Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A Touch of Civilization

Out in the forest, far from farms and towns, there are old homesteads. Cellar holes, barn foundations, old stone walls, trees that have grown around pieces of metal – all indicators that someone once lived and worked there.

Some of those old homesteads were abandoned 75-80 years ago, some 1oo years before that. Wet, shallow, infertile and acidic soils may have been the impetus for these places to be abandoned. So were changing agricultural practices, the better soils that soldiers found during the Civil War, the agricultural depression following the First Word War and the industrialization that occurred during and after World War II.

Other places weren’t really homesteads but were logging camps, hermit’s homes, ghost towns from sawmill or mining operations, and places people lived for a wide variety of other reasons.

The houses and barns are long gone, as are the towns and logging camps: torn down, collapsed or burned. Remaining are the stonework, metal artifacts and sometimes garden plants. The garden plants are a touch of civilization still remaining long after those who lived there are gone.

Perhaps the most common garden plant found around the old homesteads is myrtle, a groundcover also called periwinkle, which has pale blue flowers in the spring –

Frequently seen near old homesites is a shrub with pale blue spring flowers, the common lilac. Those flowers are very fragrant –

The second most common plant I’ve found growing near old homesteads is another one with fragrant flowers, lily-of-the-valley –

Various varieties of daffodils sometimes survive in the old homesteads’ gardens –

Only once have I found the green helebore, also called lenten rose, growing in the woods. This variety has been grown in gardens since medieval times and blooms in late winter or very early spring –

In the early 1980s, at the site of a long-gone forest fire observer’s cabin in the 107,000-acre Five Ponds Wilderness Area in New York’s Adirondack Mountains our son and I found a white flowered domestic columbine –

Occasionally seen at old homesteads are the white flowers of snowdrops, which is the earliest of the spring-flowering ornamental bulbs –

Speaking of spring flowers, once in a while a spindly forsythia shrub and it’s yellow flowers is found at a spot where someone once lived

In summer the ubiquitous orange daylilly is commonly seen in bloom alongside an old cellar hole –

Hosta also blooms during the summer and can occasionally be found at the old homesites

Even though life was usually pretty hard at the old farms, towns and logging camps, some of those living there, usually the women, sought a touch of beauty and planted flowers and flowering shrubs. And some of those plants still survive all these years later.


  1. Interesting stuff. I've found 3 or 4 old homesteads here, foundation walls and those garden plants mostly. Besides the Lilac and Orange Day Lilies, I've commonly found Silver Poplar trees.

  2. How neat to find these special touches of color, not just green, where once there was human habitation.

  3. I cannot imagine all the work done, and undone like this.

  4. Hi Woody! ☺ I do love that first photo you posted, and what a lovely set of flower photos too, I love the periwinkle!! ☺

  5. Stirred memories of Cascade for me - a stone foundation, lilac (and an apple tree) - present many, many decades later. Thanks for the triggers and the sharp, colorful photos on a gray day. Kim in PA


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