Plant catalogs: A sure sign of spring
Yellowroot for sale at the Northwest Conservation District annual plant sale. 
Photo by Dee Salomon

Plant catalogs: A sure sign of spring

After teasing us since January, we can reliably feel Spring’s energy rising from the roots to the tips of branches. If you are the less optimistic type who doesn’t catch Spring fever until May, you still have the plant catalogs arriving now. Snow may still threaten but these catalogs are a sure sign that spring is near.

I’m at the point where most of the catalogs immediately go into the recycling bin. The plants they feature are likely to be non-native and, while I am not against exotics in a garden bed, I do follow the “native first, native cultivar (‘nativar’) second, non-native third” rule. Also, I often find the colors on offer to be garish. Nevertheless, the arrival of plant catalogs in the mailbox induces in me a Pavlovian response — to purchase plants.

Ideas for this year’s planting have been a low hum in my mind all winter and now I begin to make lists and sketch out ideas. This work is motivated by the plants themselves, much the way a fashion designer goes first to the fabric as inspiration for design. I am neither a fashion nor a garden designer but over the years I have several resources where I find the plants that really excite me.

Last year was not a planting year for me — I was too busy battling spongy moth to think about adding any new plants, with one exception: I always want to support the Northwest Conservation District’s plant sale as it is their only fundraising event of the year. Last year I ordered three pots of Yellowroot ( Xanthorhiza simplicissima) a plant I did not know anything about; the foliage in the photo was attractive as was its description. When I got to the pickup location in Goshen, Karen Nelson told me that a neighbor had great success with this plant. So I bought five more and planted them in between four inkberry shrubs, augmenting the native plant border by the river. And they were indeed successful, so I am ordering a few more, along with a few bayberry plants which I will use to fortify the river bank. The sale ends April 12  so hurry and visit the shop at www.nwcd.org/shop/

I wrote about native roses in the February column and purchased some of the roses recommended by horticulturalist Robin Zitter via different online resources. Three pots of climbing Prairie Rose, sourced through Prairie Nursery (www.prairienursery.com/) will go on the border between our neighbor’s property so that we can both share the pink blossom.

A flat of Swamp Rose plugs, and several gallon containers of Carolina Rose were sourced from Izel Plants (www.izelplants.com/), a consolidator of native and nativar plants from nurseries across the country. The swamp rose is appropriately destined for the swamp as are plugs of Cattail and Sweet-flag, also purchased through Izel Plants. In several weeks I should have about two hundred plugs and I am concerned about timing the planting so as not to disturb the tender growth of skunk cabbage and thalictrum. I can access the stream banks from the the stream itself but may have to wait with the rest until I can step without crushing precious young plants.

Finally, a shopping list will accompany me to Earth Tones Nursery in Woodbury so that I don’t get carried away at what I consider to be the Disneyland of native nurseries. I hope to come back with eight pots of staghorn sumac and a couple of nine-barks, which are hard to source as straight natives.

In addition to this buying spree I will experiment with the curious and fantastical Aralia Spinosa or Devil’s Walking Stick. Despite being one of three native Aralias in our region, it looks more like a small palm tree or giant fern than an East Coast plant. This tree loses all of its branches in the fall and spends the winter as a single stem with a barbed coat, which explains its common name. A copse of about twenty grows heartily on a hillside; five or so of the smaller ones will be dug out and added to the native path. I have wanted to write about Aralia in this column for some time. I will let you know how this transplant goes and write about the other Aralias in an upcoming column.

Thanks to those who have joined our woodland workshop; we have had a fantastic response. It is now closed to new applicants but I hope to open enrollment again in the summer.

 

Dee Salomon “ungardens” in Litchfield County.

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