The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 23, 2003


Looking for wildflowers
Carlisle flower guide out of print, but not forgotten

Wood anemone, lady's slipper, columbine, jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium. These native wildflowers and others are emerging now in the wetlands, swamps, and woods of Carlisle and if you take time to look for them, you might even find some growing in your own back yard.

Norma Japp took time to look at wildflowers when she moved here over 40 years ago. She wrote a guide for new homeowners in town, Watch for Wildflowers, in the late 1960s as a member of the Carlisle Garden Club. "The town started growing and there were houses being put up here, there and everywhere," she said recently. "We wanted to make people aware of what kinds of wildflowers they had on their property."

Norma Japp (File photo from Ellen Huber)
Norma credits two-acre zoning for helping to preserve the remaining wild stands of plants, plants that are often bulldozed to make way for denser housing developments. The guide cautioned new homeowners not to remove too many of the wild plants from their land. "If possible, wait through a full spring to fall cycle before doing too much in your fields or woods. You may find many excellent mats of ground covers or gardens already planted for you...Once the rich, damp woods are cleared, the habitat for most of the woodland flowers vanishes," she wrote.

The twenty-page guide she wrote and illustrated has drawings of fifty different native wildflowers, a few of which are shown here. Japp said she did the drawings along with former Carlisle Garden Club member, Betty Lang. Though it's out of print, a few people have held onto the booklet written to protect the often-overlooked wild plants.

On a May day the perfume of lilacs, lilies-of-the-valley, and spice bush viburnum carries on the spring breeze and Norma is outdoors working in the gardens. After many years her Bedford Road acreage is filled with wild and domestic plants. She cultivates showy trilliums, May apples, sweet woodruff and other wildflowers in garden beds, some in large stands by themselves and some alongside perennial garden plants.

She is a gardener with a deep appreciation for the natural world. Before raising a family, she worked for the Massachusetts Audubon Society as a nature interpreter, bringing wildlife into school classrooms. In the days before the Audubon Ark vehicle that transports wildlife, Japp used to carry hawks on the back seat of her car. She and her husband moved to Carlisle around 1960, living first on Concord Street before moving to their present home. A Bedford native, she jokes of her move to Carlisle, "I didn't get very far, did I?"

Until a few years ago, her garden cart was a familiar sight on the side of Bedford Road offering perennial plants and shrubs for sale. For a dollar or two, daylilies, Jacob's ladder, and other garden delights were for sale. A cash box operated on the honor system. Passers-by added up their purchases and left the money in the box, sometimes with a note, "I owe you 25 cents."

To start a new wildflower garden, Norma offers simple advice: duplicate where the flowers grow naturally. The best place is at the edge of a natural woods where there is some sun and also some shade. Wildflowers do well in a bed prepared at the edge of the woods where the plants can spread freely and naturalize.

If you find a pink lady's slipper, a member of the orchid family and one of the most recognizable spring wildflowers, "The best thing to do is to leave it alone," she says. "They don't transplant well, though they may survive for a few years." She suggests marking the plants so when they go dormant in the summer there will be a marker to show where they grow. "Nature does the best job," she says of propagating the showy plants.


Trillium (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Photo by Midge Eliassen)

A copy of Watch for Wildflowers can be seen at Gleason Public Library.

Wildflower sources:

New England Wildflower Society, 180 Hemenway Road, Framingham, 508-877-7630, offers nursery-propagated wildflowers. Open daily in the spring.

Check local garden centers for nursery-propagated wildflowers. Lexington Gardens, 93 Hancock Avenue, Lexington, 1-781-862-7000.


2003 The Carlisle Mosquito