“… For example, snapdragon flowers will only open if stepped on by a bee of just the right weight.”

Honestly, the world is marvelous. Even now. I was just looking at a local resource for 1001 pollinator gardens from the Wing and a Prayer native plant nursery up on the ridge in Cummington. I’ve been wanting to get there for more than a year. Moving got in the way last summer, and I’ve been hoping for a trip this growing season.

But where do I look for seedlings now, in a physically distant world?

Trout lilies bloom in their hundreds on the Taconic Crest Trail.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Trout lilies bloom in their hundreds on the Taconic Crest Trail.

You have to get close to a garden. I love the feeling of earth in the early spring … clearing space for young bulbs, feeling the sun on my shoulders on the first day when it’s mild enough to take off my jacket if I keep moving. This Saturday was a day like that. After a week of raw weather, it was almost warm, and the first daffodils opened on the south side of the house. For the first time this spring, I got my jeans muddy trying to untangle mats of bishop’s weed from the flower bed on the bank outside the kitchen window.

It feels like a good time to think about what’s growing in my yard. And it feels like time to think about what could grow there. Even though it’s new to me.

I haven’t had a garden very long — I’ve only recently lived in places where I could plant more than a few hardy herbs (and water them). It still surprises me when something grows. When I cut a sprig of rosemary and float it in water in a jam jar, it forms roots. When I pick up a few strawberry plants from Wild Oats and dig some holes in my landlord’s garden, they come up with fruit.

The winter I moved back to the Berkshires, an old college friend gave me a box full of seeds from her own garden. It was a brilliant housewarming gift. I would never have thought of starting seeds … but they were hers, and so I tried. The hollyhocks came up and survived long enough for me to plant them. So did the columbine. And the dahlia roots came up as thick as bushes and opened into deep red accordions of flowers.

Since then I’ve been slowly experimenting, a little more each year. And now I have a house and a dooryard, and I’ve been wondering what I can plant here.

I’ve started to realize how many of the plants I know aren’t native here. Last spring I was talking with Dottie ‘Lou’ Kratt, owner of Northeast Native Seeds, for a sidebar in Berkshire Magazine, and she pointed out to me that most native plants naturally seed in the fall and need the winter’s cold to rest — which suggests that most of the plants we replant every year, because they don’t survive the winter, aren’t native here.

That conversation made me wonder about plants that are native here. I’m curious about native foods that I can eat — strawberries and blackberries, hazelnuts … I’ve read about hopniss (ground nut), and it was a staple here for centuries.

And I’m curious about food for birds and butterflies and bees too, and all kinds of pollinators. Wing and a Prayer tells me butterflies like long tubes of flowers to drink from, because they have long tongues, and hummingbirds like flowers with petals that curve back out of their way, so they can reach the nectar to drink.

It turns out Wing and a Prayer is planning to open soon for the spring, and they are not the only place I can turn to. Far from it. In Great Barrington I can look for Farm Girl Farm seedlings through their webshop or check for them at North Plain Farm‘s farm store. I can stop by Ward’s plant nursery … and on my way north I can swing by Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton for compost.

Back home, I can sit at my kitchen counter and order seeds from the Hudson Seed Company. Or I can go exploring … even in these upside down days, food is essential, and people who grow it are open. And some of them will bring part of my garden to me, if I ask.

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North Adams Online Farmers Market

At the North Adams Farmers Market, locals offer seasonal produce and fruits, eggs and cheese, honey and more — and now they’re online, and they deliver.

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