Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Appalachian Spring

One of the delights of moving into a new home in winter is that you don't know what to expect in the spring. When we first saw our home beneath its very own knob (Kentucky speak for big f@#$ing hill) it was at the end of August during one of the worst droughts the region has experienced.

We could tell the landscape had been well tended (Miss Lillian was an accomplished gardener when she was able) and was more "park like" than most. Because of the dry weather we only saw drought-hardy plants blooming: a purple butterfly bush, an orange trumpet vine, and the biggest red hibiscus flowers I'd ever seen. Here and there were some annuals that had self sown on the parched earth, like bachelor buttons and petunias. Our boys were glad to find some moldering tomatoes and melon in the remnants of a small and weedy vegetable garden.

Every day for the past several weeks we have watched the yard and land unfold: glorious prolonged forsythia, a scrim of green on the trees in the woods, daffodils in drifts along roadsides and in fields (often indicative of the location of a former homeplace), and now the redbud is just pinking up on the edges of fields and in the woods. Soon it will be a glorious pageant of pink and green on the land. [I promise more photos to come although I have to say I'm growing increasingly upset with the clarity of my digital CanonRebel images--to the point where I am tempted to go back to film.]

In our own yard we continue to make daily discoveries. Peonies are poking themselves out of the soil, clumps of day lilies have announced their presence, and various other perennials have emerged. On the northside of the doublewide (which sits on the site of the old homeplace that was here--another blog about that to come one day) are several hellebores in pink and white that started blooming early in March. A large rose over an arbor, a Constance Spry according to the tag, is thick and vigorous and needs some trimming (and fish emulsion soon to prompt its blooming). Large mats of grass here and there have declared themselves to be grape hyacinth or what we call "cemetery pinks" and some plants we still don't know if they're weed or wanted flora.

All winter we have had watercress growing at the base of our spring which flows into a small pond. I will have to pick some of our own. I've never tried the wild, natural variety and understand it was a readily available source of nutrients and greens for mountain people. Mistletoe, a parasitic inedible evergreen, hangs in twiggy green balls from their oak tree hosts (I will blog about this in the mistletoe season). Hickory nut and black walnuts abound. Green carpets of myrtle (called "periwinkle" here) bloom beneath barren trees. Ramps and morels (also called "land fish" by the locals) will be coming out in the woods over the coming weeks before the canopy of leaves appears in the forest. Near the end of April the trillium and wild iris and so many other wildflowers will be in bloom in the woods, lush and damp with spring rains.

Today while our oldest son was mowing the lawn, which smells of wild onion after it is cut, we made more discoveries. Two bushes which we think are cultivated blueberries, some sort of indiscernible ground cover which looks like a kind of lamium, and a corner of the old vegetable garden has a grape vine and a mass of strawberries while another has what I think is garlic. I was delighted to see that several bushes that we thought were lilacs indeed are as they announced their purplish buds and distinctive foliage this week and several more appear to be "bridal wreath", both bushes that we have around our New Hampshire village home.

Now our lilac season--and our entire spring--will be extended by several weeks each year as we will enjoy them up there in May. The spring will stretch itself slowly towards New England as we head there ourselves for part of each summer. In New Hampshire, spring is a month of mud, followed by a week of spring, followed by an almost immediate summer. For a few weeks in May, when it is at its most glorious, the black flies emerge and hang about until late June: from Mother's Day to Father's Day we always said.

We have many vegetable and fruit options locally with the Mennonite farms and because we will be back in New Hampshire for part of the summer I am trying not to get too excited about a garden right now. I might plant some beets and other things that we can enjoy upon return in August and that might survive on rain alone. But this longer growing season needs some getting used to, that's for certain. Here they traditionally plant potatoes on Good Friday, early this year. By early May you can have just about anything in the ground. In New Hampshire, sometimes you are lucky to have tomatoes in the ground in the first week of June.

So we will watch our emerging landscape and make needed tweaks in the fall. I have apple mint ready to plant for iced tea, which we've started to make again now that the weather has warmed. Our neighbor Ida gave me a big potted tomato today (with a ripe tomato!) and I will pot that and put it on the porch. I am planting pansies, because I love their smiling colorful faces, for some hanging baskets that we can enjoy before it gets too hot--which it will and they will not be happy then unless tucked into a shady corner.

My husband, excited about the leaves and flowers coming out after a drizzly and dreary Kentucky winter, was talking with our friend and neighbor Larry. "Yes, but," Larry cautioned, "this is the time when the snakes come out." At least we won't have mosquitoes or black flies here, as in New Hampshire, but I suppose every Eden must have its snakes.

1 comment:

Meredith said...

I'm afraid your neighbors in TN are beset with mosquitos.

If your area doesn't have them, I might just have to up and join you!