Speaking of Nature: Early June is this columnist’s favorite time of year for enjoying a colorful landscape

  • Up close, the four-petaled flowers are beautiful on an individual basis. For The Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • Each of the five symmetrical petals are so intricate in their design that the flowers of the ragged robin look like snowflakes. For The Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • The contrast of color makes a large patch of dames rocket flowers quite breathtaking. For The Recorder/Bill Danielson

  • Bill Danielson

For The Recorder
Sunday, June 18, 2017

The first two weeks of June are perhaps the loveliest weeks of the year. I know that this statement may mean war with some of my readers. Those of you who wish to make arguments for other two-week periods of the year are completely justified in your opinions, and I will happily debate with you via United States mail, e-mail or any other means of electronic communication. Until then, hear me out.

The two weeks of peak foliage around Columbus Day weekend are extraordinarily beautiful from a visual point of view, but for me, they are tinged with a sense of melancholy. We are seeing the beginning of the end and that is always a little sad. The first snowy day of winter can be spectacular, but it fills the plowman (that’s me) with a hint of dread; how many mornings will be spent moving all that snow around?

The first days of spring are usually something of a letdown. March 20 can feel an awful lot like winter, and there is rarely the kind of warm weather that we seek after a long winter. Even the two weeks in the middle of April can feel somewhat disappointing. You know spring has arrived, and you want to get out, but then there’s all that rain. Particularly this year, I have had my fill of rain.

Then there are the first two weeks of June. This is when the plants really transform the landscape. The leaves on the trees are fully open and provide the shaded secrecy that one sometimes finds in the woods. The grass in the lawn looks about as good as it will (peak lawn if you will), and the meadows and roadsides suddenly burst with the colors of wildflowers.

One particularly beautiful flower that can be enjoyed at this time of year belongs to a plant called dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis). A member of the mustard family, dame’s rocket is highly valued for its beautiful and fragrant flowers. Originally from Eurasia, the plant has been cultivated by its North American admirers since the 1600s. Massachusetts has formally prohibited the plant — as a weed or invasive — and there are many resources online for its control.

Taken individually, the flowers are quite beautiful. Each flower has four petals that can vary in color from white to bright fuchsia or pale lavender. I have to confess my preference for the purple ones. The real magic happens when you find a large stand of the plants that are all blooming at the same time. The combination of whites and pinks is really quite striking. And then there’s the flower’s sweet perfume. Particularly strong in the evening hours, there is a legend that the plant’s genus name was taken from the Greek word “hesper,” which means “evening;” the very time when the plant is most fragrant.

Another beautiful flower of early June is the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Another import from Europe, this plant is also potentially invasive in certain parts of the United States. However, the seeds are still easily available through mail order. As with the dame’s rocket, ragged robin can be enjoyed from two perspectives. Up close the flowers are gorgeous, lacy snowflakes in a rich reddish pink. It’s from a distance, however, that I think these plants really shine. Find a field that is full of ragged robin in early June, and you will see a massive swath of color painted across the landscape as if a titanic brush came down from the heavens and swiped pigment across the ground.

Both plants can be found at the side of the road, but dame’s rocket seems to do better in these sorts of conditions. Ragged robin prefers wet soils, which explains its presence in the wet meadow behind my house. The rain has been interminable, but we might finally have some respite. Why not go for a drive, a bike ride or a walk and look for these beautiful, but fleeting, features of our landscape?

Bill Danielson has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Massachusetts State Parks and has participated in many research projects around the eastern United States. He has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 20 years. Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.