Early June Delights and Alerts, plus Columbine Seed Saving

Now that the narcissi are done and the honeysuckle’s over, the back edge of the property is looking – almost – like someone designed it, someone who is fond of white ( no names, please) : Russian olive and white violets are still going strong; curved hedge of old fashioned bridal wreath is full out. Mock oranges are opening and behind it all there’s a frieze of pure white wild cherry blossoms, thanks to our neighbors’ unkempt swamp.

Memorial day has come and gone, but peony-wise, not much is happening : too dry and too cold for too long. Buds are looking promising, though, and in the meantime FINALLY! – seems like it took forever – we have rhubarb…There’s a reason this stuff is called pie plant, but it’s also a great sauce for lamb and duck and rich fish like shad and mackerel; just make the same stewed rhubarb you’d make to eat for breakfast, except don’t put as much sugar in it and put in a TINY pinch of clove and not-so-tiny pinch of salt.

Those Columbines: Select columbines for spreading by marking the prettiest ones, so you – or the friend you ask for the favor – will remember to let them go to seed. (Just wrap a twist tie around the stem; if you go for a discreet stake at the base, you’re likely to miss it when cleaning up.) They cross freely, so there will be some surprises, but if you start with a preferred color it improves your odds. I’ll put a reminder in when it’s time for seed-harvesting.

Don’t forget to prune the lilacs as soon as they finish: there isn’t much of a window before next year’s flowers start forming. Make sure your loppers are well-sharpened, then get rid of weak growth and bring tall, spindly trunks down to strong young branches. Removing spent blossoms saves energy the plant would otherwise spend making seeds, so it’s worth it when they are still small, but after that it doesn’t do much except help things look tidy.

The same is probably true of rhubarb. Everyone I know, including me, pulls out flowering rhubarb stalks while they are still in bud, in order to prolong the season… and it’s true, the stems DO get stringy when the plant blooms. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s mostly coincidence; time and temperature are the main triggers for stringy rhubarb stalks. But what the heck – it only takes a minute ; you feel like you’re doing something useful; and the big stems make gorgeous bouquets for the porch ( bring them into the house at your peril; every one of those tiny flowers drops off when it dies.)

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