Hit the trail

My spring weekends are rarely spent laboring in the garden, but most often stumbling along rocky trails with my wife in our nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. An hour or two might be spent early one morning roaming the garden to catch up on anything missed during the workweek, but then Barbara and I are off to the mountains. Here, I’ve been inspired to add many plants to the garden.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier) growing on an exposed mountaintop.

As a concession to age, we prefer to hike trails that begin with an uphill and end with gravity pulling us to the bottom, but for weeks in April and May the choice of trails is dictated by the botanical treasures growing on a particular trail. Once we discover favorite plants on a trail, the date is noted and it’s likely we’ll back to explore until the day our weary legs can no longer climb. I expect the trail side plants are not as exciting for Barbara as they are for me, but she doesn’t complain and she’s gotten quite good at identification.

This fading trillium flower is striped, but most turn uniformly to pink and occasionally almost to red. Don’t be fooled, all began white. I watch the transformation in my garden.

There are now abundant trilliums in the garden fading from flower, with many seedlings appearing this spring, but my wife and I anxiously await the weekend in late April when large drifts of trilliums line a local trail. At the trailhead, at nine hundred feet elevation, the white flowered trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) are now fading to pink (above), but twenty-two hundred feet higher the blooms are fresh and pure white.

At nine hundred feet, warmer temperatures result in earlier flowering, and blooms fade earlier than two thousand feet higher in elevation (above and below) where trillium flowers are still white.

While trilliums are what attracts us to this trail, in recent years Barbara and I have focused our attention on the many native orchids growing in local forests. Today, at the start of the trail, we see scattered Showy orchids (Galearis spectabilis, below), one that my wife adores. To my thinking, the Showy orchids do not stand out by comparison to other orchids, in particular compared to a group of lady slippers (Cypripedium) we see at the mountain’s peak that are a few days from flowering.

Flowers of Showy orchids are small, but the color stands out against the leafy background.

We will not be climbing twenty-two hundred feet again in a few days to witness this bloom (below). Instead, we’ll be off to another trail with many times the number of trilliums and a few scattered patches of yellow lady slippers that we’ve visited in recent years.

While evergreen azaleas and the earliest of the deciduous ones are flowering in the garden, fragrant Pinkster azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides, below) are just beginning to flower on the trail. I say fragrant because I can usually smell them despite a poor sense of smell. Today, I couldn’t smell a thing, though Barbara could.

And, it’s not only flowers we enjoy. The edges of trails typically have a bit more sunlight than deeper into the forest, so often foliage and flowers grow more densely where they are most easily seen. Below are a few more of the jewels discovered on this late April trek.

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) will flower in a few weeks, but it is just as ornamental before and after bloom.
Flowering of the bellworts (Uvularia) is just beginning, but its foliage is similar to the false Solomon’s Seal.
The native mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) typically fades in the heat of summer, while Asian mayapples persist through autumn. Still, the mayapple adds a lushness to the native landscape.
The Eastern waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) covers acres of slope at higher elevations. Its patterned leaf reminds me of the Japanese Painted fern.
The striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is native to the Virginia mountains, but never found at lower elevations, a reminder that designations of a plant as native to an area can be deceptive when one is found in completely different conditions, though only forty miles apart .
A contorted pine, exposed at the mountaintop, displays beautiful new growth and developing cones. The simple details in nature can be quite marvelous.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. donpeters43 says:

    As a little kid, I grew up in lower Wisconsin, and loved to walk the fields in spring looking for early flowers. One of my favorites was trilliums. Unfortunately, here in southern NH, I rarely see them. On the other hand, I now see lots of flowers and shrubs that I planted coming into bloom, making spring my favorite time of the year!

    1. Dave says:

      I enjoy seeing some of the woodland flowers in the garden, then seeing them a few weeks later in the wild.

  2. Valerie says:

    Thanks for the photos of trilliums! I just received some more bare root trilliums that I will plant next to the one that sprouted in my yard. Do you fertilize them? My instructions say that once they are established I should fertilize them. I have no experience fertilizing anything in my garden, but maybe I should.

    1. Dave says:

      To my thinking, fertilizing is an unnecessary expense with the exception of plants in containers. My clay soil is high in nutrients, and I allow leaves to decay in place , so this is all plants need. Some sandy soils might need additional organic material or fertilizer, but most soils do not.

      1. Valerie says:

        Thanks very much. I will rely on my soil to give them their needed nutrients. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s