Cornus mas, also known as cornelian cherry, is a small tree, 15 -25 feet tall, native to Europe and western Asia. Its ornamental value is in the flush of showy yellow flowers in early spring, followed by the bright red edible fruit(cherries) later in the season. Some selections have striking leaves of gold or variegated edges. Older trees also display colorful exfoliating bark of gray and brown. This characteristic is better viewed if the trees lower branches are trimmed up from the ground. The fruit can be used to make jams, sauces, and is also enjoyed by a variety of birds. It is deer tolerant and seldom bothered by pests and other maladies. Hardy to zone 4, full sun to part shade is the preferred siting in a variety of soils that do not dry out. Of the many cultivars available, those with all yellow or heavily variegated foliage, are best grown with more shade to avoid scorching. The fruit shows more brilliantly against a lighter colored leaf. A few cultivars that are grown for heavier fruit production are ‘Elegant’, ‘Pioneer’, and ‘Redstone’. We grow and sell Cornus mas here at the nursery. Because of its spring flowering, attractive foliage, and berries in the fall, it’s an another lovely specimen for the landscape.
While rummaging through the boxes I came across a program held at the University Of Rhode Island. My grandfather, Owen, attended the university for agricultural sciences back in the 1900’s (he came from a long line of farmers). As you can see, it was the first annual banquet of the Alpha Tau Alpha fraternity in 1917, which my grandfather apparently belonged to. I’ve posted a picture of the leaflet describing the ‘after the meal’ lectures. I was quite fascinated by the address given by John H. Fernandez on “should corsets be worn in the hayfield”. How does he know, is he wearing one? I researched a little and found that it was possible…Corsets for men were typically made from a lightweight cotton. The corsets laced up the back and often had buckled straps at the side to prevent the abdomen bulging. You can’t be efficient in the hay field if your abdomen is bulging all over the place, no sir, let’s hold that tummy in place! Corsets for men? This I never knew, but I did get to thinking about how convenient it would be if men (and women) were wearing their corsets in the hayfield, how handy if the old baler broke a shear pin and the answer to fixing it was tucked into your girdle. Making do with what you have, you might say….how old-timey and innovative is that?
More snow, more shoveling, more visits from our owl friend. He (the owl) watches us from his favorite perch. He can scan the whole layout from where he sits…the house, the chicken coop ( no doubt that is what he’s most interested in), the greenhouses. He doesn’t fly away when we are out working. He remains still, turning his head ever so slightly, to keep us in view. I’m glad he’s here. I’m o.k. with more snow. The shoveling?…keeps us fit.
First of all, Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina is not a fern at all, but actually, a shrub that is in the bayberry family. The leaves, which are very aromatic, are fernlike in their appearance. An extremely useful and adaptable native, it can grow in a variety of soils in full sun to part shade. Often, due to its spreading and colonizing habit, it used to stabilize slopes or other disturbed sites. Since it fixes its own nitrogen, is drought tolerant, withstands the wind, and can thrive in poor gravelly soils, it is often used in commercial and municipal projects. But it is also very useful in the home landscape. The deep green foliage is an attractive addition to any design that keeps in mind its ability to spread. Once it attains its mature height of 3′-5′, the plants tend to not get any higher, making a hedge that requires very little pruning. In spring the yellowish green flowers are not striking, but very interesting. These are followed later in the year by small edible nutlets held inside a fuzzy casing. The leaves can be used for a tea and many medicinal applications including, but not limited to, astringents, tonics, and the relief of the effects of poison ivy. This is one very tough native that should be considered more often in the residential landscape. We’ll have plenty of Comptonia here at the nursery this spring. If you are looking for an aromatic native with multiple uses, put this plant on the list! It’s a gem!
February is often our coldest month here in the northeast. It’s also when we get our heaviest snowfall. By afternoon, usually having spent a good part of the day outdoors, we’re ready for some tea (and scones!!). I have been rummaging through the pantry pulling out many of the herbs I dried this past summer…. rosehips, lavender, chamomile, and raspberry leaf to name a few. This morning I combined these with some dried lycii berries, hibiscus flowers, and some dried orange peel. We love this combination, and with a little Maine maple syrup, it is purely delicious. Of course with all the lovely health benefits of the plant material, it’s really good for you as well! We offered a tea making class here at the nursery last summer, we’ll surely offer it again this year (we’ll post this on the blog once we set the dates). In addition to blending your own tea to take home, it’s a great opportunity to learn a little about drying herbs, flowers, and berries for winter storage, as well as learning about the medicinal benefits of certain plants. There are days I look into the pantry and feel such comfort from the foods that are either canned, dried, or tinctured. They sit waiting to be called into action…to feed our bellies, to be steeped into teas, or used to combat an oncoming cold. Fruits of our labor (or our wanderings through the meadows and forest), an ongoing task toward self-sufficiency that I am truly grateful for.
This morning while gathering extra bales of hay from the big barn, I couldn’t help but take advantage of the slick snow covering on the field behind the barn. Out came the Flexible Flyer, down came the earflaps on my wool hat, and off I went. We’re getting more snow at the moment and chances are it will cover the good icy sledding snow with a more powdery consistency. Well, I wasn’t going to let good sledding snow go to waste! Halfway down the hill, I passed over a spot that had been pawed bare by the deer. My eye caught what looked like a sharp branch. I hiked back up to investigate….and I found this single spike horn (antler). How lucky! Then!…then!….I came home to find this guy sitting in the tree just outside the sheep barn, no doubt hoping for some rodent activity to satisfy his appetite before the storm really takes hold. All before 10:00 a.m. What a lucky day!
After a morning of outdoor chores, I came in to do some computer work. Mostly looking back over photographs and sending them off to a magazine that will be featuring the nursery this spring ( more on that later!). While scanning through the many, many pictures we’ve taken, I came across this photo; a pot of blooming tea gifted to me last winter. I remember that day. My very dear friend Sid had come over for some knitting and a chat and she brought us the blooming tea to enjoy together. Flowering tea or blooming tea is a small bundle of dried flowers encased in tea leaves and left to dry. After we covered the bundle of dried herbs and flowers with boiling water, we sat mesmerized as it ‘bloomed’ in front of us. Of course, a glass teapot is essential for this type of tea. Magic! Delight! Surprise! And tasty! Thank you, Sid for that lovely day last winter. Sipping tea that blooms on a cold winter’s day ( with my pal, Sid)…it doesn’t get much better than that!
Most afternoons, we venture into the woods. It is the dogs favorite part of the day… and ours too! With the icy conditions along the nursery footpaths and along the road, the deep woods offer better footing at the moment. Traveling ground that keeps us upright is not the only reason we tuck into the forest every day. Aside from the peace and serenity the woods provide, it’s also the track stories we can read along the way that call us into the wild. In our absence, perhaps while we lay fast asleep, many of the wild critters who stay active during Maine’s harsh winter are out prowling or foraging in search of food, and in doing so they have left their travel stories in the snow. As we hike toward Kingdom pond through a mixture of both coniferous and deciduous trees, cross over an old lumber clearing, and arrive at a grove of mature hemlock, the animal activity is laid out before us in a network of foot patterns. Coyote and fox travel with their intentional, business-like gait, leaving well-defined canine tracks behind. Snowshoe hare bound from one thicket to another, their large paddle-like back feet leaving imprints out beyond their front feet. Mice move from stump to stump leaving their slight tail dragging marks. Turkeys have left evidence from their searching for acorns under an oak tree, the snow trampled and flattened, looking as though a square dance had taken place. Deer tip toe across the coyote tracks, carefully heading in the opposite direction, their heart-shaped hoof prints leaving their mark. Of course, the dogs go mad with all the smells and freedom and cover over many of the tracks before we reach them. By the time we arrive at the pond, we have added our own foot travels to the mix. We can see where that lone fox has kept going, his thoughts on distant shores, his determined trail leading out across the ice. Maybe a meal or a warm den awaits him on the other side. I hope he finds both.