- Green Blog
I have a lot of early failures in my horticultural timeline. There was the bare crown of thorns I kept alive, and probably shouldn’t have, for a few years. The ficus that was destined to fail didn’t even last one season. The first plant I remember growing that was truly my own was a philodendron.My First Houseplant
I got this philodendron from a friend who made a cutting for me. I wanted a houseplant of my own for my bedside table. I didn’t have any idea what to do with it beyond sticking the new roots in a pot of soil.
I didn’t know what a philodendron was, and because this was pre-internet, I didn’t research it. I simply planted it, watered it, and hoped for the best. Little did I know then that this is the perfect beginner houseplant.
That philodendron stayed with me for several moves, from home to college, to first apartments. In fact, I still have it today. It sits in my office by the window and keeps me company.Philodendron – the Plant for Newbies
This could not have been a more perfect plant for my first. If I had started with that crown of thorns or the ficus, I may never have continued gardening. You can neglect it for weeks and still not kill a philodendron.
Philodendron is a genus of tropical plants from Central and South America. There are many species in this genus, of which a plant may be vining or not vining. My philodendron is a vine. It grows long stems that drape down over the bookcase on which it sits.How to Grow a Philodendron
To grow philodendron, you need a warm climate or to grow it as a houseplant, which is what most people do. They like indirect light rather than a bright window. Mine grows next to a north-facing window with a tree outside that filters afternoon sunlight.
Although I’m guilty of having neglected to water my plant for periods of time over the years—and it has forgiven me—it does best with consistent moisture in the soil. I water it once or twice a week. It usually lets me know I’ve forgotten to water it by getting droopy and yellowing a little bit.
Our next adventure together is to create a terrarium. I took cuttings recently from my long-lived philodendron. Once they sprout roots, I’ll see how they like the moist conditions inside my terrarium. I have high hopes that it will thrive.
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For those of us who love plants, a difficult question to answer would be which one is your favorite? I certainly can’t answer that question since I have so many plants I’m overly fond of.
It helps to narrow things down a bit. For instance, if I were to be asked what is my favorite native Northwest perennial, my resounding answer would be penstemon, of which I have several varieties.Interesting Penstemon Facts
Penstemon (P. laevigatus) is amazing. There are about 300 varieties of penstemon, the largest genus of flowering plants native to North America. The tube shaped blooms come in a variety of hues, and species sizes range from low-growing to over 7 feet (2 m.) in height.
Suited to harsh landscapes, penstemons are often the first plants to arise from disturbed areas of wildfire, erosion and manmade disruption of a landscape. Most are self-sufficient, requiring no supplemental feeding and rare, but deep watering.
Resilient as it is, penstemon’s other great claim to fame is its nectar rich blooms which attract pollinators — both bees and hummingbirds alike — in droves.Growing Penstemon
The tube shaped blooms with a prominent staminode gives rise to the plant’s other name ‘beardtongue’. Its name is derived from the Greek “penta” meaning five, in reference to the unusual fifth stamen found on the blooms.
Excellent naturalizers when allowed to re-seed themselves, penstemons are a low maintenance, easy to grow, native plant that is suited to a slew of environments provided they are in full sun.
Leave seeds on the plant to ripen and re-seed, and mulch with gravel rather than rot-inducing bark, grass or compost mulch.
It turns out that I’m not the only devotee of penstemon. The American Penstemon Society was formed in 1946 to study and foster interest in the many varieties of this native wildflower, so you see, I’m in good company! Maybe after reading this, you too will be encouraged to incorporate one or more of this native North American species into your landscape.
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When it comes to reading, I like to look at the pictures. Which is why The Ultimate Visual Guide – Flowering Plants has become my favorite gardening book. With more than 1,000 illustrations, this, to me, reads more like a children’s picture book than a gardening resource for adults. So why do I like this book so much?My Favorite Gardening Book
The Ultimate Visual Guide – Flowering Plants contains a wealth of information for gardeners of all experience levels. This 192 page book begins with descriptive pages full of detailed anatomical plant terms. This is where I turn whenever I encounter a complex written description of a plant.
From pinnate leaves to funnelform flowers, the clearly labeled illustrations are a must have resource for deciphering written plant descriptions and ultimately identifying unknown species. I find the detailed drawings make it much easier to compare identifying features of plants more clearly than the multitude of plant photographs found on the internet.
The remainder of the book reveals two page spreads featuring 145 flowering plant families. Each family is briefly introduced using both common and scientific names, followed by a general overview of facts and features highlighting familiar characteristics.
This is followed by high quality illustrations of a select number of species within each family. In addition to the picture, each species is listed by both common and taxonomical names and includes an interesting blurb about the plant. The highlighted species are both rare and unfamiliar flower specimens from around the world as well as commonly known plants of economic importance.
I find this part of the book the most interesting. Like a child with their favorite picture book, I peruse the pages of The Ultimate Visual Guide – Flowering Plants simply to admire the exquisite drawings. I find this volume goes far beyond its coffee table book format.Visualizing Plants
Both as a writer and a flora enthusiast, I find this guide to flowering plants to be both informative and interesting. I often use it to gain insight on plant families or to double-check the taxonomical spelling of family names when writing articles for Gardening Know How. It’s one of the few hard copy resources I keep within reach of my desk.
So, would I recommend this book to other gardeners? Perhaps, but be warned that The Ultimate Visual Guide – Flowering Plants does not contain gardening advice, information on garden design, or long lists of commonly grown plants.
Instead, it serves as a bridge between garden how-to books and stuffy, hard-to-read reference manuals. This book is perfect for gardeners like me, who want to learn more about the plants they grow, not just how to grow them.
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In this age of global crises – including ongoing conflicts, rising populations, and climate change – it’s hard not to fear for the future. There are so many curves on the road ahead that it is impossible to get a realistic view of what to expect. But in my mind, one thing is certain: the relationship between humans and Mother Nature must grow closer if our planet is to survive.Going “Nature-al”
This might be called the golden age of technology, as machines are built to take over our day-to-day tasks and solve some thorny problems. But machines have not led the world back from the brink of war, nor have they caused us to steer clear of the life-changing nightmare of the warming atmosphere resulting from our reliance on fossil fuels.
It seems to me that, in order to help the planet move toward peace and balance, tending nature must move to the top of our priority list. Does this mean we have to give up our computers and vehicles? Not necessarily. It just means that the first question for each of us should be: how will what I am planning to do impact the natural world?What Is Going Nature-al?
To me, going nature-al is like going natural, but only if one use “natural” in the sense of working closer to nature. Sometimes the term is used loosely as a synonym for casual or even careless. But in its original sense, it means in harmony with nature.
Like all lofty goals, going nature-al is much harder than it sounds. To work in harmony with nature requires a vision and commitment to a larger good than our personal or even national interests — it requires a universal and global commitment to the planet, its plants and its animals. While most of us will not be in a position to shelter endangered monkeys or foster plant species on the brink of extinction, we can help the cause by tending our own gardens. I believe that this must be — and will be — the trend of the future.Working Our Gardens
As we develop and tend our backyard gardens in the future, we can help the planet if we keep this goal at the forefront of our minds. Maintaining a greenspace around our homes can do so much more than just up the curb value,
The small act of installing plants in the backyard can create habitat for beneficial insects and small mammals. But putting in a vegetable garden or small home orchard can reduce our dependence on big agriculture, with its pesticides and fertilizers, and allow more space for organic produce.
In addition, when some members of a community set an example, others follow. Your neighbors, not to mention your own family members, will think and talk about your efforts and, with a little luck, be nudged into planting gardens themselves. This “earth first” attitude is not optional but necessary for the world to survive, in my opinion. That’s why I see a bright future for home gardening in the decade to come.
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Meet Mr. Steven Rude, a school psychologist in the LA school district. At a unique school in Reseda California, Steven evaluates very young children with varied severe and complex special needs. This school is one where children have the most serious disabilities. Some are in wheelchairs. Some are autistic, some have limited communication and some are intellectually challenged.
Steven spent 20 years working with kids placed in non-public programs due to acute emotional problems. With a deeply empathetic heart for those less fortunate, he is dedicated to his work with children facing great adversity. Prior to his current sensory garden project, Steven managed a 15-bed vegetable garden at a local Headstart kindergarten. It was flourishing and even provided some food donations to homeless folks but, sadly, was abandoned when COVID forced the school district to close it.Red Tape
The principal of the district’s Early Special Education/Preschool Assessment Center asked Steven to create a garden for the children here, many of whom have the most severe limitations. When he accepted this challenge, Steven realized that this garden would have to be as special as the students – one that could provide them with an experience that would engage all of their five senses.
Although the LA school district is flush with funds, no school district money was allocated for this project. The paperwork, permits and red tape would have taken at least nine months to get the project started, so Steven got busy planning and organizing.A Garden For the Five Senses
Steven knew that creating a meaningful garden space for these special kids would take a lot of effort and expertise. A Go-Fund-Me account allowed him to engage architects, designers, master gardeners and plumbers. An underground irrigation system was built; paths covered with decomposed granite designed large enough for wheelchairs and walkers were constructed. A chain link fence was taken down and replaced by an inviting white picket fence.
Two redwood beds were created just for unique and colorful vegetables, like eggplant and bright orange squash, that would appeal to the senses of the children. Since many of them have feeding tubes, there are no spicy peppers or vegetables with strong flavors growing here.
The children here now have the opportunity to experience the fragrances of herbs like mint, cilantro and rosemary. Flowers, native plants and succulents invite them to touch and explore visually and, with caution, some children are allowed to sample the strawberries. The teachers named the garden “Cultivating the Future.” A beautiful garden sign that incorporates some of the classroom art was designed by a former Disney employee.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of this garden, besides the colors, smells and ambience, is the outdoor speaker system that pipes in sensory sounds of nature, like birdsong.Green Space in LA
The new superintendent at the LA School District is big on green space, according to Mr. Rude. He is looking at getting schools involved in composting, recycling and pollinator gardens. He’d like to incorporate the science aspect of organic gardening into the curriculum, and wants to develop green space to replace the asphalt at the schools. This kind of thinking in the heart of the second largest city in the country is encouraging.
This sensory and therapeutic garden sets a brilliant example of how gardening can enrich the lives of everyone, including our most unique citizens. Steven Rude’s incredible compassion, insight and empathy for children with special needs is reflected in this serene space where these children, far from the mainstream, can fully experience peace and the wonders of nature.
If you like and support what this project is doing for special needs kids, you can donate to Cultivating the Future here.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Click here to learn more about how to apply to the GKH Sponsorship.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Gardening for Everyone page today.
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Growing perfect turf grass is a skill people master in university horticultural programs. It’s both an art and a science, and the end goal can be circumvented by so many different issues. I inherited a patchy, weedy, muddy lawn, which while still not perfect, is better than when I received it after diagnosing and correcting several problems.Diagnosing in the Garden
One of the most important skills a gardener can develop is the ability to diagnose a problem. What’s causing yellowing leaves? Lack of growth? Wilting leaves? Eventually, you learn. You can read the signs and what your plants are telling you.
Diagnosing and correcting problems in a turf lawn is another level. One reason growing turf is so challenging is that it isn’t natural. Nature doesn’t produce perfectly green monocultures. A lawn requires a constant input of maintenance to stay in this unnatural state.
When I moved into my current home, its lawn stood out. It was patchy. There were a lot of weeds. And, with several big trees throwing shade, moss and dirt outcompeted grass in many areas. Not knowing much about growing turf, it took years to diagnose all the problems.Shade
Shade in my garden has been the primary issue with growing grass in several areas. With several old maples, a walnut, and an oak tree, shade is plentiful. I don’t consider this a problem, exactly, but in learning about growing turf, I can definitely diagnose it as the number one barrier to growing a perfect carpet of green.
I did not correct this issue by cutting down trees, of course, although we do get them trimmed regularly. We — my husband and I — have taken a variety of approaches to avoiding dirt spots under trees.
First, we have reseeded some areas with shade-tolerant grass seed, mostly fine fescue. This has bulked up some of the turf, but in the deepest shade, I have happily accepted the green offered by moss. I have also embraced other grass alternatives. In my deepest shade corner, I have a lovely patch of ferns that thrive in the low light.Grubs
One problem that took some time to diagnose as a newbie in the world of turf was damage caused by grubs. Even in sunny areas where most of the grass grew well, we had brown patches. I expected and accepted that grass in sunny areas would brown up over summer, but these were irregular patches surrounded by areas of green.
It took some research into grass problems to determine the cause. The first sign I had that it might be grubs was that the spots felt loose and spongy. Grubs nibble at the roots, detaching grass from the soil, which causes this effect. When I suspected grubs, I actually dug into the ground and found the culprits: white and fleshy with darker heads. Although I don’t like to use chemicals, pesticides seemed necessary here and took care of the problem.Compacted Soil
Isolated problems like shade and grubs caused isolated damage or patchiness. We also seemed to have an overall issue with the grass being patchy and thin throughout the lawn.
The grubs were fairly easy to diagnose compared to this issue. As someone new to being responsible for a lawn, I had no idea compacted soil could be a problem. One sign I now would recognize right away include the fact that it was nearly impossible to dig into the soil in areas where I wanted to replace grass with other plants, like ferns.
Another was the shallow root system in much of the lawn. When soil gets dense and packed, it’s hard for grass to send down roots into it. We also had areas where water would puddle after the rain. Aeration every few years has been a good solution to breaking up the soil and allowing grass roots to move more freely and deeply.
Diagnosing problems in the garden is easier now than in the past. There are so many online resources to help. In spite of this, it still takes experience to really read your plants. The longer you garden, the easier it gets to understand what ails them.
Note: Any recommendations pertaining to the use of chemicals are for informational purposes only. Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and more environmentally friendly.
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Some plants bear the name of a color… or is it vice versa? It’s a bit like what came first, the chicken or the egg. At any rate, many plants share the same name as a color.Flower Colors
There are lots of examples, of which fuchsia is one. When the word “fuchsia” is said, who doesn’t conjure up an image of the hot pink hue? Speaking of pink, pink is also a word for both a color and a plant. Pink was first used as a color name in the late 17th century. The pale red color got its name from a flower of the same name. One might be tickled pink to see a pink pink.
We’re all familiar with blue jeans. When Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss began marketing the work pant, they chose to dye the fabric blue, indigo blue. Indigo is a color derived from several plants in the genus Indigofera, members of the pea family. Indigo is not only the name of a plant, but also one of the seven colors of the rainbow blending in between blue and violet, yet another color that is a plant.
Of course there’s also the rose, so named for its rosy hue. And then we have the color blind Sir Edmund Spence and later Gammer Gurton who oh so poetically (and incorrectly in my opinion) wrote “The rose is red, the violet’s blue, the honey’s sweet, and so are you”. Violets are well, violet to my eye. Definitely not blue.
Really the list could go on and on regarding colors names that are also the names of plants, but my favorite holds a special place in my heart: lilac. I was born and raised in what has become known as the Lilac City.The Lilac City
The historical background on how my Spokane, Washington became known as Lilac City is a bit fuzzy. Lilacs are not native to the area so someone brought them here, but who and when is in dispute. Regardless, by 1938 there were sufficient shrubs with accompanying lilac blooms to promote a Lilac Festival complete with parade. Of course, again it depends on who you talk to; the official Lilac Festival folks say the first festival was held as early as 1896…
Today the Lilac Festival is in its 76th year (or is it?) and probably a good two out of three homes have a lilac somewhere in the landscape; except mine.
Despite a sentimental attachment to the name I actually abhor lilacs except when they are in bloom. They are a rather large, rangy shrub with multiple trunks that tend to be rather unattractive except from May to June when they are in bloom.
Despite my distaste for the shrub, it is still a spectacular experience to go visit the Lilac Garden in Manito Park during the peak of bloom when over 100 named lilac cultivars from 23 species vie for your attention.
And, there might just be a lilac that I might consider adding to my garden. More compact than other lilac cultivars, the Bloomerang has something else… it blooms twice a year! Two blooms of fragrant flowers might, just might, be enough to entice me to join the lilac craze in my hometown.
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Pruning can be confusing for a new gardener. When do you do it? How much do you remove? Which stems or branches should you prune? I have learned a lot over the years about how to prune correctly, and I’m still learning. With some wisdom gained I can advise newbies that the biggest mistake isn’t pruning incorrectly. It’s never pruning at all.Pruning Can Be Scary
As a new gardener I just didn’t understand pruning. I didn’t realize that some plants desperately need it and what the benefits could be. I had some sense that you were supposed to prune, but it seemed complicated.
The thought of chopping back branches seemed like it could backfire. In other words, I was too nervous to take up the task. I worried I would end up with a bunch of dead stumps rather than healthier, bushier plants.Overgrown, Thin Shrubs
We have a large bush honeysuckle in your backyard. I know, it’s invasive, but it was there when we moved in, and I didn’t know what it was then. It houses a lot of birds, which I like, but we never trimmed it for the first several years we were in the house, and it began to look pretty unattractive.
What happens when you don’t trim a large shrub like this it goes beyond out of control growth. That was problem number one. It began to engulf the Rose of Sharon next to it. It overhung the sidewalk leading to the back door, causing me to walk with a lean to get by it.
The other issue, which I discovered when I finally researched how to prune a shrub like this, was that the leafy growth became thin. Outside of a green, lush outer growth of leaves, the large interior of the shrub was all sticks and few leaves. The sunlight couldn’t penetrate to stimulate more leaf growth. The overall effect wasn’t very attractive.
Ultimately, we learned how and when to trim back a bush that had grown out of control. This includes removing some of the stems right down to the base and doing so strategically to allow light to get to the interior. The result today is a well-shaped, fuller, if still invasive shrub.Leggy Plants
When I first started growing annuals in the garden, both in beds and containers, I didn’t know what legginess means. I knew that some of my plants looked spindly and bare, but I didn’t know why or what to do about it.
I now know this means the plants were getting leggy from lack of trimming. There are other reasons plants can get leggy, like low light conditions for houseplants, but for my outdoor annuals, lack of pruning was definitely an issue.
Leggy is the opposite of full and bushy. When the stems get long and floppy with leaf growth mostly at the top, you have a leggy plant. It’s not attractive.
Fortunately, pruning plants to stimulate fuller, bushier growth is easy. For most plants, you don’t even need any tools. Simply pinch off the newest bit of growth at the end of the stems. Pinch just above a leaf node and those two leaves will grow into two new branches. The result is fuller, denser growth throughout the plant. I do this throughout the growing season but especially early on.
Pruning can seem complicated for new gardeners, and yes, plants survived before there were humans to prune them, but we’re going for more than survival in our gardens. If you want attractive, healthy, and productive plants, learn how to prune and then get to it.
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Being outdoors and enjoying all that mother nature has to offer is always good for the body and soul. But working in a garden multiplies the healthy harvest. Digging and weeding and even planting a garden count as exercise, and the organic crops you can grow are among the best-for-your-table produce available.
I cannot laud my backyard garden enough when it comes to keeping me healthy. Very few outdoor activities offer a fraction of gardening health benefits.Growing a Healthy Body
Yes, gardening is exercise. This will come as no surprise to active gardeners, since it’s impossible to shovel and hoe without breaking a sweat. Raking and grass cutting are moderate exercise, but breaking up the soil is likely vigorous exercise. This helps keep down weight as well as getting solid sleep every night.
But that’s not all. Working out under the sun allows the body to create Vitamin D, essential for strengthening bones and upgrading your immune system. Vitamin D also is proven to keep the doctor at bay, reducing a gardener’s chances of many diseases including many kinds of cancer.
And, to top off these benefits, studies have shown that gardening improves cognitive function in the brain. In fact, it is recommended as an effective treatment for people with dementia in some countries.Stress Reduction and Mindfulness
Gardening has been called good for the soul. First, just interacting with nature on a regular basis promotes mental health. Working outdoors and tending crops just makes us feel good and upgrades our moods.
I know that “gardening” is on my short list of activities that cheer me up when I feel self hatred or despair. It pulls me out of regret for the past and fear of the future to keep me in the moment. And let’s face it: just unplugging from technology is refreshing for the mind and spirit. So now’s the time to trade in your BlackBerry for blackberry bushes!
Stress isn’t nice to our bodies. When unpleasant events raise the level of stress hormones like cortisol in your body, there are all sorts of negative consequences. But working in a garden can help you recuperate from stress fast. Studies have even established the connection.Low-cost Organic Produce
Who hasn’t excused themselves for passing up organic produce in favor of processed foods by pointing to the exorbitant prices of the best produce? This excuse disappears when you garden. This hobby has easily and effectively increased my daily access to healthy foods at a reasonable price.
Although not everything grows well in cool San Francisco, all leafy greens are very happy in the garden here most of the year. I eat my own organic lettuce, spinach, kale, and chard all year long. And it’s so handy, all that produce is just a stone’s throw from the kitchen table.
And it goes without saying that regular access to fruits and vegetables has improved my nutrition. It is hardly surprising that gardeners in general eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than those who buy all their food at the stores.Healthy Harvest
Still not convinced? Give gardening a try for one season and you will become a confirmed gardener as well as a healthier individual.
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I have always had a fascination with black flowers and foliage. I suppose this is because the hue is not something normally observed in nature. Over the years I have peppered my landscape with any black varieties I could find. I have had black pansies, iris, calla lily, and I once even grew a black bat flower indoors. Bulbs are also a favorite of mine, and when I found a black tulip bulb, of course I had to have it.Are There Any Black Flowers?
Black flowers aren’t truly black in most cases. If you look at them in good light you can see they are usually a deep purple that appears to be black. Selective breeding has almost achieved what Mother Nature could not, black flowers. In the case of the black calla lily, it is quite convincing in its darkness. Black tulips are more purple except in low light, but they are still spectacular and unusual.
I once made a black and white garden bed. It was a funky bit of garden design that appealed to me at the time. The white plants were the usual suspects. Tulips, snowdrops, peony, roses, freesia, hydrangea, etc. I had almost white foliage plants like Lamb’s ears, too. The black plants were more challenging to find. Black mondo grass, sedum, and Colocasia provided dark foliage. A black Hellebore provided black foliage and black flowers. Next came more black flowers. This was a bit tricky since they all had to be hybrids, so I went to a fancy nursery nearby for some retail therapy.Varieties of Black Plants
What I found was actually astonishing. There were the aforementioned calla lilies but many more. I got hollyhock, iris, geranium, pansies, Dahlia, and petunias. But my real prize was black tulip bulbs. There are a few varieties of black tulip. I cannot remember which variety I acquired but once planted they popped up in spring and I was pleasantly surprised. The flower really did appear to be so dark as to be described as black. I loved these tulips. Over time their number increased and by the time I sold that house I had a large crop of the deeply hued blooms.Moving Bulbs
I wish I’d had the foresight to dig up some of the plants and bring them along with me. The only ones I have currently are the black tulips. Because there were so many, I had dug a bunch of bulbs up, intending to transplant them elsewhere in the garden. They went unplanted for 2 years and I had little hope they would be good when I bought this home.
I don’t have a black and white garden anymore. What I do have is a lack of opportunities to purchase plants here in this very rural setting. So when I unpacked the gardening stuff and found the tulip bulbs, I thought, why not? I planted them out front, one of the first things I put into the ground at the new home. I doubted they would come, but waited patiently for a year.
The weather here is much harsher than where I originally grew these black flowers. We freeze very hard and there is hardly any spring weather. Rather we go from frozen to desert conditions. But to my surprise, the tulips bloomed. They have been in the ground nearly 3 years and I have seen the flowers twice now. With a little bit of luck, I will see them again this spring.
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It would be impossible to pick one native plant I love best in my home state of Michigan. As a group, my favorites are definitely the intrepid little flowers that come out in early spring in the woodlands around my home.Why I Love the Woods in Spring
I live in the suburbs, but in an older development that left a lot of wooded areas intact. Walks through these areas are nice any time of year, but in spring, when the air and soil begin to warm, it’s a joy to see the first wildflowers appear.
Summer is hands down my favorite time of year, but there is something special about spring. When the first green appears, then the little flowers in the woods, it’s exciting to start anticipating and getting ready for the summer season.My Favorite Woodland Wildflowers
Of all the native woodland flowers, I do have a few favorites. They’re all lovely, but these are the ones I look for every year with the most anticipation:
There are a few reasons these are my favorite natives. One is that they signal the beginning of spring and the end of winter. Another is that they are simply beautiful flowers. Finally, the ephemeral nature of these beauties makes them even more special.
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