Garden Lifestyle

On the road again: Springtime in the Ozarks

After a long, cold winter, we gardeners across the country welcome spring.

Coming up the drive the other evening at dusk, we were everso fortunate to spy this handsome owl just sittin on the fence post. We were not 10 feet from him and held our position, as did he, turning his head 180 degrees from side to side. And we had eye contact... magic moments. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

After a long, cold winter, we gardeners across the country welcome spring. And what better place to experience the season than in the mountains of Arkansas?… Come along for a little Ozark adventure… 

When I arrived here a few weeks ago, it felt like spring with the daffodils just opening, however, we’ve experienced snow, sleet, ice, rain as well as sunny days since then. Mother Nature reigns and it feels like she is teasing us. “Blackberry Winter” is a colloquial expression in these parts which refers to  a cold spell that comes after the blackberries bloom, hopefully this won’t happen this spring, however, it is a sure sign that winter is truly over.

Last week, I taught a three-day folk school class Herbs Hands-On! at the Ozark Folk Center. I’ve been doing this for about eight years now and usually we have all sorts of spring harbinger plants to harvest-this year plants were either barely emerging or still dormant-I’d say we we’re about a month behind this time last year. We still managed to gather enough herbs between the greenhouse and the kitchen garden to make some tasty recipes. One of my favorite this time of year is Salsa Verde using spring herbs like chickweed, dandelion, field cress, parsley, sorrel, salad burnet, whatever is available. /item/9379/salsa-verde In this recipe use a few handfuls of any of the spring herbs in place of rosemary, thyme, oregano and marjoram.

This past weekend, the Ozark Unit of the Herb Society of America met to work in one of their project gardens, the Folk Kids’ Mountain Garden. It is being renovated, so after weeding and removing dead herbs that didn’t make it through the long, cold winter, we spent the afternoon working on building some miniature railroad tracks by the depot, where we will plant some roadside herbs. The garden is a teaching garden, which tells the story of regional history, as well as has areas for play and various projects with the interpreters at the Ozark Folk Center.

Sunday was a day for adventure. Although I have never been “four-wheelin” and really have had no desire to do it-a friend persuaded us to pack a picnic and go for a ride. Well it was supposed to reach the 60s, however it was pretty darn cold and I was sure glad to have my lined hoodie, scarf and gloves. We rode along dirt back roads, up the mountainsides through coniferous forests and huge rock formations and down mountains through deciduous woods, valleys and fields. We forded rivers splashing right through the water, over low water bridges (just concrete with water flowing over it and no side rails) and over a few real bridges. We drove by homes tucked away in the hills, barns, fields with cattle, horses and donkeys.

We ate our sandwiches in a local park and a neighborhood dog came to check us out and have a visit. We stopped every now and then in a sunny spot to warm up, to gaze at the river, or for scenic overlooks and botanical photo ops. We passed very few vehicles in the four hours that we were out-I could count them on one hand. We arrived back home with rosy cheeks and a healthy glow from backroading in the Ozarks.

I’ve been photographing artemisias and getting ready for Medicinal Herb Fieldtrip and Workshop, which is the first weekend of April. It is a great event-we will be hiking in the hills on Friday near the Devil’s Backbone area-and Saturday is an all-day seminar with a great herbal lunch. The fieldtrip is soldout, however the workshop still has space. Our herbal friend Daniel Gagnon is traveling here from New Mexico to speak on medicinal herbs. Go online for more information at and call to make a reservation.

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