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Homeyer: Early buds and blossoms

04/02/09 5:55PM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) Spring in northern New England is famous for being wet and muddy, but commentator Henry Homeyer reminds us that it's also full of buds and early blossoms.

(HOMEYER) It's mud season. The back roads are posted to keep heavy trucks from squishing deep ruts, but the ruts appear anyhow. I think the milk trucks are exempted. After all, cows don't stop milking just because the roads are bad, so those trucks must still plod through the muck. But I like mud season.

I like those furry gray pussywillows that grace the borders of beaver ponds and in swampy places at this time of year. Recently I was standing in water cutting furry stems of what are, actually, the flowers of a type of willow. And it came to me that I love them so much that I'll actually risk filling my boots with ice water to get some every spring.  As I child I petted the furry blossoms. They were like kitties or puppies, tiny ones, on sticks. And you didn't have to feed them or clean their litter boxes or take them for walks in the rain. They were perfect pets.

If you want to pick some pussy willows, go well equipped. That means big rubber boots, the taller the better. And instead of getting frustrated that all the really best branches are out of reach, bring a pole pruner, the longer the better. Willows produce their best blossoms on the sunniest part of the shrub. So the upper branches have the biggest and best blossoms.

When you get home, arrange your branches in a dry vase. That's right. No water. If you add water, the blossoms will soon produce yellow pollen, and make a mess on the tablecloth. But if you leave them in a dry vase they will stay unchanged, as if frozen in time. I've kept them on my desk for the better part of a year, and aside from getting a little dusty, they looked just fine.

Mud season is also the time when I start picking flowers from the garden. Years ago I dug up a couple of hundred snowdrop bulbs from my parent's home in Connecticut and planted them on sunny hillsides around my house. They have multiplied and migrated, and now, starting in March, they produce literally thousands of blossoms. Uncountable blossoms.

I don't know if little rodents moved them, or if they produce seeds that wash downhill, or if those elusive garden elves have fun with them late at night, moving them into the lawn just to perplex me. All I know is that having fresh flowers is a blessing in my life, even flowers whose white blossoms are only half an inch from stem to stern.

Crocus are up, tulips and daffies are showing their noses, and the sun has some real strength. The days are longer, and my spirits, always at their lowest ebb during the dark days of December, have begun to soar. Mud season is here, and my own lettuce and tomatoes can't be far behind.
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