Awareness starts early when the ice is just receding on the small ponds and pools. The wood frogs move in to celebrate and lay their eggs. In a few weeks tadpoles become young frogs and head out to spend the summer in nearby woods. And along our driveway. Eventually they will need to find a place to burrow in for winter but now they are simply exploring their territory and enjoying the occasional summer puddle.
I am so used to loosestrifes being invasive and the other day I found this one at one of my favorite wetlands. could not believe it. It is Lysimachia terrestris or swamp yellow-loosestrife.
I grew these from seed. They are delightful morsels, larger than the ones growing in my grass, sweet and more complexly flavored than the domestic strawberries. I am watching them form a beautiful fresh green understory carpet in my wild garden. I only weed what I perceive as getting in their way and give them room to run. They shade the ground conserving water. They provide fruit for the birds and the resident groundhog, although he or she presently seems more interested in violet leaves.
There are certain plants in the garden that the bumblebees seem to love most: the crabapple early, the ajuga soon after and now the meadowsweet.
Several years ago I decided to transition from a large vegetable garden to turning it into a wild thing. I went to horticulture school many years ago and since then have been searching for the corner of gardening that suits me, calls to me. I tried my hand at landscaping and was not very good at it. I grew herbs for restaurants. That suited my romantic side. The smells, the culinary uses, their foreign wildness, their connections to Provence and Italy. I loved working with the chefs and hearing their stories of growing up with the herbs growing wild around them. I gave that up when we moved to Maine. Fresh herbs were not very popular here 35 years ago and I had hurt my back pretty bad so I had to adapt. I started painting and drawing and moved into the art world for a time. I became involved with local environmental groups and was much engaged by the stories of nature in the watershed. I came across wild flowers in the wild and then heard of a movement to return native plants
This time of year in a totally chaotic way the native plants I grew from seed begin to bloom. I would be hard pressed to call it a garden . There is an area against the garden shed that holds the domesticated perennials that I love: peonies I took from the garden of a friend who died a few years ago, bush clematis that the bees and I both love, My Admiral Perry iris that I wait for every spring. The rest I am still sorting out.
This is my third year seeding natives from the Wild Seed Project. This is a careless experiment designed partly by my tender back and partly by my love of exploration. I am watching the wild strawberry establish itself as the dominant ground cover. My only input is to beat back the competitors as best I can including the spearmint I transplanted unwittingly with some iris a while back. I am no being a purist. The beautiful ajuga that blooms early and the bees love, is welcome around the edges. I took out the garden fence when I moved from vegetables to wild things and the deer are moving through and gazing. I much appreciated that Heather McCargo from Wild Seed said that she was cutting back her asters to get them to bush out. I was then more comfortable to co-garden with the local deer family. Hopefully I will have very bushy asters this year.
bobolink after Audubon
Walking along the road beside a hay field in late May or early June you hopefully hear the bobolink sing. You might know that they have recently travelled from Argentina to return to their breeding grounds and that they do that every year. You might know that their population is down 75% from loss of habitat both here and in South America.
Or you might be hearing their voices for the first time and wonder what their fuss is about. If you are listening when their mates are just showing up you may see some dancing along with the sweet twitter of the mating song. If you are listening when they have already nested on the ground in the late spring grass, then their burlesque flurry and frenzy would be letting you know that you are not welcome anywhere near their babies. Either way they .
Their nesting season is about six - eight weeks. Their young are fledged by mid July and the family then flies off to a nearby wetland where they will beef up for their long trip south. This year spring in Maine was slow, cold and wet. The grass was only a few inches high at the beginning of May and the bobolinks delayed nesting a week or so. Then the spring warmed quickly and the grass grew fast providing the cover a ground nest needs. The first week in June haying season began . That was last week. It seems like everywhere I go this week I see solitary female bobolinks sitting on a wire staring into a freshly mowed field, the nest decimated.
They are only here for a short while. Because I find them in public places there are often beer bottles and plastic bags of trash. Sometimes there s toilet paper stuck to the leaves. Still I come to find them because they are ephemeral.
It has been the slowest and coldest and darkest of springs. I have felt uninspired. I have not hunted the same as I have in other springs for the iconic signs. Finally in the very middle of May I saw the hobblebush bloom. On the side of the road I drive every day, on the edge of the woods, there they were. There are even young ones coming along. This is maybe my favorite Viburnum. It is so regal and graceful but you might call it gangly. I like that looseness of form. It has creamy white, almost ivory, blossoms that float above the branches, soft sueded fawn colored buds and full verdant leaves with the smallest of russet serrations around its margins. Everything about it is singular yet it is not precious. It is not flashy. It stands out for a couple of weeks mid spring and then becomes a seamless part of the forest’s edge again.
I started going down to this local pool probably 15 years ago or more. It had been a simple farm pond on the old Condon homestead. It had a large culvert above it that went under the road and a tiny stream that went down the hill in spring to the bog. The first time I went there were male frogs calling in the females. The second time the next day a male and female on a floating log coupled. I read they can hold on for 24 hours. Over the next week clusters of eggs started to appear. And then I saw salamander egg sacs hanging in the water. I spent spring near this pond. The frogs hatched and the pond was full of tadpoles, tails grew and legs. And then they were gone off into the woods.
This pattern went on for several years. And then the bullfrogs arrived. No the thing about bullfrogs besides being big is that they overwinter so the tadpoles have a head start and they wake up hungry. That year hardly a wood frog egg got to hatch. The next year it was the same. The bullfrogs had taken over my little spring pond.
I stopped going by as regularly and then someone bought the land and started moving dirt. The pond was full of silt that year and the egg clusters were coated and smothered.
The following year he bulldozed around the pond and when he was finished the pond was not the same. One side was a mound of dirt and the pond has not filled again. 2016 was the last year I saw eggs. That was th year of the silt.