Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hunting for Violets

When I was 2 (my mom used to tell me), I announced that lavender was my favourite colour.
This was in the 60s, long before the pink-and-purple tidal wave of girly paraphernalia had swamped the shores of commercialism. In my violet-starved Southern California youth, there were very few lavender clothes to be had; even our garden sported only a small pop of purple here and there from a few Johnny-Jump-Ups (violas) planted by my rose-preferring mom. On our rare visits to Disneyland I would feast my eyes on the giant beds of bluey-lavendar ageratum, bordered with vivid yellow marigolds, that lay at the entrance of Torrowland. Lavendar and yellow remain a favourite colour combo to this day, thanks to those long-ago landscape designers of the Magic Kingdom.

Eventually I grew old enough to sew my own clothes, and could finally seek out the colour I loved. By then I loved all shades of purple, though lavender continued to hold center stage (even my wedding dress was trimmed with lavender ribbon, and I wore lavender shoes underneath). The purple-and-teal boom of the late 80s brought mixed feelings - it was delightful to have so many plummy-tinted things available, but a little frustrating that what had always been "my" colour had become so common. We humans are a discontented lot.

Now I'm old enough not to care about trends. I like what I like, and if other people happen to be liking it too, great. If not, no problem. It helps that I now live in Wisconsin, which turns all kinds of delightful shades of purple* every spring.

First to come are the violets. They show up just a few days after the dandelions appear (purple and yellow again!) to delight the heart of purple-lovers everywhere for a few precious weeks.

It's violet time right now, and last Sunday I went out on my bike to find some.

*For the purists out there: "violet" is a true colour with a place on the visible spectrum of light, while "purple" is a composite colour made by combining red and blue (thanks, Wikipedia). They are not identical, but they're close enough that many use the collective terms interchangeably, as do I.


It's a great day for a ride: sunny, mild, and as nearly windless as our part of Wisconsin can be. Today I am visiting my favourite wild-violet patches - the roadside spots where in past years they've bloomed most thickly. After months of grey-and-white winter, I'm ready for an orgy of purple.

So is Tallulah:

First unintentional bug photo of the year (bugs are always photo-bombing my wildflower photos):

The wild violets here come in all shades: medium to deep blue violet, rich reddish-purple, delicate lavender, bright white with streaks of violet at their hearts. I love them all.

It's a glorious day. The sun is warm on my back, and it feels great to be tooling around the countryside, stopping for photos whenever I like, peering into the marshes in search of watercress (no luck), and generally poking my nose into spring.

Birches shine white in the sun:

Wild honeysuckle is thinking about blossoming:

A field that has lain uncultivated for years has been unexpectedly plowed:

(What will be planted there? Enquiring minds want to know.)

Hardwood trees are shedding their blossom:

A favourite wild apple tree blushes, entertaining daring thoughts of an early bloom:

Another favourite tree, oak this time:

Iris gets parked against a handy gate...

...while prowl the verge snapping meadow anemone (A. canadensis), another of the earliest wildflowers.

What a treat to be out, both on bike and on foot, in the spring.


Four days later it snowed. The violets in the lawn shivered and hugged themselves, trying to stay warm while melting snowflakes clung to their curled-up petals. This too is spring in Wisconsin.

And the weather has stayed chilly and rainy ever since. This weekend I took only one short ride, to look for wild plum blossom. I think I'll save that for another post.

Are there violets blooming where you are?

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Monday, April 24, 2017

While I Was Coughing

At the end of March I caught the flu. Ten days or so later, I staggered outside on wobbly legs to find that while I'd been indoors coughing and sleeping, leaves had appeared on the lilac bushes. Around the corner, in someone's shady yard, rivers of scilla flowed in impossible blue, and daffodils were beginning to open. Forsythia bushes which had lain low all winter had suddenly burst into yellow flame. It was like the bit in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls asleep in a whirling grey-and-white world and wakes up to glorious Technicolor.

Lovage was sprouting in the kitchen bed, and a small forest of tarragon had appeared in the doorstep planter. The chives were marching out reinforcements, ready to contest the tarragon for garden domination.

And I found a tiny clump of scilla in the bit of wasteland behind the house, in a space normally home to only daylilies, nettles, and burdock. I don't know how the scilla came there, but finding it was like stumbling on hidden treasure.


The week before Easter, some spring storms rolled through, dropping a goodly amount of rain and turning the grass overnight from hesitant green to a vivid, flaming emerald. (Can emeralds flame? I don't know how else to describe such an intensity of greenness.) The first dandelion bloomed a few days later - and when the dandelions come, can violets be far behind? :)


Easter Sunday was so beautifully sunny and warm that I had to take a ride, wobbly legs notwithstanding. (Wait. Is that a pun?)

I saw trees waving delicately-clad branches against the sky:

Fascinating new leaves and catkins (and a rather mysterious conelike object):

Verges glowing green:

A fencepost decorated with a barbed-wire wreath:

And red-twig dogwood caught in the act of slipping into its new spring outfit:

I was hoping for wildflowers, but didn't find any on this ride. Perhaps on the next one....

A belated Happy Easter to you all!

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