Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
This is a very eventful week in many Massachusetts households, with Passover, Easter and other holidays being celebrated. Patriots’ Day is of special significance to Massachusetts, commemorating local militias’ march to Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. As if that were not enough, today is the Fenway Park home opener, and we will see a return of the Boston Marathon Monday. With all these things going on, not to mention taxes being due, it is a wonder if we can find the time to walk around and admire spring flowers in the garden.
April’s full moon, often called the pink moon, occurs on the 16th, so it seems appropriate to include something pink to talk about this week among the flowers blooming around town. While the most familiar Rhododendron species will not bloom until May or June, one of the earliest flowering members of the Rhododendron genus is in full bloom now. Although often called Korean Azalea or Mongolian Azalea (Rhododendron mucronulatum), a botanist would argue that it is in fact a Rhododendron. Azaleas are considered members of the Rhododendron genus anyway, but Azaleas belong to two subgenera, and their flowers usually have five stamens while true Rhododendrons have 10 stamens. Azalea blossoms are somewhat trumpet shaped while Rhododendron blossoms are more bell-shaped. Go ahead and count the stamen numbers and you will find that there are 10 in this blossom. The plant pictured is a cultivated variety of this species known as “Cornell Pink” named after the university in Ithaca, N.Y., and lacking the mauve-purple overtones that the straight species usually has. One of the visible differences between this plant and the popular P.J.M. Rhododendron developed by Weston Nurseries is that the Korean “azalea” blooms before its deciduous leaves develop, while P.J.M. retains its foliage all year round. Depending on weather, some years the Korean “azalea” may flower here before the end of March.
The real reason April’s moon is known as the pink moon is not due to color, at least not directly. Until recent centuries the word pink referred to the flower (Dianthus spp.) with jagged or “pinked” edges, and the common name “pink” was often extended to a somewhat similar spring bloomer in North America we usually call rock phlox (Phlox subulata). In fact, although as a child I never heard of this early spring phlox being referred to as a pink, I now see many plant tags that call it that, possibly to avoid confusion with summer blooming relatives sometimes called border phlox (Phlox paniculata and Phlox carolina). To add to the confusion though, our rock phlox does not really have pinked edges on the petals and is not closely related to the other plants known as “pinks,” which bloom mostly in June in our local climate.
Marianne Kelleher makes sure we enjoy some of the pleasure of Easter regardless of weather with the decorations in her Gilway Street front yard. These beguiling bunnies are a few of several Easter figures that greet passersby on a spring evening. She says she enjoys decorating for every holiday, and I’m sure passers-by are delighted by the festive scenes.
A few streets away in the same neighborhood, Easter eggs are “ripening” on trees. Inside my house in Lynnhurst we cherish a basket of pysanky, or highly detailed dyed eggs passed down by my Polish mother-in-law. The wax resist dye process is an art which dates back to pre-Christian times in Ukraine, but since the 10th century the decorated eggs have been closely associated with Easter. All sorts of bird eggs are associated with spring and rebirth, and in this distinctive traditional art real or wooden eggs are given intricate images of flowers, deer, roosters or abstract patterns in happy colors.
All over Saugus the blooms of spring bulbs are popping up out of the ground to welcome spring, or bursting from buds on shrubs and trees. Several species of cherry, plum and magnolia are flowering now. These cool weather flowers may be fleeting, but as the warm weather progresses they will be quickly replaced by other blossoms of later spring.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.