees emerge, a sure sign of spring.

improperly pruned forsythiaOne of my gardening pet peeves is forsythia. Yes, a beautiful shrub, a shot of sunshine in early spring able to lift winter-worn spirits, which many enthusiasts love, but poor pruning often mangles the potential for beautiful sprays of flowers. My own employer is guilty. The photo shows shrubs found at the entrance of otherwise well-landscaped grounds.

Of course, before any shrub is every placed in the landscape, it should be selected for how its characteristics will naturally develop. Plant selection, however, is an extensive topic in its own right, and not of importance now if you already have one in your yard.

Forsythia develop into beautiful natural-looking hedges, but are not meant to be sheared into smooth planes of foliage like privet. If you want topiary, begin with a shrub more inclined to become what you want. Forsythia’s natural character is to look unkempt and natural-looking with long arching branches. They can overgrow their site, which again goes back to the subject of plant selection. Next year’s flower buds form during the early summer, so shearing branches after they leaf out removes next year’s flowers.

New homeowners often inherit ungainly forsythia problems. The yard came with these shrubs in place. After years of neglect, forsythia might be growing in shade. These shrubs should be removed as they will never bloom to full potential. If it’s a case of an overgrown shrub or little flower production, pruning is a (relatively) easy job. The best time to prune in very early spring before they shrubs bloom, or just after they bloom. Yes, if the plants are pruned before they bloom, flower potential is being cut out, but it is easier to see the branches, or canes, at that time. One third of the thickest, oldest canes should be cut back to ground level, along with any dead or broken canes, or any that look wildly out of place.

That’s it! Pruning forsythia three years in a row rejuvenates the entire shrub, and it won’t need pruning for a few years unless a smaller shrub is desired. Isn’t that simple? Next spring the long elegant canes will reward all viewers with a profusion of flowers.

As soon as the weather turns good I start walking the road along my property–a one and a half mile round trip. During these treks I like to keep track of the wildflowers along the way. After ten years of regular walks, I still find new flowers. This week I noticed Cardamine diphylla, also known as Dentaria diphylla, or by the common names of toothwort, pepperroot or crinkleroot. That’s a lot of naming, but the four petaled flower does look a little like baby teeth, doesn’t it? Or perhaps for the tooth-edged leaves?

Actually, I discovered the roots were chewed to relieve toothache, and teas made out of the roots were supposed to help flu and colds, therefore, toothwort. Pepperwort because the rhizome roots are sharp, pungent or peppery in taste. Herbalists are still promoting the plant’s medicinal value on the web. Others suggest it as a good addition to salads, or sauces. I’m guessing the European colonists learned about toothwort from Native Americans who seemed to also have used it as a food crop. Since Cardamine diphylla is from the mustard family, known for its pungency as wells as its four-petaled flowers, that might be very true. Edible Wild Plants has more information about toothwort and even for its inclusion in horseradish sauce.

Whether for a medicinal or culinary use, many roots must need to be harvested to whip up even a little quantity for any recipe. The plant is small, only growing about eight inches. You might guess from my comments that I didn’t dig the plant up to taste. I’d rather see them grow along my roadside and just purchase pepper or horseradish, or whatever I need from the grocery store. I suppose it is called crinkleroot because the roots are crinkled?

These plants grow in the early spring in damp, wooded areas before the trees leaf out. They bloom and spread seeds, and then disappear for the rest of the summer. The genus name Dentaria, which refers to teeth, is often included in the Cardamine genus; the diphylla means two leaves. Although their broad leaves looks like more because they are three-lobed, the flower stalk bears only two leaves.

There is another native toothwort, which I have not discovered along my road, the cutleaf toothwort, Dentaria lacinata, which blooms after the trees have leafed out. Its leaves are deeply cut so look much thinner. If you live east of the Mississippi River, you might see either of these wildflowers on walks in your woodlands.

Gardens bring both the gardener and the viewer great joy. A few moments looking at a garden filled with a riot of color feeds our souls with cheer and hope. There is no other word for it. A well-designed garden can bring inspiration, sooth the wounded spirit and calm the angry one. Even a single plant in full flower in an otherwise barren yard can make us believe in goodness and that life will outlast the greatest disasters. Yet most gardens are doomed unless under the care of professional gardeners in a major botanic garden. Like all life, gardens are ephemeral moments of glory, because when the garden moves on, nature takes over.

Once the garden is left untended, the environment changes. Only the strong will survive. While nature is a magnificent, and an awe-inspiring force, it is merciless and can devastate an untended garden.

Gardeners delight in growing plants from all over the world, some of these non-natives can outgrow anything in the local habitat and become unwanted menaces. Others only survive because of the gardener’s diligence, and disappear along with the gardener.

Sometimes, however, the remains of long ago gardens can be recognized. One reminder is often the jubilant daffodil. They mark homesteads that have disappeared in time. By their very nature these non-native spring flowers endure.

About fifty species of narcissus are known, coming from Europe and North Africa. Because all parts are poisonous, most predators and insects leave them alone. They grow in full sun or full shade, and while some prefer to grow in warmer climates, most are very hardy. In the right site, they seem to last forever, a monument to the gardener who once grew them, and to the “Once upon a time” ephemeral nature of gardens.

The bloodroot (Sanquinaria canadensis) are just beginning to bloom along the road in a wooded depression. Their fat palm-shaped leaves emerge from the ground furled in tight spears, and their blooms spring up not much higher than six inches. These small native glories of the spring also make wonderful garden plants. I have some that I purchases a few years ago in my woodland garden. They are starting to spread. I think I’ll buy more to help them along the way. If you decide you want some, just be sure that you buy your rootstock from a reliable nursery and don’t dig them out of the wild.

According to Armitage’s Herbaceous Perennial Plants the rootstock has a yellowish-red sap when cut. He says, “The sap was used by the Indians as a dye for coloring and war paint(517).” That’s interesting, isn’t it?

They are very hardy plants but ephemeral in that the foliage dies back in summer. Shade is important, as is springtime moisture. They can be divided after their blooms have died off, but I still think I’ll just buy some more.

Armitage, Allan. Herbaceous Perennial Plants. Varsity Press, Inc. Georgia. 1989.

The branches of willows and dogwood along the roadside are coloring, and the pussy willows (Salix discolor) are blooming. They only last a brief time, especially in the very warm weather we have had. It was 80 degrees yesterday, the warmest April 2nd hereabouts. Today is much colder and rainy, which is also good as it was extremely dry, and the cold helps keep the daffodils looking good.


Perhaps spring is here. The crocus are blooming! Finally! Actually, they began blooming last week, but now they’re all out–yellows, purples, and white; and the earliest yellow daffodil should bloom today. This part of Northern Michigan may even have temperatures into the 70’s by the end of the week. Pessimist that I am, I feel like there must be a weather shoe about to drop on from somewhere, bringing a foot of snow or ice, or some historically unnaturally low temperature. Hope not.
I love the yellow crocus (C. ‘Yellow Mammoth’) in the soft green of the groundcover Veronica pictinata. The veronica was green as the snow and ice melted off it. Is that not wonderful? It also blooms with tiny blue flowers later in the spring. The other crocus photos show leaves of other plants beginning to emerge from the brown of soil and last fall’s leaves. It makes me want to garden, but digging in the soil right now is dangerous. Who knows what valuable plant I might dig up? This year I’m going to make an even better plant map so I know what’s planted where! And this fall I’m going to buy more crocus.

While here in Northern Michigan we had a constant snow cover, it wasn’t as deep as I’ve come to expect. All the bad storms seemed to have hit south and east of Michigan. I’m not complaining. I felt bad for those caught in storms not seen in their areas for years and who were unprepared to handle all the snow, but mostly I felt relief. The local snow cover hovered around twelve inches this winter rather than the thirty-six to forty-eight I’ve come to expect. That has all melted. March came in like a lamb with several days in the 60 degree Fahrenheit range.

I still expect another snowstorm, but the snowdrops are blooming, so can spring be too far behind? How do they do that? Do they bloom under the snow so that the blossoms appear as the snow melts around them, or do they emerge and bloom overnight? However the snowdrops do it, it looks like we’ll have another spring even if we receive more snow.

The daffodils have also emerged from the soil showing two and three inches of green beginning to reach for the light. As I walked the garden noting signs of life, I took comfort in the signs of renewal! I also noticed all the winter debris needing to be cleaned up. I’m waiting a little longer before I start that project… but soon, very soon. I just hope March doesn’t leave roaring like a lion.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

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