The morning was crisp and cold but with cloudless skies promising a much warmer day. The back gardens at Ann’s Place were as I left them last fall with a blanket of straw covering everything I planted last November but with one big difference: daffodils. The 3,400 daffodils I planted last year have come in full bloom and grace the little hillside on the southern portion of the property. They stand trumpeting the beginning of Spring and the emergence of all we did last year. A few weeks ago I planted 400 stragglers around the stairs and statue base that were installed after the initial planting; they too have started to poke their heads above the straw.
There was little time to appreciate this sight as I needed to remove all the straw from the beds we had created last year and start to prepare the ground to be seeded. The straw decayed little over the winter and each strand held on to each others forming chunky sheets. Underneath was the stirrings of new growth and old nemeses. Barberry babies were raising their heads, looking to take a first feeding of light. Like a ruthless mercenary, I pulled them out of their warm beds and discarded them with little thought.
Pale green grasses were starting to grow. Other weeds were starting to present themselves. I spotted what looked like poison ivy with its tale-tell three leaves. I removed it with little thought.
Many of the plants did well during the winter. The chokeberries, dogwoods, spiraeas and viburnums had been pruned a bit by the deer. The blueberries had not even been touched. The inkberries, unfortunately, had been heavily sampled and the mountain laurels that I (perhaps naively) planted have been eaten down to the bark showing little life. I may have to replace them. But overall everything is starting to bud out nicely and telegraph its rebirth to the surroundings.
As I kept removing the straw, I noticed more of the three-leaf plants. It was strange as I didn’t remember any poison ivy when we cleared the area last fall. And also the stem was red, not green as it should be. So I decided to grant mercy on the plant and wait to see how it developed. I’m glad I did because I started to discover hidden treasures.
The little three-leaf plants were scattered around but I soon started finding small rose bushes. Then a few ferns that I had not planted. Then a patch of wild strawberries. Then a jack in the pulpit: it was not poison ivy. Jack in the pulpit is easy to confuse with poison ivy as both have a similar three-leaf structure; the difference is when an erect spike forms (a spadix or Jack) that holds many tiny flowers and the sheath-like spathe (pulpit) appears that opens to form a hood. Though it is not endangered, I haven’t seen one for years in my walks in the woods even though they are rarely eaten by deer as they are poisonous.
You could never see any of these things under the barberry that covered the back portion of the property. I was pleasantly surprised to find that native plants were still around, just hidden from view by the barberry that we had removed. They had already gone dormant when I there in the fall. I quickly became attuned to the potential for plants under the straw, which was now wrapping paper for the gifts of Spring.
After all the straw was removed, I was encouraged to see that besides what had been planted in the fall was complemented by flowers, bushes and ferns that had already been here. The soil was now bare and needed a bit of roughing up to better take the seed I will soon sow to restore other species that had long disappeared from the site. Milkweed, Joe-pye weed, New England Aster, big bluestem, goldenrod, Indian grass are but a few of the new plants that would perhaps reestablish themselves in this area. After broadcasting the seed I then spread a thin layer of shredded straw. This weekend it is supposed to rain and the cycle of growth will start again at Ann’s Place.