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Signs of spring. March 23, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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Finally! Spring is here, though it’s hard to believe here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We still have patches of snow on the ground. Ugh!

However, spring is making its presence felt. Snow geese and Canada geese are migrating overhead, filling the air with their distinctive calls. Our trees are full of squawking starlings (alas). We’ve yet to see the first robin, but it can’t be long now.

And, an annual delight, the first of our spring bulbs—the winter aconites and snowdrops—are in bloom. Winter aconites have small, starry, glossy buttercup-yellow blooms born on glossy green feathery foliage just a few inches tall. They’re bulbs in the genus Eranthis, not to be confused with the perennial aconites (genus Aconitum) with tall spires of purple flowers that look like upside-down foxgloves, giving them the name monkshood. These perennials are deadly poisonous, also giving them the name wolfsbane and many another referring to their poisonous attributes. But they’re still great perennials for the late-summer garden; just don’t feed them to your wolves!

Anyway, getting back to the cheerful little winter aconites, they couldn’t look less like the perennials and aren’t even related to them. How they acquired the same name is one of those botanical mysteries our friend Ben will have to look into. But I’d recommend them to anyone; the joyful clumps of yellow flowers slowly grow bigger every year, and seeds will give you new clumps nearby.

Best of all, they bloom at exactly the same time as snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), another small bulb with strappy leaves and downturned white flowers. These bulbs also spread, and grown with winter aconites, they create an Easter patchwork of yellow and white, cheering winter-worn eyes before the grass turns green or even the hellebores bloom.

They also require absolutely zero maintenance from you after you plant them. We started with a shovelful of snowdrops from a colleague that just happened to include a couple of winter aconite bulbs. We planted them in our shrub border, and over the years they’ve grown into the cheerful display that reminds us that spring really has arrived and many more glorious blooms are yet to come.


Spring has jumped the gun. February 18, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was taking our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, for a walk in our backyard Monday when I saw that the snowdrops in our shrub border were up and in bud. Then I realized that our winter aconites were actually blooming, a bright yellow blaze among the clumps of snowdrops. Heading around the yard, I saw that the grape hyacinths and daffodils were also emerging through the soil.

Mind you, Silence Dogood and I live in scenic PA, not, say, Tennessee. We have never had a winter here like this one, where our little creek, Hawk Run, was seldom iced over, much less frozen to the bottom: where it rained rather than snowing except on three occasions, two of which were pretty insignificant; and where the ground never really froze.   

Doing a quick blog search, I saw that our aconites and snowdrops had reached this stage last year on March 2, and on March 7 in 2010. February 13 is three weeks earlier than last year and almost a month earlier than 2010. Needless to say, this makes us feel like spring really is here, so I’m hoping that winter doesn’t suddenly decide to put in a very tardy arrival at this point!

Snow and snowdrops. March 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You know those beautiful but cliched photos of blooming snowdrops breaking through the snow? Ha ha, I always thought, where does that happen?

Our friend Ben and I love our snowdrops (Galanthus spp., typically G. nivalis) here at Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home located in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. They—along with the other “little bulbs,” winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), crocuses, and windflowers (Anemone blanda)—are the first flowers to greet us each spring, a promise that winter is finally over. (Our first hellebore to flower, Helleborus foetidus, is also in bloom as I write, and will soon enough be followed by H. niger and the many-colored H. x hybridus, which bloom with the daffodils here.)

But the snowdrops, with their delicate, pendant, winged white blooms, are always first, reminding me of shy three-winged angels (or fairies, if you’re a fairy fancier) who wish to wrap their wings around themselves so fewer people will notice them as they thunder by. This probably fools some people, but not flower-loving folk like us. Few things are as thrilling to me and OFB as the first snowdrops of the season, longing for spring and flowers as we are.

But this year, as all East Coasters know, winter has been a real bitch. We’ve had colder winters, and plenty of them, but I think our 45 inches of snow (and that’s just so far—we often get our biggest snowstorms in March) has set a record. So, unusually, we still have snow on the ground. And sure enough, yesterday, I’d gone out to fill the birdfeeders and saw that our snowdrops were up and blooming through the snow. True, they’re just 6 inches tall (or less), so the effect is understated. But it’s all the more welcome for that.

Welcome, snowdrops! And welcome spring!!!

         ‘Til next time,


Spring flowers: yellow and white. March 12, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben took a tour of our yard here at Hawk’s Haven yesterday, the first true spring day we’ve had this year. And I was ecstatic to see that the snowdrops and winter aconites were in full bloom. This diminutive combination is our first real sign of spring. (The green-flowered hellebores are also coming into bloom, but because they’re evergreen for us, it’s not quite as exciting.)

We have snowdrops in our front yard, but our friend Ben’s favorites are the snowdrops and aconites under our shrub border in back. I remember well how a coworker back in the day brought in a shovelful of snowdrops and winter aconites in a plastic bag for our friend Ben; they had apparently multiplied to such an extent that she had to clear them out.

Under the shrub border, they have grown more slowly. The snowdrops have formed lovely clumps under the shrubs, but the yellow aconites have pretty much just held their own. Until now.

Last year, our friend Ben was thrilled to find a single yellow aconite bloom at the front of the shrub border. This year, it’s turned into a gorgeous little clump. How that one seed happened to drift there and germinate I’ll never know. But how joyous to see it thriving like that!

Yellow and white and green: The first colors of spring. Always anticipated, always welcome. Snowdrops and winter aconites hug the ground, enabling them to survive late snows and other unpredictable weather as winter finally gives way to spring. They don’t dominate the landscape; you have to come close and look for them. But our friend Ben can think of few more rewarding sights. Good to see you, old friends!

The birds say it’s spring. March 2, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Looking at the ground surrounding Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home Silence Dogood and our friend Ben share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, you would swear it was winter. Several inches of snow and sleet have blanketed the ground with white. But our birdfeeders tell a different story.

Yes, we still have a few of the winter regulars—the juncos, titmice, purple and house finches, and chickadees—that brighten our lives through the coldest months. And our year-round regulars, the cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, blue jays, mourning doves, and nuthatches, are still out in force. So is our large resident flock of goldfinches. But we’ve noticed they’re starting to look more gold and less olive-drab as the days lengthen into March. And as we’ve mentioned in a previous post, our Carolina wren has begun singing his courting song (“Judy, Judy, Judy”) loudly every midmorning. (“Judy” must be taking her time about answering.)

But today brought two first-of-season species to our cabin feeder: We saw a single red-winged blackbird, his epaulettes all yellow rather than the brilliant red-and-yellow of courtship plumage.* And there, bold as brass—or in this case, bronze—were a whole flock of the big, bold grackles with their iridescent plumage.

The poor grackles have now been lumped into the demoralizing designation of “common grackle,” where before they flaunted their colors as purple grackles and bronzed grackles. These are definitely of the bronzed persuasion, with bronze backs and blue heads. They are handsome birds, and they know it. But while most of our feeder birds hang back while the grackles feast, the sparrows know no such restraint. They boldly forage among the bigger, brighter birds, who don’t deign to acknowledge such drab little things. (Much like teens at the mall pretending not to see, much less know, their parents. Or perhaps Regency dandies swanning around while their valets hover unobtrusively in the background.)

And yes, lest our friend Ben forget, yesterday I saw several pairs of red-tailed hawks, my favorite and totem bird. Redtail courtship has begun in earnest. Soon enough, a new generation will be taking to the skies over Hawk’s Haven.

Like the snow geese that make us glad to be alive when they pass over our home as they make their springtime progress northwards, the arrival of spring’s regulars lifts our hearts. We begin to think of mockingbirds and bluebirds, of the occasional oriole and tanager to come. We experience a greening of our thoughts, a fever for new plants, spurred on by such sights as the first snowdrops in bloom and the first daffodils breaking ground.

The snow says that winter is still with us. But our friend Ben and Silence are siding with the birds and the daffodils.

* Oops, I lied, and did I ever! Though it’s true that there was only one red-winged blackbird for most of the day, the gale-force winds that blew the storm through here must have brought all his friends and relations in its wake. I now count more than 30 red-winged blackbirds at the feeder, including one stripey immature, one female, and several males sporting both red and yellow epaulettes. These seem to be the honor guard of the flock, always guarding the perimeter. I also saw the season’s first starling, still in its fresh, spangled plumage, and one cowbird.