Tag Archives: spring

DANDELION

DSCF4650A little girl handed me a limp, browning dandelion the other day. “You need to put it in water,” she said, smiling hopefully. I knew the sentiment all too well. How often had I fallen victim to the lure of a lawn strewn with fuzzy golden flowers and picked handfuls to stuff in jam-jars, only to discover how short-lived their splendor was once picked.

For the past week, on sunny days, I’ve taken a bowl out to the garden and plucked the heads off the freshly opened dandelions. No, it’s not some manic, pesticide free attempt to remove them from my lawn. I’m storing them in bags in my freezer until I’ve accumulated enough to give to a friend to make dandelion wine. I can’t wait to taste the results.

The name, from the French dent-de-leon, or lion’s tooth, refers to the jagged shape of the dandelion leaves. When I was a kid, I spent hours picking these greens to feed my pet rabbit and tortoise.  I learned early on that the white sap that oozes out of the stem is not only sticky, but permanently stains clothing brown! But I still can’t pass a lush bunch without having the urge to pick them. Packed with vitamins and minerals, these leaves make a delicious dish. I first tasted horta—spring dandelion leaves cooked with tons of garlic and lemon juice and olive oil—when living in Greece as a child.

The dandelion has been used medicinally for centuries, and all parts of it are edible. One of its many names is pee-the-bed, for the diuretic effects of ingesting the dried root. It’s far from being merely a humble weed, and yet, this is the plant that herbicide makers love to target in their advertising. Of the numerous names for the dandelion, found in most languages, my favorite is from the Persian, qasedak, meaning small postman because it brings good news.

The First Dandelion.

Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close
emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics,
had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass—
innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful
face.
–WALT WHITMAN.

DSCF4653

FOR THE FIRST TIME

DSCF4123For the first time this year                                                                                                                              I dragged out the old blanket and spread it on the grass.                                                                  Dozed with my head on my arm,                                                                                                                 the sun warm enough to make me shed a layer.                                                                                   Oh boy my soul needed that sweet touch.                                                                                           And I dozed to the buzzing of bees                                                                                                              in the gold and purple crocuses.

At dusk I stood on the lawn and felt                                                                                                         air move against my skin.                                                                                                                               Not the numbing cold                                                                                                                                    that freezes tears in your eyes.                                                                                                                    But an air scented with earth.

My son pointed out the sliver of waxing moon                                                                                          hanging between silhouetted tree branches,                                                                                             delicate as lace mantillas.

The moon siren,                                                                                                                                           and the faint pulse coursing through the soil                                                                                             seduced the tree frogs out of hiding                                                                                                            to call in lusty peeps                                                                                                                                      from the unfrozen pond.

And now, against the darkness of a spring night                                                                                     A moth drives it’s wings against my window                                                                                             Oh so eager to step inside and make mad                                                                                                  passionate love to my lamp.

SIGNS OF SPRING

IMG_8134A sure sign of spring—the kids are going crazy. Notes home from the teacher about rambunctious behavior. And no wonder, they haven’t had an outdoor recess in months!

To combat the stir crazies, I took my little fella out to tramp through the woods over the snowpack, joining the dots of deer and fox tracks. He scrambled over, and jumped off downed tree-trunks to his little heart’s content. I noticed the ever-increasing rings of melted snow at the base of trees. Squirrels chased each other round and round the trunk of the giant black walnut. A flash of ginger fur at the corner of my eye was a chipmunk scampering down the old stone wall. The red cardinal perched amongst the brown, yet swelling buds of the forsythia bush, laying claim to his territory. His no less stylish, yet more subdued partner was close by. The Carolina wren scolded from the dogwood. And the darling nuthatches, cheeped softly to each other as they, scampered, headfirst down the trunk.

The other evening as I stood on the lawn watching a silvery sunset, a pair of Canada geese honked from the pond. Not two feet from me a half-awake possum snuffled here and there amongst dried grasses poking out of the snow. He reminded me of a drunk old fella on his way home from the pub.

When I got up this morning the air was ripe with skunk love. An ardent suitor had left his calling card in the night. Perhaps it was the same stylish black and white mop top I’d had to brake for coming home the other night. He was oblivious to my presence, so hot was he on the scent of his ladylove.

Other dozy animals have not been so lucky. The turkey vultures circle over sad heaps of roadkill. So far I’ve counted raccoon, rabbit, groundhog, and squirrel. Time to look up some spring woodland recipes!

The tips of the young willow trees have turned amazing mustard yellow. The silver pussy willows are swelling out of their hard casings. At the edge of the village the sap buckets are hung on the maple trees.

Yes, everything’s still blanketed with snow, but yesterday the first crocuses opened their faces to the sun. The bees can’t be far behind.

Bee! I’m expecting you!
By Emily Dickinson

Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
Are settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You’ll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

DSCF3797

Just a Hint of Spring

Hysterical chickens squawk from the neighbors yard.
They couldn’t be more chuffed
At having laid the first eggs of the year.
A rivulet of ice-melt
Gushes from the broken gutter—
Add that to the list of post winter chores:
Cut back the dried grasses,
Rake out the flowerbeds,
Push frost-heaved garlic back into the cold earth,
Pull handfuls of chickweed from around the crocuses,
Sit in a patch of early sunlight with just a hint of warmth.

DSCF3793

Begining of the Gardener’s Year

IMG_3320 IMG_3310So, here’s a little essay I read on National Public Radio a few years ago.

Catalog Season,

The Beginning of the  Gardener’s Year

They start arriving during the holiday season, squished in with the endless toy sale coupons, credit card bills, and the rare Christmas card. The catalog covers are bursting with wholesome goodness, though a true gardener knows the truth – you’ll never get botox tomatoes or porcelain perfect rosebuds in your garden without the use of massive amounts of toxic treats. That aside, their luscious covers stay my hand as I’m about to toss them in the recycling pile. Over the next month or two my bathroom will become the resting place for an ever-increasing pile of plant and seed catalogs. This is for strategic perusal during a moment of privacy in the manic holiday season.

By mid-January, when the deer have eaten their way through anything left sticking up out of the snow, and all hope of a shrubbery is growing dim, I get those first twinges. I feel an urge to see seed trays cluttering up the windowsills and kitchen table. I start feeling wistful for that warm place under the kitchen sink– the perfect spot for cozy, dark, moist germination. I’m feeling the drag of winter, and the hopeful swaying towards spring. Winter in the Northeast lays down heavily from January through February and into March, and then teases through April. But I’m beginning to sense the latent promise of the soil.

The catalogs are dragged out of the bathroom and piled by the couch. On brittle winter evenings, by lamplight, I start the long slow sift. Of course, it’s all about fantasy, little will actually be bought. Gardeners have to dream at this time of year: the perfect herb garden springing up amidst neat mounds of box wood and crunchy gravel, a rustic arbor overflowing with grape vines and late summer roses. Perhaps this year there’ll be a woodland bower with trickling stream and dappled shade flowers. With the back of an old envelope I go to work on the grand scheme.

Once I have perused the warty old heirloom vegetables in the organic catalogs, and the glossy offerings from the established old nurseries and fallen in love with some exotic vine from Peru that will never survive in my deer-infested garden, I pass them on to the children to cut-up for school projects. Those genetically modified tomatoes go right at the top of the food chain. In a Martha Stewart-inspired moment I have cut and pasted a rose garden full of gift tags.

I have a weakness for the cheapo catalogs, printed on wafer thin paper and bursting with special offers and 1¢ marvels. The crudely touched up photographs and the neon colors jump off the page at you. I especially love the cheesy photos of children dressed in ‘70’s outfits and sitting atop giant pumpkins with bemused smiles on their faces. I think my all-time favorite was a bonnie baby clutching a sweet pepper as big as its head with the title “Super Heavyweight Hybrid”. Some of the offerings are intriguing – a fruit cocktail tree straight out of “Willy Wonka” which bears plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots. While others are just plain scary. Surely the ‘Hairy Giant Starfish Flower” comes from outer space.

There is no such thing as too big or too sweet in the vocabulary of the people who write the copy for the vegetable and fruit catalogs. They seem to have a passion for words such as “Juicy”, “Smooth”, and “Delicious”. And then of course there are the names – “Fat “n” Sassy”, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Magnifisweet, Delectable, Phenomenal, Serendipity, Love-Me-Tender and Florida Speckled Butter. How could one not succumb? My success rate from these cheap and cheerful orders is about the same as from the much grander (and more expensive) nurseries. Which only goes to prove that I can kill cheap or expensive plants equally well.

Once I’ve reigned in my ambitions and placed my modest order all I have to do is sit back and wait for that freak 80˚ day in April when the dear UPS man will roll up in his van. Of course the garden will be untilled – a quagmire of spring mud. The tender plantlings will languish in a shady corner of my mudroom for several days. Insistent birdcalls staking claim to sections of the garden will get me out of bed at 6am. With fork in hand I’ll brave a light frost and watery sunshine to start the backbreaking work of turning over the soil in the perennial garden and the vegetable patch. Large clods of earth held together with ice crystals get turned over and left to sunbathe.

Hours later, I’ll waddle, with bent back, to the aptly named mudroom, my boots coated in a gelatinous layer. The next day, if there isn’t a late season snowstorm I’ll plant the baby leeks and get the first sowing of peas in. I’ll look down and notice that the paper I grabbed to put under my muddy boots is last season’s plant catalog.