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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.

A flower for Valentine’s Day. February 15, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. On Valentine’s Day, I was walking our beloved black German shepherd Shiloh in the backyard for a much-needed bathroom break when I saw a flash of yellow. OMG! It was a winter aconite bloom. Winter aconites grow low to the ground, where their golden, buttercup-yellow flowers bloom amid palmlike foliage. But why was it blooming in February?

Winter aconites, with snowdrops and hellebores, are the first flowers of spring here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But as with flowers enthusiastically described as blue or black that are actually purple, winter aconites are early spring, not winter, bloomers misnamed by overeager gardeners or marketers. However, this is February. We still have snow on the ground. And here was this bright gold aconite flower, truly living up to its name!

Much as I fear the effects of global warming, my own heart was warmed by this one. It seemed like a Valentine’s Day present to me, to OFB, to Shiloh, and to our home. I hope all of you had surprising and wonderful Valentine’s gifts as well!

‘Til next time,


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!

Seek and ye shall find. March 2, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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“Ben, it’s March, have you noticed?”

“Uh… ” Our friend Ben knew what Silence Dogood was about to say next, since she says the same thing every spring. Adopting an “I-can’t-hear-you” attitude, I quickly slunk into the mudroom to get some seed for the outdoor birds.


“Oh, sorry, Silence. You were saying?”

“It’s time to recycle our Christmas wreath and put out the grapevine wreath instead.”

“But, Silence! That wreath still looks as fresh as the day we hung it up! And besides, there’s still snow on the ground…” Our friend Ben managed to find two tiny spots where the ice hadn’t completely melted. “Besides, didn’t you see the forecast? It’s supposed to be in the 20s every night this week. Don’t tell me it’s not still winter!”

“Ben, it’s MARCH. You’ve managed to drag Christmas out to record lengths this year, but enough’s enough. Even you have agreed to stop putting seed in our cabin feeder so the bulbs that make such a gorgeous display underneath that tree every spring won’t be trampled and buried in birdseed. Maybe instead of fighting the inevitable, you should start looking for signs of spring.”

“Oh.” Our friend Ben is nothing if not sentimental, and Christmas is such a beloved season that I hate to see it end. But I had to concede that Silence had a point. Heading to the front door with the birdseed, my eyes came to rest on our mantel. “What happened to our Valentine’s cards?!” I wailed.

“Ben. It’s. March.” At this point, Silence’s eyes were rolling back in her head. “I’ve put them away until next year. But look, there’s the wonderful photo of our black German shepherd, Shiloh, that you gave me as a Valentine’s present, still up on the mantel. We’ll leave that up all year as a reminder.” She handed me a bag for the ornaments, bow, and solar Christmas lights from our wreath, and the grapevine wreath to hang in its place, and shooed me out the door. “Look for signs of spring,” she reminded me, closing the door.

After dealing with the wreath issue, I wandered over to fill our tube feeders, stopping on the way to check for the tips of bulbs poking through the soil beneath the cabin feeder. Nothing. I filled the feeders, then continued on around the side of the house to see if any of the hellebores had started to bloom in our shade garden. The plants looked healthy and even seemed to be putting on new growth, but so far, there was nary a bloom in sight.

Making the most of the snow’s retreat, I began one of our more constant backyard chores, pick-up-sticks (we have lots of mature trees, so falling twigs and branches are an unending fact of life). At least the firepit had emerged from under its snow blanket so I had a place to deposit the sticks. It was on the way back around the side of the house that I noticed that the bed beneath our home office windows was showing signs of life. Sure enough, a telltale clump of healthy green shoots had pushed up through the groundcover. Snowdrops!

Where there were some snowdrops, there had to be others. Rushing to another bed, I saw more clumps pushing up. Rounding the other side of the house to fill the backyard feeders, I saw that our ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils were up and running. I raced to several beds in the back where we’d planted bulbs for a colorful spring show. Yes!!! There were the shoots of crocuses, mini-daffs, and even tulips pushing up. And in the bed beneath our shrub border, I saw that the delightful chrome-yellow winter aconites and snowdrops had actually started to bloom. 

“Silence!!!” I rushed back in the house.

Silence, who’d been deep in composing a thoughtful essay, leapt to her feet, her face going white as chalk. “Ben! What’s happened?!!”

“The first aconites are blooming, and there are buds on some snowdrops!”

“Oh my God, Ben, I thought for sure Shiloh had escaped and run into the road!” Silence glared at me, clutching her heart. But she did let me take her outside to show her our first signs of spring. She even suggested that it was time to take our shiitake logs outside for the season, and pitched in with an armful of pick-up-sticks before returning to her essay.

“See, Ben, signs of spring! Don’t you think that it’s time to pack Christmas away and prepare to welcome the return of life to our land?” Silence may not live up to her name, but she’s a born psychiatrist. I had to agree. Spring is not just in the air, it’s in the ground. It’s time to turn our backs on winter for another year and celebrate the arrival of spring.

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!