The redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a native tree to Kentucky and it’s a common flowering tree found in urban landscapes too. Likely you may have one in your own yard!
Bees love the flowers, and did you know the flowers are edible too?
The redbud is in the pea family, which you may recognize a resemblance in the flowers if you’ve seen pea flowers before.
You can eat the flowers outright, put them in baked goods, turn the unopened buds into capers, or make a simple syrup out of the flowers which you can use in drinks.
I love flavored lemonades and they’re quite easy to make. Strawberry lemonade can easily be made with mashed up strawberries blended into the lemonade. I love making lavender lemonade which is easily done by infusing lavender petals into a sugar syrup, which is then used to sweeten the lemonade.
This same simple syrup can also be made with redbud flowers. It adds a subtle floral flavor to the lemonade, which no doubt would make it a hit at a picnic.
‘The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate’ by Peter Wohlleben
This book has been a top seller on many book lists, including the New York Times. It’s wonderful this type of book is that popular! The book presents scientific research and observations by Wohlleben himself of trees and forests.
His observations are from his work spent in German forests, where he spent over 20 years working for the forestry commission. Even though his most of his writing in the book is based on these German forests, the research applies to trees and forests across the world.
Topics of the book include the language of trees, how they communicate, how trees live and work together, how trees affect climates, how they reproduce and grow, their relationships with other living things, how fungi live with trees, and much more.
Two of the biggest observations that stood out to me in this book are how trees communicate, and how forests affect weather patterns on a large (continental) and small (microclimate) scale.
Trees communicate with one another through chemicals released in the air and soil. Fungi plays an important communicator role in the soil, although this is not the only role the fungi plays with the trees. Trees simply aren’t healthy without the right soil fungi.
Trees know what species of other trees are near it. If a tree is of its same species, and especially if it is it’s own child or parent, it will go as far as to feed the neighboring tree sugars to ensure its survival.
What can we take away from this? Increase the fungal network of the soil in your own garden. It’s a good start to stop using lawn chemicals and create mulch rings around your trees. The next step, plant some native plants around the bases of your trees and add organic matter.
About the time I was reading this book, the media began covering the potential of redwood forests along the west coast being opened for logging. In the book, Wohlleben writes how forests along coastlines affect weather patterns inland for many many miles. The forests affect the wind, moisture, and temperature.
I imagine if in North America, we lost those forests along the coastlines, the whole country’s weather patterns would be disrupted, especially since weather and the jet stream moves from west to east.
If you love trees, nature, the environment, or science, you’ll probably be blown away by the facts in this book. It’s an easy book to read, but I would recommend reading one or two chapters at a time (of its 36) to be able to digest the information. If you’re at the right type of cocktail party, the book may be a good conversation starter too.
I get questions all the time on how to get rid of common blue violets (viola sororia) in the lawn. I know they are very pervasive and disturbing in a lawn, but they do have a variety of purposes for wildlife and humans!
So what I’m saying, maybe violets aren’t so bad if we look at how medicinal and edible they are.
The basic steps to making violet jelly:
You will need:
Makes 3 to 4 (8oz) jars or 5 to 6 (4oz) jars
I canned 3- 8oz jars and filled 1/4th of a jar, which I will use now. The jelly that went in the fridge set well. The others seems more liquid in the jar, but I hope once it’s opened and put in the fridge it will gel. It can always be used as a pancake or ice cream syrup.
What’s It Taste Like?
It tastes a little bit like grape actually! It’s just sweet, but I don’t get a floral taste.
I checked out this book at the library on whim, and I’m glad I did! For the past few years I have taught a 6 week community course at the University of Kentucky on ‘Living Landscapes’- which is an ecological approach to gardening. “The Humane Gardener: Nurturing a backyard habitat for wildlife” sums up many of the things I teach into one big real-life picture.
The book, by Nancy Lawson, was published in 2017. It only took me a few short nights to read it.
The book has six chapters and covers topics like native plants, letting nature guide your garden, gardening for pollinators and birds, our relationship with wildlife and how are gardens are a meeting ground, and the life cycle of nature relating to our garden.
Throughout the book are also 6 interviews with ecological gardeners who have turned their property into a ‘living landscape’. It is interesting to see how their garden transformed from its original purchased state. One lady in Florida even found a threatened native lily growing on her property after allowing her garden to become more natural.
There are nice color photos on nearly every set of pages as examples of the topic discussed. In the back of the book is a list of online learning resources and a native plant list, to continue your endeavor on creating an ecological garden.
One really nice point in the book is, “Keeping honeybees to save pollinators or to save bees,” notes Hatfield, “is very similar to keeping chickens to save birds.” There are over 4000 native bee species in North America. Honeybees aren’t native here, they were brought from Europe. Native bees are much much more efficient at pollinating and we really need to focus on efforts to help them.
Native bees are solitary (besides bumblebees, which may live in very small colonies). Native bees don’t live in hives, don’t make honey, and you can’t order a kit to raise them. what they’re good at is pollinating. Only the bumblebee can pollinate a tomato plant so well. The bee buzzes at the frequency of C to release the pollen from the flower, which efficiently pollinates it!
Some are so small you may not even know it’s a bee. They’re gentle and rarely sting unless they’re about to be smushed. 70% nest underground. All those lawn spraying chemicals shortens their life or makes them too ill to reproduce. The other 30% live in cavities in twigs and logs. Without this natural habitat, we need to create our gardens with them in mind.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to western Kentucky to speak about garden design at the Barren County Extension Office. The horticulture agent was able to have the event sponsored by local businesses so the event was free to the public. The master gardeners also put together a table of refreshments and even some spring floral arrangements. About 45 people came to my presentation, even though it was a nice day outside. It has rained or snowed so much the past month, it’s been hard to get outside at all.
Barren County is a little over 2 hours driving southwest from Lexington. You may be more familiar with the area since it is right by Mammoth Cave National Park. After my presentation my mom and I went there to do some spring wildflower hiking.
Even in this part of the state, I could tell the local flora was ahead of Lexington. Here are some wildflowers we saw along the way. Plants located on the south side of a slope were much further ahead than ones at a higher topography or on the shadier, cooler, north facing slope. I was happy to see bees and some butterflies and moths out pollinating.
Some of these plants can be bought at native plant nurseries and are somewhat adaptable to a regular home garden. However, please note, it is not only against the law to dig plants from a natural area- especially federal and state parks, but also very disruptive of the ecology.
Native plants have a hard enough time battling development, pollution, and invasive species as it is. Plants simply can’t run away from danger. We need to leave them so they can reproduce and keep spreading to make a pretty forest we can visit! There are plenty of flowers we can plant in our gardens that are pretty to see. Many of these woodland plants won’t even grow in a garden.