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

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 ( 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 (, 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.

Latest News

Thru hikers linked by life on the Appalachian Trail

Riley Moriarty


Of thousands who attempt to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, only one in four make it.

The AT, completed in 1937, runs over roughly 2,200 miles, from Springer Mountain in Georgia’s Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest to Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park of Maine.

Keep ReadingShow less
17th Annual New England Clambake: a community feast for a cause

The clambake returns to SWSA's Satre Hill July 27 to support the Jane Lloyd Fund.


The 17th Annual Traditional New England Clambake, sponsored by NBT Bank and benefiting the Jane Lloyd Fund, is set for Saturday, July 27, transforming the Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s Satre Hill into a cornucopia of mouthwatering food, live music, and community spirit.

The Jane Lloyd Fund, now in its 19th year, is administered by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and helps families battling cancer with day-to-day living expenses. Tanya Tedder, who serves on the fund’s small advisory board, was instrumental in the forming of the organization. After Jane Lloyd passed away in 2005 after an eight-year battle with cancer, the family asked Tedder to help start the foundation. “I was struggling myself with some loss,” said Tedder. “You know, you get in that spot, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Someone once said to me, ‘Grief is just love with no place to go.’ I was absolutely thrilled to be asked and thrilled to jump into a mission that was so meaningful for the community.”

Keep ReadingShow less
Getting to know our green neighbors

Cover of "The Light Eaters" by Zoe Schlanger.


This installment of The Ungardener was to be about soil health but I will save that topic as I am compelled to tell you about a book I finished exactly three minutes before writing this sentence. It is called “The Light Eaters.” Written by Zoe Schlanger, a journalist by background, the book relays both the cutting edge of plant science and the outdated norms that surround this science. I promise that, in reading this book, you will be fascinated by what scientists are discovering about plants which extends far beyond the notions of plant communication and commerce — the wood wide web — that soaked into our consciousnesses several years ago. You might even find, as I did, some evidence for the empathetic, heart-expanding sentiment one feels in nature.

A staff writer for the Atlantic who left her full-time job to write this book, Schlanger has travelled around the world to bring us stories from scientists and researchers that evidence sophisticated plant behavior. These findings suggest a kind of plant ‘agency’ and perhaps even a consciousness; controversial notions that some in the scientific community have not been willing or able to distill into the prevailing human-centric conceptions of intelligence.

Keep ReadingShow less