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The Frost Changes Everything

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Common Purple Violet

by Lynette Courtney

GREENSBORO BEND – What a difference a single week can make. We were having lovely weather for being outside, but wait a few hours, and a killing frost creeps in. I’d dug and potted all sorts of beautiful plants for the nursery’s opening, this Friday, but when the frost warning came, like many of you, I tried to remember who might be safe and who needed to be brought in.

I guessed right, mostly, but half the brand new leaves on the Ostrich ferns were black the next morning, but much worse, newly-emerging flower buds on native trees and shrubs which birds count on for food, throughout the seasons, had just begun to have their flowers opening for the pollinators, but the frost turned all of the female flowers, at the center of the flowers black. Worst case would be scarce food for birds and wildlife, this coming winter.

I’m sure there have been late frosts, in our area, during the 27 years that I’ve lived here, but that was probably before I became familiar with the reciprocal needs of our native plants and their native pollinators, who can only survive with each others help. When flowers open, it’s for only one thing: that is to have their flowers produce seeds, to carry on the species. At the same time, bees, flies, hummingbirds, moths, ants and wasps, all need energy to fashion homes for their offspring.

Tiny pale-purple Pond Violets

Now, here’s the plan: nectar and pollen are primary foods for many of these creatures. Often, flowers that have stripes, spots, etc., around the flower’s center (throat), are like airport workers, shining lights, so pilots can land safely. This works very well for the pollinators, but there’s a trade-off. The plants, in turn, get exactly what they needed: pollination. The seeds will now ripen into viable seeds and the pollinators can nourish their next generation.

As long as this lovely dance goes on, all involved get what they need to survive and the trade-offs work for all involved. I hope the reader will take a moment to reflect and realize that the balance in nature were working long before upright, two-legged creatures stepped in from another world. They could only see how to deal with this land, as they had always done.

Cut down forests to make fields to grow the limited varieties of seeds they had brought with them, for their families. The new farm animals also had devastating effects from wide-spread grazing, on all the native people, plants and animals that they used for shelter, food, medicine, clothes, rope and winter survival.

Downy Yellow and White Violets

We now have a chance to take another look at how we can help to regain some of the native balance our ancestors destroyed. It would be possible, if people would take interest in learning about ways to help native plants, fruit and nut-bearing shrubs and trees that offer food for the long winters, clean waters for fishing, abundant forests which can offer sustainable protein sources.

Some of the accompanying photos show all kinds of native violets that make lovely additions to lawns. Varieties can cross-pollinate and produce unusual new forms and colors.

There is a man called Doug Talmay, who is an ecologist and came up with a plan called “Homegrown National Park.” It’s simple, if you own a place with gardens, that could host native plants, you too can be included. I’ve got my three-plus acres on the map. The plan has really taken-off and is growing everyday. Wouldn’t it be incredible, if just folks could grow the largest, protected national park, in our nation?

Labrador Violet

I do it because I love doing whatever I can to learn more, spread the word and share what I’ve learned so far. I’ll be here, all summer through fall, on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or set up an appointment on Sundays or Mondays. Also, watch for classes and events, this season. I can be reached at or Just drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you.

[Lynette Courtney, a resident of Greensboro Bend, can be reached at or by calling (802) 533-9836.]

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