Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Spring: Is It Ever Gonna Get Here?

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Spring, American Spicebush, Mayapples, Violets, Norway Maple, Marsh Marigolds, Common Mullein, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgGRIT  blogs have been alive with spring posts lately.  Stories of inspiration, poems, beautiful photos of beautiful plants, and lots of springtime projects.  It is spring, after-all! 

But to tell the truth, I haven’t been in much of a springtime mood.  I’ve never been an aficionado of spring, particularly early in the season.  Why is it twenty degrees and two feet of snow in December always feels warmer than forty degrees and rain in April?  It just takes me a while to warm up to spring … and this year, spring has taken its sweet old time coming.  Day after day of nonstop rain, and temperatures in the 30s and 40s prolonged my agony.  I knew things were happening out there – buds on the trees beginning to swell, the grass changing from tan to green, and perennials springing back to life – but I couldn’t bring myself to get out in the yard.  After coming home from work at the nursery cold, wet, and dirty, the last thing I wanted to do was remain cold, wet, and dirty working in my own gardens. 


The chionadoxa, one of the earliest bulbs to bloom, was in full swing mid-April.  ‘Glory of the Snow,’ it’s called, and it seemed aptly named this year.  Soon after I noticed it flowering, I woke up one morning to this:  

MidApril Snow 

Though it melted quickly, it seemed spring would never arrive.  A few days later, driving down a country road, I saw a most welcomed sight after all this wintry weather.  In a spectacular display designed by Mother Nature, the entire understory of a swampy woods was lit by lemon-yellow flowers of American Spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  Beneath them, the ground was covered with darker yellow marsh marigolds.  There is nothing like nature to give inspiration.  The scene made me feel compelled to dive into working in the yard again … a nice batch of marsh marigolds had just arrived at the nursery, some of which I was sure would look lovely at home.  In the least, nature’s display prompted me to get out and see what’s going on in my gardens.    

Down in our ravine, my American spicebushes were getting ready to open.  I’ll have to remember to cut some branches soon to make spicebush tea

 American Spicebush 

Oh, that’s where Quetta left her Frisbee!  Since she lost it, she’s resorted to chasing sticks and squirrels….

 A squirrel got them 

….and not doing a very good job with the squirrels.  It wasn’t enough they gnawed off every last one of the crocuses.  Oh, no, no, no…now they’ve moved on to the daffodils.  I’m sure the one bud remaining on this clump was left just to torment me.   

 Daffodils bowing their heads 

Nearby, heads are bowed in respect to their fallen comrades. 

I just love the way water collects on the leaves of Lady’s Mantle.  Even on newly emerged, tiny leaves, the rain droplets look like sparkling gems.

Ladies Mantle 

Tiny, purple violets bloomed.


Most people consider these a pesky weed, but I let them grow in the gardens, and even in the lawn.  They’re hard to control once they take firm hold, but in this area under the river birch, little else will grow in the heavy, compacted clay.  The violets moving in on their own are nature’s perfect solution.  Over a century ago, these little “weeds” were big business, ranking only behind roses and carnations in popularity at florist shops.

Along with violets, another weed has a place in my gardens.

Common Mullein 

These common mulleins are in their second year and will bloom this summer.  Mulleins are biennials, forming a rosette the first year, and flowering the second.  In July and August, a 3-5 foot stalk with bright yellow flowers will shoot up from each rosette.  Mulleins in the garden always remind me of Old Herbaceous, a novel by Reginald Arkell (great book if you like gardening and British humor).  It’s a story of the head gardener at an English Manor.  One summer, on a whim, “Old Herbaceous” let this weed in grow in his Lady’s garden for the structural interest it provided.  To his horror, the Lady of the manor scheduled a garden tour for members of high society.  Here he was, a respected head gardener with common mullein – a weed – growing on the grounds!  It turned out to be the hit of the tour; guests praised his ingenuity.  I doubt I’ll receive such praise from my neighbors, but the bees and gold finches are always quite pleased with my decision to let it grow.

The mayapples are emerging.  Don’t they look like tiny closed umbrellas?  On childhood walks through the woods with my Dad, he showed us how to find the flowers and fruit by peeking under the “umbrellas” once they unfurl.  Other woodland “Dad plants” in the garden are wintergreen and low-bush blueberries – all of them planted out of nostalgia.  Dad is gone, but memories of our walks together remain alive in my gardens.  


In the vegetable garden, the asparagus starting to sprout.  The lettuce seeds didn’t get washed away by the torrential rains and is starting to grow.  Or is it the spinach?  Maybe arugula?  I didn’t mark the rows and forgot where I planted what.  It also looks like I didn’t get my rows as straight as I thought.        

In all of these spring photos, you’ll notice leaf litter among the plants.  With five 60 to 80 foot maples in the yard, there is an abundance of fallen leaves in autumn.  Though the leaves get raked off the lawn, they stay where they fall in the ornamental gardens and get piled into the vegetable garden.  There, they’ll do what fallen leaves are intended to do:  decompose and enrich the soil.  A draw-back to this though, are maple seedlings.

Norway maple seedlings 

There are tens of thousands; hundreds of thousands; maybe even a million of them - I don’t know; I haven’t counted.  Most are from just one Norway maple, and is one of the reasons why Norway maples are considered an invasive species in some areas.  The native sugar and silver maples in the yard aren’t nearly as prolific.  Pulling the seedlings is kind of addictive, actually, especially when one grab nets a dozen or so.  Ten to fifteen minutes a day of pulling, and I’ll probably be done sometime around … uhm, mid-August, I’d guess.  I’d better get busy …

Keith has already been busy outside this spring, taking down the rickety, rusty metal shed.  The old slab is now ready for the new building.  It’ll be something between the utility shed he wanted and the beautiful potting shed I’ve dreamed of having.  We comprised.

Speaking of compromises ... what about the weather?  I wasn’t asking for much; something in the 60s with a little sun would be fine with me.

I got my wish the last weekend of April; we had actual spring weather for May Day!  A lot has changed since these photos were taken two weeks ago.  The chionadoxa are done blooming, and the mid-season daffodils have filled the color-void they left behind.  The squirrels have left these later-blooming varieties alone (so far), but I noticed one of the mayapple “umbrellas,” was bitten off just as it was staring to unfurl, and left conspicuously laying on the ground.  Hopefully, it left such a bitter taste in the guilty party’s mouth that he won’t “taste-test” anything else for a while.

I bought a few pots of marsh marigolds for the bed with American spicebushes ... although I haven’t planted them yet.  They’ll have to remain in a tub of water until the ravine dries out a bit; right now it’s a swamp down there and me without waders.

 Marsh Marigolds 

I have pulled buckets and buckets of maple seedlings.

I finally got my potatoes planted and the asparagus stalks shot up like rocket-ships seemingly overnight.  My “is it lettuce, spinach, or arugula?” question has been answered; the plants are up far enough now to figure out it’s arugula.

Up too is the shed (although it didn’t go up as fast as a rocket-ship or the asparagus). But it’s got windows!  Just one of the compromises Keith made.

The warmer weather didn't last long.  It's turned colder again, with highs in the lower fifties and only intermittent sun.  I’ll take it!  At least it’s not 40 degrees and raining! It seems spring as finally arrived.

8/30/2011 3:18:14 AM

Our spring (& Summer) were also s-l-o-w on the uptake! Now it's been HOT ... & I'm working on fall plantings. That book sounds delightful! My mom always battled Mullein on the E side of the Oregon Cascades, & as a kid she had me pulling them or what she called "milkweed" (salsify - Tragopogon). Then along came my botanist (now X) hubby, telling us that BOTH those were 'really' herbs! & quite desirable! She said we were welcome to all we wanted! On that side of the mtns the species is yellow flowered. A Forest Service piece says: "According to a review by Clements and others, yellow salsify was introduced to North America as a garden plant in the early 1900s. Spread was likely from east to west, as this is was the pattern in the Pacific Northwest." I collected seed this year from a purple Salsify a few blocks from here, & also have a packet of seed ... little 'dandelion' fluffs. One of my NW garden books suggests a planting of carrots & salsify after garlic - so that's what I planted today. I have a lovely mullein from an herbalist friend (Greek? It's a variety that branches) & let several plants grow each year. I've been able to transplant some to the perimeters of my back yard, & one's in a pot in front. Stately.

cindy murphy
5/19/2011 4:52:00 AM

Thanks, Shannon and Stepper. Stepper, I never have tapped the maples, though I've often thought it'd be fun. A couple of nature centers here have sugaring days, and we've always meant to go, but something always seems to come up. It's one of those "maybe some day" things, but not high on the list of "must dos"....probably because neither Keith nor I like syrup.

chris davis
5/17/2011 6:37:42 PM

Wonderful pictures Cindy! You mentioned sugar maples - did you ever tap them for syrup? Alas, it's been a dry spring here. Only the weeds are growing well this year.

s.m.r. saia
5/13/2011 2:16:20 PM

What a beautiful photo tour!

cindy murphy
5/11/2011 9:40:28 PM

Hi, Dave. Wow, it sounds as if you are fighting quite the battle there in your yard. I can't picture the vine with pods of fluff; sounds sort of like it might be Virgin's Bower or its relative, Sweet Autumn Clematis. Tiny, white flowers in fall? I've got wild strawberries in the lawn too - like the violets (and creeping Jenny, clover, and ground ivy), I don't mind them there at all. Lots less work than turf, and more environmentally friendly too, (luckily I have plenty of like-minded neighbors who aren't into golf course lawns, so a dandelion seed or two blowing in from around the neighborhood doesn't cause a frenzy of chemical use). I am doing battle with one hideous weed, though, that is definitely not welcome. Actually, it's war. This thing is so hideous, and so tenacious there is no known effective control of it - either mechanical, chemical, or organic. More on that later, though - I've got a trick or two up my sleeve. It seems we skipped spring altogether almost - last week was winter jackets, this week it's shorts and flip-flops. I'm with you - "what's up with that?"

nebraska dave
5/11/2011 7:42:28 PM

Cindy, I might add one more hard to control plant that seemed like a nice thing to cultivate and that was wild strawberries. I had a terrible time trying to get those things under control when I thought some stray strawberries had taken root in my yard. I tried to raise the things in a raised bed thinking they were regular strawberries. Imagine my surprise when they jumped out of the bed and started eyeing the house. What a mistake that was. Ah, yeah, I did something similar to the wild African violets too. I'm still fighting the good fight rid my side yard of those lovely plants. I'm not sure what the plant in the other side yard is as it will vine up and cover up the whole side yard then produce big pods that burst open and have fluffy white stuff like cottonwood fluff in them. One pod will seed the yard for about a hundred years I think. Don't get me started on the wild mulberry trees that sprout up along the chain link fence every year because birds love the berries and then relieve themselves while sitting on the fence. I think the bird poo just fertilizes the seeds that apparently don't digest as they go through the bird. Then as you have stated the nice maple seedlings grow anywhere a drop of moisture will accumulate. I find them growing in the gutters quite often. It's a good indicator that they need cleaned out. Hmmmmm. I won't even get started on weather as it was freezing last week and now 90s this week. What's up with that?

cindy murphy
5/9/2011 5:46:17 AM

I would have loved to see your grandmother's gardens, Michelle, and listen to her talk about them! I'm sure she had a lot to teach about plants.

michelle house
5/8/2011 1:20:13 AM

Cindy, your gardens would live up what I think in my mind. My gramma that raised me, her gardens were pretty,but not fancy or fussy, She was Native American, and for her plants were not be controlled. Except for the garden she always had,most plants were allowed to run free. I love those kind of gardens, and I know she would have loved yours. :) I am hoping that my wildflower plants will bring in butterflies.

cindy murphy
5/7/2011 6:02:40 AM

Hi, Michelle. I wonder if my actual gardens would live up to the standards of the ones you visualize in your head! They aren’t fancy or fussy, but they give me a lot of pleasure. I hope your wild flower garden gives you just as much, and that you have lots of butterfly visitors. And Mountain Woman…we had three days of actual spring weather here this week; sixty degrees and sunshine! I’m packaging some up and sending it your way. Happy Mother’s Day to you both!

michelle house
5/6/2011 10:10:35 PM

Hi Cindy, I love the pictures. :). And where I grew up, those violets were rampant, but oh so pretty, so they were left alone. lol, a compromise is always good. I want to plant this weekend, wildflower seeds, to attract butterflies. I can visualize your gardens in my head, partly because you have posted pictures, and partly because of your writing, you bring images to life with your words. Michelle

mountain woman
5/6/2011 2:18:15 PM

I'll drink to that :-) I was hopeful for today but it hasn't happened :(

cindy murphy
5/6/2011 7:27:41 AM

Thanks for dropping in, Mountain Woman. Still having snow there? I think that mid-April snow was our least I hope so; it's the rain and cold that just won't quit. The reports are in...I just heard yesterday that we received more than double our average rainfall for the month of April. The local farmers are really hurting; many can't even get into their fields yet. As you said, here's to sunny days and blue skies ahead for us all!

mountain woman
5/5/2011 9:13:29 AM

I loved the title! I feel the same way. It's still winter here. We've had two warm days but interspersed with freezing weather and more snow. We've had virtually no sun and if it's not snowing, it's raining. No thoughts of working in the garden because it's too cold. I think we might skip spring and jump right into summer or maybe into winter again :-) Anyway, I did love the visuals you have of your spring. Here's to at least one warm day in our future.