Monday, March 10, 2008

The Color of Spring

Yellow has never been my favorite color. I don't dislike it, but it has never been the color that came to mind first when asked the inevitable "what's your favorite color?" question. When I was about nine years old, it was unequivocally purple, any and all shades of purple (I know, I know, but at least is wasn't pink).  Somewhere along the line, my preference shifted to green, where it has remained. Green is an amazing color, and the more that I work with plants, and observe the natural world around me, the more I realize just how many shades of green there are. The first flush of leaves on a vine maple tree, new spring grass, the soft grey green of sage leaves, the beautiful deep blue green of Tuscan kale, the deep greeny green of cedar trees- there are hundreds, thousands of shades of green, and all of them are lovely and interesting to me.

But ever since we moved to Ostman Farm, yellow has been moving up in the ranks, thanks largely to the late Hilma Ostman and her daffodil bulbs. Mrs. Ostman planted these bulbs back in the 1930s and 40s.  They are everywhere on the farm, but thickest here on the hill just below where our lavender is planted. I'm not exactly sure which variety of daffodil it is, although working my way through the bulb possibilities at Old House Gardens, the amazing heirloom bulb company, the one it seems closest to is called 'Van Sion'.

When we first moved here, this hillside was covered with a 10 foot tall thicket of blackberries, but we were told by a former tenant that there were bulbs growing underneath the vines. This meant cautious vine removal, no scraping of the hillside for easy invasive eradication. It was a herculean task, involving a lot of cursing and fighting with 20 foot long vines that ripped at our clothes and got tangled in our hair, but in the end we won, mostly. It is a truce at best, and we know that several years of neglect would bring the blackberries roaring back. However, the incentive to stay on top of them is this:

Every spring, starting sometime in late January, the bulbs start to pop up. By mid February they have started to bloom- usually just in time to trigger a massive hailstorm, it seems. But there are always lovely sunny days when the hillside just glows with golden yellow, and the sight of all of these daffodils swaying in the breeze makes me ridiculously happy.

The other sure sign around here of the shifting seasons is a less celebrated plant, but one that holds a place of deep affection in my heart. Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) is aptly named, as it really does have a pungent smell reminiscent of an encounter with our little furry black and white friends. Native throughout the Pacific Northwest, it grows thickly in the wetland
and boggy areas of our farm, and it usually beats the daffodils by a week or so in popping itself up out of the ground in all of its yellow and green stinky glory and announcing that no matter what anyone else might think, Spring is On The Way.

I'll be honest, I enjoy strolling along Daffodil Hill admiring the blooms far more than slogging through The Bog to go look at the skunk cabbage, but the giddy happy feeling that all that yellow inspires in me is pretty much the same when I look at both plants. Spring isn't here quite yet, but I know it is wandering briskly in our direction.

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