Jilly D.

May or May Not: Blooms of Spring

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

20100521GH_281The first sure sign of spring is the Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea. Their heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges grow low to the ground. The five petal purple flowers burst forth on separate stems 

This North American wild flower grows in damp woods, moist meadows and along roadsides. You can find them underfoot almost anywhere outdoors in springtime.

Viola Papilionaceae is the most common of the violets. The Violet family is made up of 22 genera and more than 900 species throughout the world. Many species are cultivated for their attractive flowers; for example, pansies.

Violet leaves are naturally high in Vitamin A and C. Toss them into salads and make a seasonal companion in your bowl with the greens of dandelions. Violet leaves can also be steamed with a splash of vinegar and served sprinkled with toasted almonds.

The violet flowers can also be made into candies and jellies. Violet is the name of a flower, a color, a slight aroma and a distinctive yet delicate taste. When a violet blooms, the first few days its petals are the richest dark purple. If I gather the violet petals for edible creations, I have learned to pick only the newest blossoms. The more intense the color, the more concentrated the flavor.

Taking a stroll along the wooded lane, I can quickly pick more than the two cups necessary for a batch of violet jelly. Violet jelly isn’t purple at all. The color and consistency can best be described by a bygone ladies hair product from the 1960s called “Dippity Do.” The jiggly hot pink jelly tastes so delicate and refined it is best served with shortbread, saltines or plain scones. It’s delicious on hot buttered toast.

Sam tasted my homemade version of violet jelly once.

“Different,” is all he said. I’m so glad he doesn’t really care about it. More for me. More for tea parties with the girls.

Another way to use beautiful violet blossoms is to sugar them and serve them as cake decorations or on frosted sugar cookies. I dip the blossom first in a blend of one tablespoon of water and one egg white. Then I dust it in white sugar before placing them on a cookie sheet and into the freezer for 20 minutes. Once solid, I put them into an air tight container in the freezer until I am ready to use them to decorate sugar cookies or a special birthday cake.

Ever since Diana turned Ia into a violet to hide her from Apollo’s unwanted ardor in Greek mythology, violets symbolize modesty and shyness. Tiny, delicate and bowed in bloom, the violet is a common flower that deserves to be elevated in a forager’s elegant diet.

Violets are prolific spring bloomers. They are nature’s litmus. Violets will turn red in the presence of acid and yellow in the presence of alkali.

As I stroll around the woods and fields of the farm looking for more violets, I discover trout lilies, trillium, Jack-in-the-pulpits and Mayapples. The trout lily looks like a yellow violet. It is also known as the dog-tooth violet. Like the Common Blue Violet, the trout lily likes moist meadows, damp woods and its flower stands alone on its stem. The low to the ground leaves are speckled and shaped like a trout. They pop up through the old dry winter bed of leaves in the deep woods.

When the violets begin to bloom I start looking for Trillium. These white three petal rare wild flowers are exquisitely beautiful in their simplicity. I know exactly where to find them. Down along the lane there is a rocky wet ditch where the trillium bed continues to spread every year. To find them you need to crouch down like a deer and enter the scrub woods along their well worn pathways.

When the trillium blooms it is brilliant white in color. Within several days you will begin to see streaks of pink and red. The trillium was given its named for its religious significance. The Trinity is represented by the three petals but also the “blood” which appears after three days to mark Christ’s death and resurrection.

I have found Jack-in-the-Pulpits waist high. The first time I found such a monster sized religious icon I transplanted it to a spot near our root cellar. Every spring it stands taller and more magnificent in its purple hood. In October the plant displays a large poker with shiny red berries.

In the sugar maple grove, the rich woodland soil nourishes Mayapples that grow more densely every year. The beautiful expansive leaves nearly hide the little white blossom underneath the beach umbrella of green in May. Before the maple trees bud and leaf out, these foot high wildflowers soak up the spring’s direct sun.

492703-R1-20-21AMy bright yellow daffodils brighten up the farm landscape in early May. By the end of the month, Iris and peonies promise to open their buds.

Chives pop right up. Garlic greens get taller than the tulips. I pull all the straw off the strawberry beds the beginning of the month and start weeding and transplanting certain perennial herbs immediately.  Lemon balm is divided and replanted wherever I don’t want the deer, rabbits or other critters to tread. Before the end of May the plants are lush and starting to flower.

Just as my tulips begin to bud I transplant garlic greens around the plants. Tulips have no scent, but their color attracts wild deer that devour them in one swift bite.

Deer do not like the scent of garlic. Spread it widely around new tree saplings or spring blossoms. As soon as a Whitetail steps on garlic they sense an explosion of odor from the plant oil. Deer back right off and bolt away from the area.

By May, the deer, just like the wild birds, have enough food to forage; they don’t have to eat my special treats. Flowers are eye candy for the soul starved by a long winter.

Dutch tulip bulbs remain the best. The Dutch cultivated tulip bulbs in the 1800s and it proved extremely profitable. Tulip bulbs were more valuable than gold for some time; until an economic depression and the value of the bulbs returned to their use value. The Dutch dug up their precious bulbs, cooked and ate them to stay alive during the worst times.

20100521GH_270I am always so hungry for spring I can’t wait to get into the dirt and start planting. But there is so much of winter left to clean away that it’s a very busy time. The willow trees have shed their branches in the weight of winter’s snow and ice storms and the spring winds. Pulling away the dead leaves, weeds and dry mulch to find the soil underneath takes weeks of raking and filling the wheel barrow full of brush.

May is the month of plowing and planting. Sam gets to have most of the fun. The tractor gets tuned up and the old Allis Chalmers chugs under his command. Back and forth across the fields he plows under last year’s mulch and freshly spread manure. He won’t plow if the dirt doesn’t turn over just like cookie dough. Not too wet and muddy; not too dry and hard. It’s not as easy as it sounds. When the time is right to plow, it’s time to plow. Sometimes it’s late April. Usually not until May.

  1. Hey Jill, I added a link to your post on my recent post about the plants in our woods on the west coast. I think my community will enjoy your May plant observations too. http://wp.me/p3i5jo-uM

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