Preview of spring

‘You’ll always get something,’ says an area master gardener, ‘but you might not know what it will be’

DUMMERSTON — “I've been bringing nature inside since I was a kid,” says now-grown-up master gardener Laurie Merrigan. “I don't know that anyone showed me how to do it; I suppose I was just fulfilling the need for some evidence of spring, something green and growing, so I began experimenting with what I could find.”

Merrigan used to comb the woods surrounding Guilford, where she grew up, as she looked for pussy willows or other branches that she could bring indoors.

“Some people are very particular about what they bring inside, but I learned early on that just about anything can be forced. You just have to be adventurous,” she advises.

“A few years back, we moved into this house in Dummerston, out in the back woods. We had purchased our home at a time when it wasn't possible to determine what was growing nearby.

“That first spring, I just went out with my scissors and a sharp knife, brought in the things that were easy to get to, stuck them in some warm water, and waited to see what would pop open,” she says with a laugh.

Merrigan also suggests not to be too particular about the container either.

“I've used sap buckets, pitchers, vases, glasses, whatever you've got. Some people put rocks in the bottom, or marbles for color, but I keep things simpler. Put warm water in the container, and you're done.”

Anything that grows outside can be “forced” to bud inside at this time of year, Merrigan says. Some people prefer the old standards - forsythia, crab apple, branches from fruit trees, pussy willows - while others choose anything they see that is beginning to swell with buds.

“There really isn't any reason to make this complicated,” says Merrigan. ”It's so satisfying and quick.”

She says you can grab an assortment of branches and “know that something will pop open.”

“It's a little like Christmas. You'll always get something, but you might not know what it will be,” Merrigan adds. “Sometimes, it's a fresh spring leaf, sometimes it's a blossom, but something living will appear, and for me, that's always a thrill. ”

If branches are opening too quickly, put them back outside at night or into the refrigerator to slow them down. If you've purchased daffodils or tulips from a florist, do the same to make them last.

“Like all of us, plants move slower in the cold,” she says.

This winter, Merrigan also put some leftover bulbs inside her garage. A few weeks back, she pulled them out and popped them into a small vase and seated them tenderly so that they wouldn't fall into the water below.

“The bulbs had been in the dark and were cold all winter, so I knew they would start growing when I brought them inside,” she said.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, pink hyacinth were gracing her table. The long white roots could be seen through the glass, while the bulb itself had split open and the flower was growing out of it.

“Right now, there is mud, and rutted roads, and there is all this dirty snow on the ground. Winter is old news. We're all itching for green things,” Merrigan says.

“It's such a treat to have a preview of spring sitting inside in the form of a budded branch, or even a single flower until the crocuses wake up. It's so satisfying,” she says.

“And let's face it,” Merrigan says with a chuckle, “At this time of year, we have to take our kicks where we can get them.”

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