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Upstate Geechie - Spring Color Palette

May in upstate is color display every much as miraculous as our fall foliage. While the colors may not intertwine into a hillside quilt, they are remarkable in their variance and specificity. Like all states, NY has visitors/invasives that have made a home in our biohood. Some were invited, others were not. Many have become seasonal fixtures and add beauty and contrast to our landscapes. Nature has the ability to produce colors that can defy both description and naming. The most talented J. Crew or Sherwin-Williams palette pontificator would struggle to assign accurate nomenclature. It reminds me of a story I heard about taste descriptors (words we use to describe food taste). In the west, the English language has few words to describe the array of food tastes that exist in the world. I believe Lao has the most (quantity) descriptive terms.

What follows are photos I took with my phone of cultivars that struck me as beautiful over the last three to four weeks. They are immigrants or offspring thereof. Some are dangerous interlopers, truly invasive. I will do my best to accurately identify the species. If you catch an error, please contact the editor so that I can learn. Fashion and patterning are two of my other loves. Nature is the GOAT is these realms as well. Some plants go hard for days, others for weeks and then they are gone, onto another life cycle. Frankly one much less striking although I dig greens too. Enjoy the colors and get outside and witness some on your own. No camera will ever fully capture the immediate beauty of nature.

Chaenomeles: A native of SE Asia this cultivar is prized in Europe and North America as an ornamental, grown for its vibrant flowers. Many varieties are spiny with acidic hard fruits.Mine gets gangly and difficult to mow around. It is absolutely striking at peak. The color screams “salmonink” (pink/salmon)


Prunus cerasifera: The purple leaf plum is hybrid developed by Niels Ebbeson Hanson in 1910. In 1993 it won the Royal Horticultural Society award of garden merit. A stylish tree the spring presentation is a charismatic mash up of purples and pinks (the leaves and the blossoms). They can be messy and require cleanup and pruning. The unique contrast of colors suggests the naming “70’s Tuxedo”. This one lives at CCC.


Syringa vulgaris: Ahhh, the lilac, few upstate flowers rival its penetrating aroma. In many ways it dominates May. When I coached my daughter in youth softball, I chose “Lilacs” as our team’s name. This native of Eastern Europe and temperate zone Asia arrived with settlers in the America’s. Some say the estate of Governor Wentworth in New Hampshire was the first colonial locale to feature them. They come in many shades. These grow in my yard. I dub these “purple ivory.”


Hesperis matronalis: The most kick-ass named and dangerous of the group, Dames Rocket is a hardy member of the mustard family often confused with Phlox. A native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia it went rogue as a garden addition and now threatens to exterminate native plants and micro-ecosystems in several USA zone. It releases an intoxicating hot chia aroma in the evenings. It comes in white and various purples. My name is “violetator”.


Berberis vulgaris: Barberry. It is native to Central and Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. Ubiquitous throughout North America it is a favorite landscaping plant with relatively modest taming requirements. Its berries are edible yet highly acidic. They are packed with vitamin C and can be dried and used in various ways. The prickly nature of the plant makes harvesting difficulty. The shrub is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is coveted in parts of the Maghrib and Middle East for this reason. This is one of mine after a severe Covid pruning. The new growth color contrast is fly. Name “psychedelic spring”



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