Early spring always brings about an internal giddiness. As I drove down I-295 this weekend, the subtle hue of color told me that the trees are just beginning to wake up from their winter slumber. Mother Nature has pulled off their covers and is rousing them awake like children after the holiday winter break. “Get up you sleepy heads. There is work to be done.” The magnolias are already showing off and the cherry trees are not far behind. Under their mighty trunks are rows of forsythia bursting in their yellow brilliance. It is finally Spring.
I took the exit off 295 and drove onto Route 1 and my heart sank. Large swaths of (de)construction. Acres of land stripped bare for new housing, another Wawa, and more unused office space. Even with man’s attempt to strip Mother Nature like a flayed animal carcass, she still manages to push through as random bursts of dandelions with no reason to be there, other than a beautiful show of defiance.
On my way back home, I thought about that defiance – the small wins. It makes me want to be a better land steward in my own space.
One of my favorite things about spring is the renewed sense of energy and new discoveries in my yard. Being cooped up all winter and receiving all those seed catalogs seems to feed my need to get outside and do something. It is too early to plant anything outside strawberries, kale, and spinach, and I am not tired, sore, sunburned, and bug bit from over exerting myself yet, so I look forward to learning about all the strays that have wandered into my lawn. “Hello neighbor. Nice to meet you. I am here to learn more about you and see how I can best serve you.”
MEET THE NEIGHBORS
MEET THE PURPLE DEAD NETTLES, Lamium purpureum
My yard has exploded into a sea of subtle purple flowers and soft green leaves. The plants look like flouncy skirts with alternating wide, heart-shaped, velvety leaves and flowering tops. The ants love them and even bees adventurous enough to come out early are buzzing around them. I don’t remember so many of these last year, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention. After researching the plant’s identity, I introduce myself. They share with me that they are bounding up everywhere because they know people will suffer from overactive allergies this season and may need their anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. We’re packed with vitamins A and C, and a good source of iron. “We’re here to help.” Standing in groups, they seem to shout, “we’ll only be here for a bit, so don’t waste time using us.” I oblige, but am careful to leave enough for the early bees.
After picking a basket full, I can’t help but want to lay with them in the grass, soaking up the sun. In true paparazzi fashion, I get out my camera and start taking pictures. “That’s right. Show me your beautiful flowers. Swing those leaves in the breeze.” they oblige my human behavior, but the ants are annoyed and waste no time reminding me, it’s time to move on.
MEET THE FIELD GARLICS, Allium vineale
The nettle is not the only one vying for my attention in the yard. All you have to do is open the back door when there is a breeze and the smell of garlicky onion wafts into the dining room. My husband sees it as a sign it’s getting close to mowing season. I immediately search online to see what I can do with all those thick bundles just waiting to be harvested and find an easy recipe for field garlic butter. I found the recipe online – you can print it here and make it yourself!
MEET THE VIOLETS, Viola sororia
My youngest daughter shared with me that violets are her favorite flowers. All spring, early summer, and fall we stopped buying lettuce and ate violet leaves instead, saving us money and packing a punch of readily available fresh greens loaded with vitamins A and C.
I have to admit that I felt a bit bad about cutting off the flowers, but in speaking with the plants, they gave me permission with the promise I would not waste any of them. True to my word, I only picked what I used and the flower stems were offered back to the earth by way of the compost pile. There were not as many pure blue ones – mostly the blue and white variety – so I only picked the mature ones and left the young ones to open up later.
Carefully separating the petals from the base and stem, I drop them into a glass bowl to create a violet simple syrup, part of a special mocktail beverage to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I feel like gifts of the heart are the best ones and anything that takes time, thought, and love is a special gift indeed.
MEET YOUR NEIGHBORS
Whether you live in a house, an apartment, a car, or a boat, take a walk around your abode and meet the neighbors around you who see you every day and are waiting to make themselves seen and known to you. Plants are neighborly. They want to help you. They want to speak with you. They want to get to know you and show you that they have been there for you the whole time.