Blue Hollow

Lewis and Clark recorded in their journals that when they first saw vast fields of Camassia on the Lolo Trail west of the Cascade Mountains, they mistook it for a lake because of the iridescent blue.

The Indian Hyacinth (Camassia quamash), I believe the one L&C brought back to the east, has a sturdy little flower, a little over a foot tall. I find I prefer the grace of the taller Leichtlin’s camass, (C. leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’) which Van Engelen’s bulb catalog classifies as an heirloom.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Caerulea’

Van Engelen’s lists just under a dozen different Camassia cultivars and several species, but they’re all that ethereal blue. Also called the Wild Hyacinth or Quamash, it naturalizes in moist dappled shade or sun, feeds the bees and coexists with deer. Though they (or the groundhog!) did browse the foliage when it first came up, flower stalks proceeded to develop and all is a cerulean mist these early days of May.

Camassia combines with ferns and golden ragwort (Senecio aureus).

Golden Ragwort

Track down the beautiful 2003 edition of Common to This Country, Botanical Discoveries of Lewis & Clark, by Susan H. Munger, illustrated by Charlotte Staub Thomas, for lovingly detailed maps and renderings of the plants L&C botanized.

Cannot let a Spring posting go by without commenting on the horrors of over-mulching and indeed, I’m beginning to think, mulching in general, especially the thick applications of shredded hardwood that seem to be the established status symbol for the suburban set –  a brand new carpet for outdoors to show you’ve spiffed things up.

When I was a gardener at Monticello many years ago, I learned the ornamental beds lining the flower round-about were not mulched in keeping with Jefferson’s practice and that of the 18th and 19th centuries in general. With regular cultivation or “scratching” of the soil to keep weeds down and seasonal applications of compost and dehydrated chicken manure, the plantings were vigorous. Thick smothering mulch made from ground up trees and bark is a 20th century phenomenon.

Mark of Shame

Mulch volcanoes around trees have long been condemned as a badge of shame marking the ignorant land owner, but I see it everywhere this Spring, smothering crowns of perennials and groundcovers, blocking oxygen from the soil and shedding water like a duck. Weeds can’t penetrate it, but neither can anything else! Much better to use compost or better still, oak or other deciduous leaves. Some people shred or mow them, but dedicated naturalists prefer to leave them whole so as not to destroy the insects that make their home within.

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