Sunday, April 08, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Bradford pear, plum, fence rows of pink and white flowered trees; more places with clumps of daffodils; tulip buds; dandelion, first stickseed whitebristle.

What’s blooming in my yard: Sweet and sour cherries, undamaged part of forsythia, moss phlox, hyacinth, pushkinia; yellow alyssum and lilac have color in their buds.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium.

What’s reviving in the area: Tansy mustard, woolly plantain, fernleaf globemallow up; cottonwoods, apples and blackthorn opening first leaves; black gramma grass has some new blades; Russian olive leaf buds. Some fields and gardens have new furrows, some with standing water earlier in the week. One neighbor is erecting a barrier from railroad ties and bark board scrap after a drunken driver ran down his barbed-wire fence.

What’s reviving in my yard: Buddleia, catmint, Rumanian sage, harebells, sidalcia, snapdragons, garden phlox, ladybells, sweet pea, peony, hartwegia, chocolate flower, artemisia, frikarti aster up; raspberry, barberry and spirea leaves opening; tamarix and Siberian pea shrub leaf buds expanding.

Animal sightings: Bees appeared as soon as peach flowers began to open; bird with robin’s egg blue head and shoulders landed in peach; men, two horses, a pickup and a small herd of cattle were beside the main road one morning.

Weather: Waning moon; moderate winds all week turned cold yesterday, with smatterings of snow.

Weekly update: The Rose family continues to premiere spring.

Apricot flowers are browning; cherries and plums, peaches and pears are blooming; the apples are leafing. Half-opened leaves on hybrid teas near the post office are visible from the road and some red raspberry canes have materialized in my yard.

Even though a man near the orchards occasionally sells his surplus raspberry suckers, I consider my plants a luxury I indulge despite constant failure because there is no other way to eat the fruit. The drupelets ripen for a few weeks and don’t store or ship well. Jams and frozen berries are too sweet, sherbert is fattening. The last time I spent $4.00 for a pint brought in from California, they were bitter.

I first tried growing the white-flowered brambles when I returned to Michigan and bought bundles of bare root Heritage and Latham. I was surprised when only one survived under the eaves of the barn because blackberries (Rubus occidentalis) grew wild when I was a child and farmers sold raspberries from roadside stands. However, that one cane suckered into a colony, and I realized I only needed to find one accommodating partner to foster a briar patch.

After years of failure here with mail order varieties, I bought a potted Willamette in 2004 from the local hardware which I planted in the dripline under the back porch roof. It survived the next year’s grasshoppers, but did little last summer. This year, two suckers are up, one on each side of the tiles that isolate the house from fire fuel and vermin litter.

I don’t know if I can attribute their success to last year’s cool temperatures and water, to the new fence that decreased winds they despise, or the survival instincts of Rubus idaeus idaeus. I’m inclined to favor the last, but I suspect it helps that Oregon State’s cultivar withstands warmer climates than the native Rubus idaeus strigosus derived Latham or Cornell’s Heritage.

Even though a thicket will eventually disappear, canes drop uneaten fruit on the ground every summer where the seed remains viable for 100 years. The hard rind prevents it from germinating, but annual weathering slowly removes that skin and alternating seasons of heat and cold stratify the seed.

In Slovakia, raspberries appear about 30 years after fields are abandoned, the time it takes for seed to germinate. In Michigan, shoots appear whenever forests are cut or burned because the seed has been ready, waiting for sun and nitrogen. They continue to sucker for 10 to 20 years, then die out, or go dormant when they no longer can compete with shade trees.

When I see my plants, my childhood delight in raspberries and my sense of a legendary Michigan woods past return with an awareness that those thorny reddish-brown stems are not simply a sign of grace, but a better sign of the nature’s regenerative powers than all the pretty Easter bulbs I saw for sale yesterday.

Blazková D. and S. Brezina. “Secondary Succession in Abandoned “Poloniny” Meadows, Bukovské vrchy Mts., Eastern Carpathians, Slovakia,” Thaiszia - Journal of Botany 13:159-207:2003.

Natural Food Hub. “Grow Fruit & Nuts in the Home Garden in Warm Temperate Areas,” on internet.

Tirmenstein, D. “Rubus Idaeus,” 1990, part of U. S. Forest Service Fire Effects Information System available on-line.

Photograph: Willamette raspberry sucker, 7 April 2007.

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