I grew up in a rural town in Western Massachusetts, where a large patch of bee balm featured prominently in our garden each summer. One day an elderly couple, complete strangers, stopped their car to ask my father what the fiery red blooms in the garden were.
“It’s bee balm, a perennial. Would you like some?”
He dug up a clump for the pair to take to their summer home at the edge of town.
A few days later, the couple reappeared with a box of children’s books. They were retired teachers, who had noticed my siblings and me playing in the yard.
“We have collected so many books over the years, and since we are retired, we don’t need them. Would your children like some?” they asked my father.
That summer, and for many summers thereafter, the couple brought boxes of books of a variety of genres. Some were almost new; some were gently worn. Each box was a thoughtful gift.
The sight of bee balm might bring thoughts of insects, bright flower petals in a salad, or perhaps herbal tea to most people.
My neighbor, a fellow plant enthusiast, appeared in my garden yesterday with this gorgeous peony bouquet. What an exquisite gift for me and my garden!
During the pandemic, neighbors have been walking by my yard more frequently than in years past. This has offered us all opportunities for friendly chats and shared interests, making the year much more pleasurable.
The easy-to-grow and fragrant lilac was brought from Europe to New England by the early colonists. Today this “Queen of Shrubs” is ubiquitous in Massachusetts.
Better Homes and Gardens notes that:
“Lilacs are known for their hardy nature and long lives—many lilac shrubs live to be more than 100 years old. Because of their life span, they often survive longer than the home of the gardener that planted them. So, if you’re on a country road and see a few seemingly-random lilac bushes, there was most likely a house or farm there in the last century.”
Forsythia and red maple buds appear at the same time in Massachusetts, lending a sorely needed explosion of color to the early Spring landscape.
Squirrels like to frolic among the decorative forsythia branches, but they are particularly attracted to the maples. They “tap” them by making single bites in the bark to get the sap flowing, so they can consume the concentrated “syrup” once some of the water has evaporated. Later, the squirrels enjoy a feast of buds and flowers.