Here we are friends, ankle-deep in rich soils, watching the weather for rain events, anticipating bountiful crops and armloads of flowers – summer growing season in full swing, hip-hip-hooray.
You’ve probably been thinking about the 2020 growing season since 2019 or even 2018 depending on what you’ve been planning. I’d say most New England gardeners of the household variety are always looking forward. You’ve studied the lay of your land, imaged what could grow and then developed plans trying to create what you’ve imagined possible. We, the fearless planters of the tri-towns, have endless imaginations.
I was sidelined for a couple of years, that backbreaking posture, bending over flower beds necessary in order to maintain a weed-free zone, simply out of the question. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess the vast encroachment of grass and weeds due to neglect. Left to their own devices natural selection, survival of the strongest and most prolific wins. Now with some limited but renewed physical capabilities, I’m back in the garden beds fighting the good fight.
And speaking of invasive species, this year will be spent removing the ubiquitous grass clumps and plain old ordinary weeds from my perennial beds. Yet when I was sidelined I came to realize that not all invaders in the garden need to be ripped from the ground. Some of them support butterflies and hummingbirds. Some of them are pretty, many have grand, evocative names.
One weed – nay, flower – that I’ve left in the flower beds is the buttercup. The delicate flower cup with its shiny flower of brilliant yellow is a very pleasant addition early in the season. From the second-floor window, I can look down on the backyard flower beds and there beaming up at me reflecting sunlight are the buttercups. Many of us will have that silly childhood memory of holding a buttercup under the chin to detect whether or not we liked butter. Picking handfuls to carry home to mother, she’d place them in a jelly jar filled with water for their short lifespan in captivity.
Earlier in the season while frost and cold were still to be reckoned with, there arrived a purple, low-growing flower that in previous years we have pulled out thinking they were intruders needing a quick dispatch. This year, I left them in place to see what would happen. Soon there was an amazing carpet of small purple flowers that seemed to absorb light during the day and glow from within as the glooming arrived. I learned through social media that it is gloriously named, “Glory of the Snow.”
Originally from Turkey, imported to the colonies, this spreading bulb species is considered invasive by many due to its ability to cover vast areas in a few growing seasons. I found it exotic and thrilling. Each evening as the skies darkened, I’d go outside just to study the flowers that, to my eye, are resplendent.
Another plant considered by formal gardeners to be a nuisance species is “Star of Bethlehem.” How is that for a name that calls up images of celestial bodies. Multiple spikes with white flower heads sprout from each plant opening up about mid-morning and staying open all day. These, like the Glory of the Snow, can and will spread like a carpet. Each flower head displays a frosty white flower that is a perfect white, no shading. Caution is to be taken with these if you plan on handling them, however, as every part of the plant is poisonous.
I was delighted several years ago to find that after removing some troublesome tall pine and oak trees the sun penetrated onto a small area of a hedge previously in perpetual darkness. The sun brought to life a hydrangea bush and a honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle bushes, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, are invasive, non-native plants that require removal. Along my side driveway they grow undisturbed. I find the flowers so appealing I can’t bring myself to hack it out. There it blooms between a tall hydrangea and long row of forsythia, feeding the bees and the hummingbirds.
Right now, the clover is coming on strong, attracting bees alongside the stately irises standing so prim and proper, seeming to shout, “She planted us here on purpose so take that!” The clover laughs as it bobs around on breezes. Clover brings to mind something from a Seuss book, round and pink, and heading in all directions chasing the wind.
This year I added a type of milkweed plant being sold locally with the tag of “native plant,” clearly declaring its importance to the neighborhood. It’s known as “swamp milkweed.” I also have, much to my delight, another variety of milkweed known as the common milkweed. Unlike the swamp variety which is smaller and bush-like, the common milkweed has a sturdy stock with velvety leaves and should produce round flower heads of pink or pale purple. Last year these were consumed by a nasty bug before they were able to produce flowers. But, then again, easy-come-easy-go; they didn’t cost me anything.
While I’m nurturing maybe 25 different flowering plant varieties in my perennial beds, it is the accidental tourists that delight me the most. Among them is a Rose-of-Sharon.
For several growing seasons, I kept chopping the woody stem of the then-unknown invader. Left to grow when I wasn’t attending the gardens, it became a surprise addition with its purply pink flowers that look like orchids. I now look forward to seeing it right where it landed at the far edge of the yard up against the fence.
Between the ability to give my gardens more attention because I’m cloistered on my patch, to being able to bend and reach into the flower beds, the rewards have been many and the season has just started. If things keep up like this, I might even begin to believe I do have a green thumb, at least for the wild things.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell