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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gift Plants

The term "gift plant" usually brings to mind (at least for me) potted hydrangeas with oversized blossoms, or tiny, tender azaleas blooming in December at a height of eight or ten inches, the kind of plants that generally die the moment they're exposed to actual weather (at least in this part of the world). But the month of April has brought another kind of gift plant, some in large numbers.

Given that West Virginia was once part of the Great Eastern Forest, it should be no surprise that forest plants are showing up in droves in the unmown parts of our back yard (and since most of the grass growing in the unwatered yellow clay in the limited sunny areas of our back quarter-acre is pretty scraggly and tops out at four to six inches, mowing doesn't happen very often). Given my general laziness and overall fondness for trees, it also comes as no surprise that I am delighted to see our yard growing its own privacy screen and bird habitat. Some things will be encouraged to join the Great Compost Pile of the Plant Hereafter (we do not need a hundred wild cherry trees) and eventually improve the yellow clay subsoil that was left exposed when our neighborhood was created; others, however, will be encouraged to grow, preferably quickly.

Most civilized folk are not overly fond of sweet gum trees, given their penchant for littering the universe with multitudes of prickly gumballs. Still, their fall color is almost unbeatable, so I didn't object when the tree across the street gifted us with a healthy seedling, grown to a three-foot height in our shady compost area. We just so happened to have a bare spot at the edge of the backyard slope, where a sweet gum can receive several hours of sun and drop its gumballs into the dip where the oak trees leave their leaves every fall. Prickle problem solved.

The only mature willow oak in the neighborhood was at the end of the block. Its humans decided to cut it down last fall, but this local representative of Thomas Jefferson's favorite tree species evidently produced plenty of acorns in its last few years of life, and the local squirrel population evidently spread them around. We have several young ones (some in need of homes, unfortunately), one of which sprouted next to our hemlock snag, just past the drip line of the oldest white oak, right where we want another tree. The largest seedling was in the wrong place, but it seems to be doing fine since we moved it to the lower yard, where it will receive sun all morning for the rest of its long life (unless some unappreciative future human cuts it down).

Nearly everyone likes dogwoods, it seems, including the Plant Gift Gods, and we have been gifted with a plethora of the little things, including in the area where we had to have two white pines taken down. If we live long enough, we will get to enjoy a dogwood glade hiding the neighbor's fence, providing LOTS of berries for birds on their fall migration. We've been able to move two to the lower yard, where they will eventually help to provide privacy from the street and join the (baby) arrowwood viburnum hedge in creating a fall foliage spectacle and feeding frenzy.

There's just no end to the excitement around here.

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