April 22

April Blue

Lungwort is painting pools of blue in the back reaches of the borders at Duck Hill. This is an old-fashioned sort, Pulmonaria angustifolia, with plain green leaves and flowers that are not the usual lavender (from pink buds) but a true blue, the color of gentians. It was given to me when I was in my twenties by a pair of generous neighbors who were avid gardeners and I have brought patches of it with me every time I move–for sentimental reasons as well as for its value in the garden. It starts blooming in early April, even before the beds are cleaned of winter debris, and continues for a good month. It is easily divided right after it blooms in order to have many more plants. I divided and replanted my original patch off and on for the first ten years after settling here in order to have drifts of it, but I haven’t touched this lungwort in the last two decades and, without any help from me,  it dresses the garden with its blueness. Along with daffodils, it is a perfect flower to have in the very back of your beds and around your shrubs where it provides early interest before the perennials get tall and the bushes leaf out. Many sorts of lungwort are available today in nurseries–with white or coral pink flowers as well as blue, often with strikingly spotted leaves. The pulmonarias like summer shade, appreciate some moisture, but on the whole are undemanding and hardy as well as charming. Sometimes the leaves of the spotted varieties (P. saccharata) brown in our hot dry summers, but if you shear the plants right down to the ground, new fresh leaves will appear in days.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker was here. We have just pruned out about seventy-five percent of the branches of this black pussy willow, Salix melanostachys—now dead, done in by the woodpecker’s orderly circles of holes, made while seeking nourishment. When did this happen? Probably this winter, according to naturalist Tait Johansson at the Bedford Audubon Society in Katonah, New York.  I am unhappy to learn that willows, apples and birches are this small striped bird’s favorite trees. Sure enough, some of our semi-dwarf apple trees have a few necklaces of holes, and the large old apple at the edge of our spit of woodland is riddled with them. Tait says that big trees are not harmed by the sapsucker’s drillings, and, on the bright side, hummingbirds among other feathered friends benefit from his work.

April 7

Winter Aconites

Spring! The snow has finally melted at Duck Hill revealing the first of the joyous early bulbs.  Snowdrops bloom briefly, their satin white bells dipped and streaked in green. On an overcast day they shimmer with an iridescent light along our leaf-littered woodland path. Winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, are almost as early as the snowdrops, coaxed wide open on sunlit days, their waxy yellow cups resting on deeply-cut ruffs of fresh green. They seed under an old apple tree, spreading yearly from the few tubers I brought here from my previous garden thirty years ago.