After the warm spell in February, it returned to more seasonal weather and even snowed a bit. The snow didn’t last long, and then we were in a long stretch of the awkward time period when it was still cold but not quite winter and not yet spring. I was pretty jealous of all of my Instagram friends’ posts of early-spring blooms, when everything was still completely brown in my yard.

tall stem of blazingstar from last year, brown stem on a brown background

Then one night it rained, and suddenly there was a small patch of pearly everlasting and what I assume to be Canada goldenrods.

a few purplish-green plants and a few light green plants

(In the two weeks since, these have multiplied.)

many skinny green plants and many other stout green plants, much more similar in color this time

I traveled to the backyard and when brushing away the leaf layer, I found spring beauty leaves that were growing unnoticed.

several skinny grasslike leaves, some with bunches of tightly closed buds

And lots and lots of violets, which are taking over the woodland garden — proving once again that just because a flower is native, it doesn’t mean that it’s desired everywhere.

10 clumps of violet leaves growing close together with no other flowers visible

Since I’m still waiting on blooms in my own garden, I headed to Eloise Butler’s garden on April 8 to see some. Things seemed to be a week behind where they were last year. First, hepatica:

six-petal white leaves on skinny stems with no visible leaves

then snow trillium…

seven small trillium flowers and many leaves without flowers

…and skunk cabbage.

three purple skunk cabbages close together

When I got home, when I was still in the car in the driveway, I saw my first butterfly of the season, a red admiral. (But I scared it off before I could get close enough for a photo.) Later that evening, in the woodland garden, I saw one ant, three worms, and unfortunately, two mosquitoes. A full, 70-degree day.

Just three days later, it snowed, showing how fickle spring can be. Of course, it all melted within hours.

pointy iris leaves with water drops at the tips, poking out of wet snow

The plants that were emerging in February seem to be okay now, if not quite normal. They’re growing around last year’s stems, which are still in place. I won’t remove them until it gets a little warmer, just in case insects are still hibernating.

Here’s sedum; I think the smaller, purply leaves are the February ones that have been stunted, while the bigger ones are new. And the middle of this plant seems to be digging itself up.

two big green sedum leaves at the left, with a dozen smaller purplish leaves to the right, roots visible in a hole

The pink turtlehead is fine…

more than a dozen green, tall, skinny stems with purplish leaves standing straight up

and the white one is finally growing after taking awhile to get started, almost as if it were nervous to start growing in case the temperatures plummeted again.

a dozen very skinny two-inch stems with tightly bound leaves, and many more stems that are less than an inch

And the cup plant looks really good.

two dozen plants, each with several unfurling leaves

One night I saw a bat fluttering around in the twilight, swooping back-and-forth and up-and-down in front of my window for about 10 minutes until it got too dark for me to see it anymore. Birds have showed up, too, such as goldfinches and robins.

With all the rain this week and warm temperatures forecast for the weekend, we’re about to see an explosion of plant growth. Looks like hepatica might be the first one to bloom — and I’m thrilled to finally see so many of these buds, since in past years there were only one or two. (Spring beauty is getting close to opening, too.)

nine drooping white nearly-open buds on hairy stems but no leaves

I’ve wanted to create a list of all the plants in my garden for several years, and the time is now. I’m recording them as they appear this season.

I’m still contemplating my new year’s resolutions but before looking forward, I want to take a quick look back. Here’s a short list of what happened in my garden in 2016:


Pasque flower simply didn’t come back, after a couple years of doing well. This was a cultivar, and I bought a native to replace it.

large purple flower near the ground and another beginning to open

Purple prairie clover started fine but was eaten by rabbits.

about a dozen stems chewed off two inches high

I scattered swamp milkweed seeds in the fall of 2015, but nothing sprouted.


Wild columbine thrived in its first year in the yard, after being transplanted late the year before

focus on one pinkish flower with several other buds and flowers blurred in the background

Strawberries not only survived their first winter, they produced several berries. The plants spread far in late summer, so we’re hoping for a real crop next year.

three strawberries on a vine, two white and one bright red

four sets of three strawberry leaves, one just opening, with vine to the left and right

Our first-ever grapes, after years of relatively healthy grapevines! (Though not surprisingly, something ate them before we could.)

three bunches of green grapes

Some kind of super-tall (8-foot) aster.

dozens of small white flowers on a stem that's bent near the ground

Unintentional beauty of onion flowers, which were leftovers from 2015 and continued growing on their own.

a globe of white flowers with green veins

New creatures

More and more insects (and other creatures) are finding a home, or at least dinner, in our garden. These are some of the things spotted for the first time:

mourning cloak

side view of a dark brown butterfly with a line of lighter brown at the edge of the wings

swallowtail caterpillar

large caterpillar climbing up a short stem and eating the top

hairstreak butterfly

gray butterfly on bright orange butterfly weed

summer azure butterfly (I think)

very light purple butterfly upside-down on a clover in the lawn

a similar, but I don’t think the same, butterfly

small purple-ish butterfly in milkweed blossoms

hummingbird moths

yellow-and-black fuzzy moth with its proboscis curled near a bee balm

brown, black, and red fuzzy moth with its proboscis in a bee balm

thick-headed fly

skinny black fly with narrow white stripes, looks a lot like a wasp

clearwing borer moth

skinny black insect with a feathery tail and clear wings on stiff goldenrod

potter wasp

black wasp shoving a green caterpillar into a small mud pot

another kind of wasp (I think)

mostly black insect with a couple yellow stripes flying between bee balm blossoms

some kind of orange dragonfly

dragonfly perched on butterfly weed

swamp milkweed leaf beetles

yellow beetle and red beetle copulating on a milkweed leaf

candy-stripe spider fighting a Japanese beetle (more to come on this encounter)

white spider with a bright pink spot, near a dark beetle

whatever this little orange bug is

bug with an orange body with marks that look like a smiling face, and tiger wings

hibernating wooly bear caterpillar, accidentally uncovered when doing late-season planting

orange-and-brown caterpillar curled into a ball


I always have several blog posts in my head and an even longer list of potential ideas, but it’s hard to get them written. So there were not nearly enough blog posts in 2016, but I posted almost daily during the growing season on Instagram.

My biggest personal success was becoming a master naturalist. I anticipate this will become a bigger and bigger part of my life going forward.

Previous recaps

A month ago, the Twin Cities was under a frost advisory for two nights, and I panicked and picked all of the tomatoes.

purple tomato with a green bottom

There was a very light frost, barely even noticeable, and I learned my lesson to leave the tomatoes on the vine and just cover them until the first hard frost.

blue bowl full of tomatoes of varied sizes, shapes, and colors, mostly green

Except that the next week there was a hard frost advisory, and it still didn’t freeze. It’s 72 degrees on November 5, and I just heard that the Twin Cities has now set a record for the longest growing season ever. Things in my garden just keep on growing.


large broccoli head


one raspberry flower and a dozen green berries

cabbage, which we waited maybe one day too long to harvest and now a critter is eating it

round cabbage from above, with the left half peeled back and chewed

The leaves are starting to turn.

wild geranium

one mostly orange leaf


two sets of three red leaves, standing above a lot of green leaves

joe-pye weed

yellowed leaves that are starting to turn brown

purple giant hyssop

a tall stem of curled, deep purple leaves

bee balm

more than a dozen seed heads above yellow, green, and pink leaves

But some flowers are still budding and blooming.


a bright pink flower with more petals open on the right side

black-eyed susans

one yellow flower, four stems with single buds, and one stem with four buds


bright orange flower with the petals in the very center not unfolded yet

autumn joy sedum

four stems of deep purple flowers


short yellow stalk

turtlehead, covered in dew instead of frost

short stalk with two pink flowers at the top

yellow coneflowers

cluster of nine stems with buds

and more yellow coneflowers growing in an unusual spot: the side of the planter

two small green plants on the side of a gray stucco wall

Spring ephemerals are plants that bloom for a short amount of time and then die back completely.

Are trilliums ephemerals? They bloom at the same time as other ephemerals such as Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and spring beauty. It seems every site on the internet says they are indeed ephemerals.

But I am sure I once read an argument that trilliums are not true ephemerals because they don’t die back right away. And now I can’t find that source.

I have seen trillium leaves linger into early summer, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen trilliums stick around until September – but they did this year. Both the large-flowered trilliums and the Trillium sessile are still visible today.

three large light-green bracts with a little brown around the edges, two mostly-brown sepals and the third mostly green, only the very center of the three petals remaining and brown

two Trillium sessile plants, the left with wet bracts, dried sepals and no visible petals, the right with intact sepals with dried petals