“Of all the shade plantings, the woodland garden is the most forgiving and the one dearest to my heart.” ~Sydney Eddison

It’s been a hectic four weeks since my husband and I locked up our San Diego beach condo and relocated to Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home. During that time, I’ve been busy with the usual spring house and garden chores. In addition, I installed a new Memorial Garden honoring my younger sister Ruth and hosted a garden memorial service attended by many siblings and cousins.

Now, on a rainy Saturday, I’m back to writing again. Organizing the Memorial forced me to arrive here earlier than usual (mid-May) and but it rewarded me with the miracle of spring in a northern climate. Some say that with abundant rain and sun, one can literally watch the plants grow! I thought this was an exaggeration but now I’m a believer. When I arrived, tulips were fading fast but ferns were just beginning to sprout. This is no ordinary feat you would observe after planting a packet of seeds. In the woodlands of Polk County Wisconsin, the unfolding of ferns resembles a mass uprising of an ancient plant dynasty. In unison, legions of tightly coiled fronds unfurl and rise through the dampness seeking the sun. They have been doing this for millions of years, before dinosaurs stalked the earth, so they have the routine down pat.

P1110744 Ferns

I sit and watch them march toward the sun, sensing the release of coiled energy. The fiddleheads take their name from the scroll at the end of a violin, and if you watch only one, you can sense the music. But if you’re in a forest of fiddleheads, the entire woodland floor shoots up around you with an explosion of cannons and fireworks. Check out this time lapse video, courtesy Learjet15, to see for yourself. 

Fiddler Ferns, also called Ostrich Ferns because they resemble the tail of a bird, not only bring a base of green to the forest floor; they are edible as well. The tightly-fisted fiddlehead contains anti-oxidants, fatty omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are high in iron and fiber. Several varieties contain toxins that are believed to cause cancer, however, so it’s best to steam for 10-12 minutes or boil for 15 minutes before eating.

I cherish and celebrate the budding flowers of spring, but how I love the ferns as a spiraling harbinger of the unfolding season.

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