April Bloom Day: Seven Favorites, Native Plants

You’ll find the usual spring bloomers here now: quince, viburnum, and pieris; purple flowering scilla and phacelia; ‘Jane’ magnolia; celandine poppy; stinking hellebore; variegated solomon’s seal; various azaleas and epimediums; many wildflowers. There’s so much color, scent, and new life, it’s hard to decide what to include in this month’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day posting.

After much dithering, I narrowed my list to seven native plants. They return every year and I love them all. Starting with Little Brown Jugs, I’ll work my way up to ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud, which occupies the first layer of the tree canopy, still well below the oaks and tulip poplars towering above.

Hexastylis arifolia - Little Brown Jugs

Hexastylis arifolia – Little Brown Jugs

Low on the forest floor is the delightful Little Brown Jugs, Hexastylis arifolia.  The tube-shaped jugs or urns are actually flower sepals that are fused together to form a vase-shaped calyx. The urns are so endearing — they remind me of baby birds waiting for the next feeding.


Dicentra canadensis – Squirrel Corn

Next is squirrel corn, which has flowers shaped like pantaloons. It’s the feminine counterpart to Dicentra cucullaria or Dutchman’s britches.

Rue anemone - Thalictrum  thalictroides

Rue anemone – Thalictrum thalictroides

Rue anemone is so delicate, I’m surprised there are any left in our woods. Deer, voles, and chipmunks pretty much decimate Thalictrum habitat around here.

Wake Robin - Trillium erectum

Trillium erectum – Wake Robin

There are lots of trilliums here, but just a few wake robin or erect trillium. The vibrant flower color contrasts beautifully with yellow, white, and soft blue hues of other early-blooming wildflowers.

Sanguinaria canadensis 'Plena' - Bloodroot (double)

Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Plena’ – Bloodroot (double)

The shade of a nearby ‘Nana Gracilis’ falsecypress is getting too deep for this double-flowering bloodroot. Although bloodroots last a short time, I’d love to see a big drift of them at the edge of the woods.


Fothergilla gardenii – Dwarf Fothergilla

Fothergilla gardenii is just beginning to leaf out. Who needs leaves with gorgeous, fragrant flowers like these?


Cercis canadensis ‘ Forest Pansy’ – Redbud

‘Forest Pansy’ leaves are soft shades of purple when they emerge; they’re so pretty contrasted against newly-green leaves of deciduous trees in the background.

I am a little concerned about the health of this ‘Forest Pansy’. Many branches on one side seem to be dead. Also, a lot of the tree’s flowers are clustered directly on the limbs — more than what’s normal for a redbud.

Our soil is rich and moist and a prime freeway for voles. They’ve destroyed larger trees than a redbud, most notably a treasured blackgum  (Nyssa sylvatica) which died several years ago. I still haven’t gotten over that. Oh well. Life goes on in the garden — this year in splendid fashion!

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Thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day each month.

What’s In Your Yard?

From the Asheville Botanical Garden bulletin board

Asheville Botanical Garden

Some days, you really need to be outside, looking at real plants instead of pixelated ones on your computer screen. Some days, nature (and whatever’s out there) beckons. Just get out there. Don’t resist, or you might be sorry!



Bottlebrush Buckeye – Aesculus parviflora (U.S. native)

These are the days a gardener waits for. Every day — every hour — there are new offerings from the earth. It’s like a time-lapse photo in real time.

Everywhere I look, things are unfurling, emerging, bursting with color and chlorophyll. In the backdrop, birds are gathering leaves, twigs, and bits of ornamental grasses in preparation for the next cycle of life.

Christas Fern

Christmas Fern – Polystichum acrostichoides (U.S. native)


Variegated Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum odoratum ”Variegatum’ (Asia native)

Soon, the dizzying display of flowers will begin, in other gardens and other places, mostly.  For me, in my woodsy part of the world, flowers are more subdued and ephemeral.

Sometimes, I dream of herb gardens and colorful perennial borders. Then, the hot days of summer come and I remember why I appreciate this shady setting and the palette of plants that grow here.

Buffet for Chipmunks

Mama and Baby Chipmunk

Mama and Baby Chipmunk

There’s no need for a weather report around here. Just look out the window for chipmunks on the stone wall. Chipmunks: warm. No chipmunks: cold.

Chipmunks don’t actually hibernate. They sleep much of the winter and, supposedly, wake up every few weeks to eat. They mate in early spring and usually have one litter a year. Their burrows can be thirty feet long. I believe this, since the crevices of our wall seem to get deeper and more pronounced every winter.

Eastern chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are found throughout most of North America. Most gardeners tolerate them and are amused by their antics. I was not amused a few years ago when I suspected them of raiding the nest of some newly-hatched birds. I kept seeing chipmunks sitting on the fence  under the nest;  I had never seen them in that area before  the birds disappeared.

Last week, a mama chipmunk crept out of the stone wall with her baby in tow. They could see me through the kitchen window so I had to sneak around to get their photo. All day long they took turns popping in and out of four or five crevices, like little jacks-in-the-box.

It’s hard to resist a baby chipmunk, so I decided to take it a snack. I had a container of pre-chopped vegetables and put out a few pieces each of purple cabbage, broccoli, celery, carrots, and what appeared to be parsnip, or maybe jicama.


A few minutes later, I saw one of the chipmunks standing on its hindlegs, chewing on a piece of celery held in its paws. I didn’t see them eat anything the rest of the day, but by the next morning, everything had disappeared. I found that chipmunks prefer celery, broccoli, and red cabbage to carrots and jicama. I did not throw seeds, nuts, or fruit in the mix, which might have changed the outcome of my experiment. (Obviously, I am easily entertained, and my little garden inhabitants are easily sated).

Outside Lea’s Window

A perfect, unnamed camellia flower catches the light.

A perfect, unnamed camellia blossom catches the light.



Veterans Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee

Old Trees

Old trees, old trees! in your mystic gloom

There’s many a warrior laid,

And many a nameless and lonely tomb

Is sheltered beneath your shade  . . .

Old trees, old trees! we shall pass away

Like the leaves you yearly shed,

But ye, lone sentinels, still must stay,

Old trees, to guard our dead.


Selected verses, Old Tree, by Abram Joseph Ryan, 1838 – 1886



Little Sweet Betsy

Trillium cuneatum - Little Sweet Betsy

Trillium cuneatum – Little Sweet Betsy

Spring begins….. at last. A few leaves of sweet Betsy trillium, Trillium cuneatum, emerged from the rich, black soil near the stone wall a few days ago. Seemingly overnight, those few leaves turned into a clump of several plants, one with a fat bud which will soon become blackish-purple bracts. These native trilliums are all over our three-fourths acre lot, but this particular location is a first for them.

There used to be a lot of mayapples nearby. They’re disappeared, except for a few spindly plants I hope re-appear in a few weeks. Supposedly the deer eat the fruit when it’s fully ripe, so maybe that’s why the mayapples have all but disappeared. Or maybe it’s because of the gardener, who has allowed Vinca minor to get too thick there. (Can’t blame everything on deer).

So much to see right now, but the first signs of life are always the sweetest. Welcome to you, little Betsy, with the splotchly green markings.

Most likely a cross of Trillium cuneatum and Trillium

This clump is likely a cross between Trillium cuneatum and Trillium luteum, a yellow species.


Walnut in Limbo

Walnut Cracker

Nature’s Nutcracker

Things are still pretty dormant here, garden-wise. I spend a lot of time looking up when I’m outside.

Odd sight near the creek this weekend: a walnut resting inside the sections of a fractured, bent-over tree. Wonder how long it’ll take the squirrels to figure this one out.

Trails, Trains, and Crawdads


After a mentally-draining session with blogs and websites, my son and I found reprieve in a late-winter walk along Third Creek greenway in Knoxville. We parked at the Sutherland Avenue entrance and walked down a straight stretch of paving with grass clearings on either side. Groups of fat robins converged at the edge of a thicket of trees and undergrowth. There is good habitat for birds here: cover, water, and (presumably) plenty of food.


More evidence of birds, in this case woodpeckers. This tree has been foraged repeatedly for grubs and insects.


We saw bird silhouettes in distant trees, and a grouping of what appeared to be young, native beech trees with their buttery-brown winter foliage.



The creek meanders alongside the path. The view was pretty from the first vantage point when the sun was out. Unfortunately, the creek had just flooded and there was a good bit of trash and debris on the banks in some areas. The grasses and other plants (too early in the season to know what they were) had been flattened by the rising water.


The course of the stream was changed to a curving one by a process called stream re-meandering. According to this sign, the stream was dredged and straightened several decades ago because of erosion, sediment, and other problems associated with nearby development.  Some people who grew up in this area say the stream was always straight. I don’t know. Unfortunately, there are still issues with the creek, as this sign will attest:



We saw a lot of bamboo, privet, and other invasive plants along this section of the greenway. It’s hard to keep invasives under control in areas such as utility right-of-ways, greenways, shoulders of highways, and other disturbed areas. At my own house, the creeks have eroded, and privet has seeded itself — with the help of birds — along the steep banks.



A happy surprise — which brought back many childhood memories – was the discovery of crawfish holes in the moist areas near the beginning of the trail. According to the sign we saw later, the holes were made by Appalachian brook crayfish (also called crawfish and crawdads). I think these were the very ones that kept making tunnels in the dam of my dad’s pond in North Carolina. He spent many an hour plugging up crawfish holes.


The trail leads to an area of thick vegetation near a railroad viaduct. The trestle is supported by thick columns, and the creek flows under some of them near the point where the greenway trail splits.


On the tracks above the greenway, a train was carrying a load of fresh lumber. The late afternoon light was reflected on the concrete below the tracks. I was so absorbed in the sound of the sparkling creek, cascading over the rocks near the viaduct, that I forgot to get pictures of people running, riding bikes, and walking.

This might have been my favorite part of the trail. I love trains — the mystery and romance of them and the evocative sound of their horns from a distance. With the train, added to the winter sunshine and rushing creek, it was one of the best-ever escapes from a computer.

Cooper’s Hawk

Late-winter Visitor

Late-winter Visitor

There was a persistent kik-kik-kik sound in the backyard Sunday. I ignored it for a while, but it got increasingly loud. Turns out, it was a cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), sitting within the bare, criss-crossed branches of a large Japanese maple.

Cooper hawks have a fierce, intent look in their eyes — all the better to watch the small birds and mammals they prey on. This young hawk was probably eyeing chipmunks: they’re always scurrying around, looking out for seeds that fall from the feeder attached to the eaves of the house. Since I had just tossed out several cupfuls of safflower seeds, they were probably intercepting those too.  Squirrels don’t usually like safflower; chipmunks don’t care if it’s that or the most prime selection of black oil sunflower. If it’s edible, they go for it.

This is the first cooper’s hawk I’ve seen on our property — at least upclose. They’re  probably regular visitors, but either blend into the background or stay too high in the treetops for us to see or identify.

Immature cooper hawks (like this one) have yellow eyes and white chests with thin, brown streaks. Their backs are usually dark with white markings. They nest near the edge of deciduous or mixed woods like ours. Coopers are fairly common in Tennessee, more so during the months of September and October.

I hope this hawk comes back. I want to learn its call so, next time,  I’ll recognize it right away.

Note: Wish I could have gotten a better shot of the Cooper’s Hawk, but it was taken from a window and without appropriate camera lens.