Corydalis solida

Corydalis ‘Beth Evans’ is a dainty and colorful addition to the spring garden. —Susan Safford

“Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”  —Anonymous

When spring-flowering bulbs are mentioned, it is not usually Corydalis solida that comes to mind, and yet that is what it is. Or, to be more correct, C. solida is a spring-flowering perennial tuber, which makes a winsome addition to rock gardens and the woodland or shade garden.

There are many, many species of corydalis, most of which come from China and Japan. They are in the poppy family, the Papaveraceae; their ferny, blue-green glaucous foliage is reminiscent of other members, such as bleeding heart. Gardeners here may be most familiar with yellow-flowered kinds, Corydalis lutea (now Pseudofumaria lutea), and the shockingly blue-flowered kinds in C. elata and C. flexuosa, such as ‘Blue Panda’ and ‘China Blue.’

  1. solida, and especially ‘Beth Evans’ (pictured), makes a wonderful bright spot in the spring shade garden. A true spring ephemeral, ‘Beth Evans’ appears, blooms, and then gracefully disappears. If the flowers are pollinated, over time there will be a flurry of nearby seedlings differently colored from their mother, although in a complementary range.

In my garden, ‘Beth Evans’ is planted in the company of miniature narcissi, which come into bloom at the same time. The leaf spread of nearby old-fashioned variegated Hosta mediovariegata takes over as the corydalis is dwindling away.

Other cultivars of C. solida are equally good plants for the woodland garden with moist soil, and include ‘George B. Baker,’ a dark rose color; ‘Purple Bird,’ violet purple; and ‘White Knight,’ white, among others. Find them at White Flower Farm, or Brent and Becky’s, or search at for suppliers.

Earth Day flower

As gardens and shrub borders are dazzling with the purple blossoms of ‘PJM’ rhododendrons (and I do mean dazzling, if not blinding), a fellow member of the Ericaceae or heath family, the ultra-demure mayflower (Epigaea repens), is shrinking down onto the ground and hiding its whitish-to-pink, star-shaped, fragrant flowers under leathery leaves.

The mayflower, also known as trailing arbutus, is our Massachusetts state flower, but could also be considered an emblematic Earth Day flower, emerging as it usually does around April 22. The genus name, “Epigaea,” means close to or near (epi) to the earth (Gaea) which is how our little Earth Day flower emblem grows, while “repens” is the suffix, meaning creeping.

The Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club in conjunction with the Vineyard Gazette always used to run a small appeal at this time of year, asking those picking mayflowers to please cut them with scissors, rather than trying to break the thin, tough stems.

The mayflower stems are so wiry that uprooting usually results if one pulls instead of cutting. Over time, destruction of a good portion of the creeping plant regionally was the result. The mayflower became more and more rare in places where it had formerly been common in New England because of this careless practice, until it landed on the endangered list.

In checking different wildflower references, shade, moist acidic, and evergreens are often mentioned as likely habitat, but not typical, in my experience anyway, of Island mayflowers’ chosen habitats. Today mayflowers are often found along the banks of old Island roadsides and tracks where lean, acidic soils prevail, often on south-facing sides. It is more likely to be in the so-called oak/heath woodland, which would also include sheep laurel, huckleberry, blueberry, and checkerberry, as well as the variety of oaks Island woodlands support.

So remember, to “gather ye [mayflowers] as you may” — please cut them with scissors.

Stand up for what you stand on

Is it always like this, that people stop and pick up some trash on Earth Day, and then resume the consuming, digging into, and exploiting of our golden-goose home planet?

Earth Day arose from a concern about how humans live in the landscape, and by extension, on the Earth. Economic power is nothing if the result is trying to survive on a desolate planet: Earth is our only true capital.

Nimble nuisance

A friend reported noticing damage on pear trees that were planted last year. The scaffolding framework of the young trees’ branches was being violently broken, and most of the swelling buds were missing, both leaf and flower. What could it be? Further observation seemed to indicate squirrels were climbing on the trees and harvesting leaf and flower buds, but in the process of balancing out to the branch ends, were breaking them off.

Then I recalled that I too had recently observed a squirrel carefully threading its way out to the very tip of a whippy branch on our mulberry tree, and doing something. I was unable to tell what it was doing, but it was something manual with its little hand-like paws.

I mention this problem not because I have found a solution, but to alert readers about it. At the moment there seem to be limited means to foil such nimble animals: BB gun; complete netting/ caging; or finding and spraying an effective repellent. (Won’t mention squirrel stew — not the season.)

Carbon farming: Keep it in the soil

The Dukes Conservation District, joined by Island Grown Initiative, Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, and Polly Hill Arboretum, hosted Jack Kittredge and Julie Rawson of Many Hands Farm in Barre, who presented a program of soil carbon inclusion and enhancement. Mr. Kittredge wrote in an article on carbon farming in the Natural Farmer, “The primary human activity impacting soils is agriculture, and the soil nutrient most severely depleted in quantity by agriculture has been carbon.” Carbon lost from soils rises into our atmosphere as carbon dioxide.