We are having such fun watching Spring progress around our new house, not knowing, in the case of crabapples, lilacs, and peonies, what colors they would be, delighting in the smattering of varieties, grateful to be inheriting some loveliness.


Two standard shads (Amelanchier species) by the front door of the house were the first to open, along with a grove of multi-stemmed ones along the beginning of our drive. I find it thrilling to have these lovely trees up close where I can see at eye level their slender pinkish buds open to fragile white flowers and now begin to form fruit that the birds love.


We have two apple trees with great age and soul, their heavy branches wavily reaching outward from solid trunks. When they were in bloom, a pair of Baltimore Orioles, black-headed with blazing orange coats, chirpped from their branches as I weeded in a bed near by.


Crabapples too, pink budded, opening to white, an old one by the house and five planted at a distance in front of some tall spruces. And down in the boggy woods, I spied an old crab, brilliant red in bud, fading to pink in flower. I cut branches of it to bring indoors and mix with lilacs.

May 11

Early Peonies


The first of the peonies–flowers we usually associate with early June–are in full flower in our vegetable garden. This ravishing yellow is affectionately called “Molly the Witch” because her official name is impossible to pronounce–Paeonia mlokosewitschii. The flowers are  small and single, a buttery pale yellow with a boss of golden stamens. The leaves are a fresh blue-green and make a beautiful frame. By happenstance, Molly is surrounded by a curious flower called Smyrnium perfoliatum, an acid yellow that compliments the softer-colored peony. We were given seed of smyrnium after admiring the flower one spring in Eugene, Oregon, and tossed those seeds into this nursery bed by the chicken house, then promptly forgot about them. Two years later, odd-looking seedlings cropped up which we first thought were some new weed, but fortunately decided not to pull because we weren’t sure. The following year they flowered and we remembered what they were.

The earliest peony in our garden, and a favorite of mine, is called ‘Early Windflower’. It is a cross between  two species, P. emodi and P. veitchii, made in the early twentieth century by A. P. Saunders in upstate New York. It is a lovely thing with nodding small single white flowers above deeply-cut, almost lacy, light green foliage. I like to pick it for small vases, mixed with perennial sweet peas.

The peonies seem to thrive in our vegetable garden–they are much lustier here than they are in our garden beds. Reasons–full sun, lots of room, and aged manure seeping out from the hen house and chicken runs that they back up to.

The crabapples are confections this week at Duck Hill.  Four of them line the walkway of our entrance–a handsome white-flowering sort called ‘Snowdrift,’ and four ‘Katherine’ crabs, pink fading to white, weigh down the corners of our main garden. This Japanese crab acts as a parasol over our round table on the kitchen terrace, effectively shading our summer lunches. It is an old fashioned sort called Malus floribunda with a picturesque horizontal way of growing. I planted it as a five-foot sapling twenty-nine years ago. (My children laughed then when I said it would shade our lunches.) It has small flowers but is profuse in its blooming, white petals from red buds, giving a speckled appearance. In fall these small ornamental trees are loaded with reddened fruit, eaten before harsh winter by the birds–in good years, they are consumed by robins and cedar waxwings. In less fortunate years, starlings discover them first, cackling like Alfred Hitchcock birds as they feast on the berries.

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.