Saturday, August 29, 2009

Plantly neighbors

What with a crazy schedule and the crazy weather this season, I've lost the habit of my daily walk.

Finally a break came and I had opportunity to stroll the mile out our country road and back on a beautiful day. It surprised me, though it shouldn't have, to find the same plants in the same places that I've noted on previous walks over ten years.

For some reason -- perhaps the volatility of yard and garden each year -- I expect the wild woods and edges to change dramatically in a short time. They do, superficially, and most evident in the cycles of foliage. Also in what flourishes or languishes in a given year as a result of weather.

But the established trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and escaped perennials hold fast to their positions, to the point where they form signposts along the road. I almost feel like waving as I pass, as if to neighbors sunning on the porch or working in their yards. Hello, myrtle-bed in the silo ruin, and pearly-everlasting community in the clearing. How ya doin', trilliums in the shady glen, now sporting bright red berries I've not seen before, like their brethren, the jack-in-the-pulpits popping up along the way.

There's the tree stump with the very low, very large hole drilled by the local pileated woodpecker (which hole a human neighbor -- a second-homer from the city -- thought was made by a bear!). And over here in the swamp is the blanket of forget-me-nots that surprises me each summer when I think it's too late for their bloom; while over there, in the heap of road scrum alongside an open field, is the strange-looking, strangely named viper's bugloss. And under there, lurking beneath one clump of foliage, is the only wild ginger in the area.

Other plants migrate but are always present during their season: various asters, black-eyed Susans, daisy fleabane -- and myriad daisies; Queen Anne's lace, milkweed galore, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod galore, and the tall spires of mullein. It's fun each year to see where these populations will spring up next.

On it goes, becoming more interesting and familiar as I learn the names of things, and their habitats. A mere mile along a country lane contains dozens of microclimates, so that many of my plantly neighbors can grow only in the pockets where I find them. Their permanence comforts me, and makes me feel plantlike in response; i.e., more rooted in my community. Simultaneously, they make me feel lonely, for I'm the only one of my species anywhere in the area who knows these plantly neighbors and where they live.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
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