“Every spring is…a perpetual astonishment.”—Brother Cadfael
It’s election day in the Chicago Region. After casting my vote, I’ll be ready to clear my head of being buffaloed by a deluge of ads, strident television commercials, and unwanted texts (how did they get my phone number, anyway?)
I’m casting my vote for a prairie hike. A vote for spring.
What’s on the ballot today? Warm weather for starters. This past week (and possibly today) we can expect tornadoes, severe storms, high winds, hail, and a deluge of rain that makes keeping my kayak handy sound like a good idea. I plan to keep a close eye on the weather radar and listen to weatherman Tom Skilling.
In my backyard pond, the first marsh marigolds open.
Typically, it’s the first native plant in my yard to bloom each year, following my non-native daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, and snowdrops. It’s important not to confuse my marsh marigolds with the non-native, very aggressive lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) which takes over wet areas in neighborhoods and forest preserves.
An easy way to tell the native and the non-native apart is to flip a bloom over. The lesser celandine has three green sepals on the back of the bloom; the marsh marigold does not.
Worth watching for this spring, and learning the difference.
Red admiral butterflies are usually quick to show up around marsh marigold bloom time.
I’m on high alert for the first one in my backyard. As I walk around in the mud, looking for early butterflies, I see the purple hyacinths are in bloom. Ahhh! What a heavenly fragrance.
But what’s this? Some of our backyard wildlife has sampled the flowers, then ruthlessly tossed them aside.
Ugh. Looking closely, I find more hyacinth blooms, stripped and tossed into the prairie dropseed. My eyes narrow. I scan the yard for the culprit. Then, I look up.
“Who, me?” He’s blaming the chipmunks.
Moving away from the ruined hyacinths, I check the two native spicebush shrubs which seem to have escaped wildlife damage over the winter. The first flower buds are open!
Charming! I recently read that all parts of Lindera benzoin are said to be edible, including the buds, twigs, flowers and fruit. This pair was planted in 2021, sourced from Possibility Place Nursery, knowing that northern spicebush is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. I’ve never seen the spicebush swallowtail in my yard, but I have high hopes. How have my other native shrubs fared? No flowers on my witch hazel this year, but it’s still young. Next to it, the two-year-old native hazelnut shrub has its first catkins.
But—oh no oh no oh no—the bunnies have been busy. Lots of small branches sheared off. How could you? Wascally wabbits! The writer Michael Pollan once wrote in his book, Second Nature, that planting a garden clears the mind of any easy sentiments about wildlife, and nature in general. Hopefully, now that there is more green stuff available to eat, the eastern cottontails will leave my shrubs alone.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s ladder is in bud.
And look at that shooting star! The bunchy leaves are crisp and healthy-looking.
I can’t wait to see the flowers in early to mid-May.
The few flowers I have in my backyard are beautiful, but they pale in comparison to those massed on the remnant prairies.
In the raised beds, last year’s Italian parsley is resurrecting. My parsley is an open-pollinated biennial, which means if I let it grow this spring, it will eventually set seed. I’m not sure I want to do that—parsley seed doesn’t cost much—but it might be fun to see the flowers. It’s a good host plant for black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
The garlic has put on noticeable growth. However, the raised beds need more compost and topsoil. Dirt has a way of settling.
There are some noticeable plant absences. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, where, oh where, is my prairie smoke? And what has happened to the prairie alumroot? It’s coming up, although a bit nibbled.
But no sign of the prairie smoke. Fingers crossed.
Out on the prairies, charred earth shows that the site staff and volunteers have been busy.
The storms and showers forecast for today will quickly mist them with green. Spring is here, and on her prairie and garden ballot are a hundred thousand unfolding miracles each day.
You only need to show up and pay attention.
Why not go see?
The opening quote is from Brother Cadfael, a fictional character in the book A Raven in the Foregate. His character was created by novelist Edith Pargeter (1913-1995) known by her pen name as Ellis Peters. “The Cadfael Chronicles” is a murder mystery series set in the Abbey of Shrewsbury during medieval times, and features this Welsh Benedictine monk, who joins the order after years spent as a soldier. The books were later adapted for television. Pargeter was the recipient of the Edgar Award and Silver Dagger Award for her writing, and authored many other books outside the series. If you haven’t read her books, I’d start with the first in “The Cadfael Chronicles,” A Morbid Taste for Bones.
Join Cindy for a Class or Program
Tonight! The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop: April 4, 7-8:30 pm. Free and open to the public. Presented by the Winfield Area Gardeners. For more information and location, visit here.
A Brief History of Trees in America: April 5 (Closed event for the Illinois Garden Council). Chicago Western Suburbs.
Literary Gardens — In Person — April 11, 7-8:30 p.m., Glenview Garden Club and Glenview Public Library. Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Register here.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers — Monday, April 17, 5-6 p.m., Rock River Garden Club, Dixon, IL. (Closed event for members)
The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction — Tuesday, April 18, Algonquin Garden Club, 12:30-2 p.m. (Closed event for members)
Spring Wildflower and EthnobotanyWalk—Thursday, April 20, 8:30-10:30 am or Saturday, April 29, 8:30-10:30am at The Morton Arboretum. Registration information here. (Both walks SOLD OUT, ask to be put on a waiting list)
The Tallgrass Prairie in Popular Culture –Sunday, April 23, 2-5 p.m. The Land Conservancy’s 32nd Annual Celebration, High Tea at the McHenry Country Club, Woodstock, IL. Tickets are $45-$70 — available here.
More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com