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Beautiful at All Seasons Southern Gardening and Beyond with Elizabeth Lawrence
By ELIZABETH LAWRENCE
Duke University Press Copyright © 2007 Duke University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One Seasonal Flowers
On New Year's Day I always make good garden resolutions. First, I resolve to catch the weeds as they appear, for as John Evelyn warned in the Kalendarium Hortense (1729), "Neglecting it til they are ready to sow themselves, you do but stir and prepare for a more numerous crop of these Garden-Sins." During a mild January, the weeds come up very fast, and unless they are got rid of they crowd out the seedlings of fall-sown or self-sown annuals.
Then I promise myself that I will prune at the proper time; that I will cut back the firethorn before, not after, it flowers; that I will cut some limbs from Magnolia x soulangiana 'Lennei' before it ruins Cotoneaster lacteus; and I make up my mind to cut back the wild grape before it grows into the double-flowering English bird cherry, and to paint the stumps with that stuff that is supposed to kill woody plants. Each summer I let the grape get ahead of me. Then, when it is pulled out of the tree, it breaks the delicate and brittle branches.
This year I mean to start in January to order the things I have had on mylist for several years. One is the Crinum 'Herald' which Mr. Giridlian says is the first to bloom, and the finest he has ever grown. It might be the finest, for it is by far the most expensive. Another plant on my list is cenizo [Leucophyllum frutescens]. Dr. Solomosy sent me the name of a Texas nursery, Flowerland, that grows it in cans so I want to give it another trial. This nursery also has (in gallon cans) Eucalyptus rostrata [E. camaldulensis], which is considered one of the hardiest species. Last March it was killed to the ground in my garden, but came up again in the late spring. I have it on the northern side of the house and I am sure it would do even better with a southern exposure.
Flowerland also lists Tecoma stans, a tropical shrub, called the yellow elder. As it has proved root hardy at the Hodges Gardens in Louisiana, I think it might be given a trial here. When I wrote to the nursery to inquire about it, the manager, Mr. Ishmael, answered that he would be pleased to send it this way if I wished, but added, "We would be guilty of negligence if we failed to tell you that this plant will freeze in your area." I shall tell Mr. Ishmael that he will not be blamed if it does freeze, for at least I shall have had the pleasure of seeing it and growing it for a summer.
Plants whose hardiness is unproved should not go out until April, but I find that time slips up on me if I don't order them at the beginning of the year. It is better to leave the nurseryman to do the remembering, unless the nurseryman is Wyndham Hayward, and then you had better not order until you are ready for the plants. I mean to try to get some rare amaryllis out of him in the spring.
This January, I have added a new resolution to the old promises to get behind my garden sins; the new one is to take time to enjoy my garden. It has been a long time since I sat in it with a book that I didn't read, and never gave a thought to weeds or watering or plants overgrown by other plants. I have always found it hard to reconcile a resolution to do nothing with one to do everything and do it ahead of time, but I used to find it easy to put my sins and negligences out of my mind. This year I am going to try to recover the talent for leaving things undone. I shall remember the "merry credulous days" and remind myself that
in this dourest, sorest Age man's eye has looked upon, Death to fauns and death to fays, Still the dogwood dares to raise- Healthy tree, with trunk and root- Ivory bowls that bear no fruit, (Though I always did wonder what Edna St. Vincent Millay meant by saying that dogwood bears no fruit; what does she think the berries are?) And the starlings and the jays- Birds that cannot even sing- Dare to come again in spring!
January 1, 1961
FLOWERS FOR CHRISTMAS TIME
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long. (Hamlet)
Stories of singing birds and bursting buds on the night of the Nativity scarcely seem miraculous when we have one of our warm winters. As I write this, on the third Sunday in Advent, there is more bloom than usual in my garden and the neighborhood.
The winter flowers are early and the spring flowers way ahead of themselves. In my garden there is more than a sprinkling of tiny flowers on Spirea angustifolia [Sorbaria tomentosa var. angustifolia], on the way home from church I saw the yellow bells of forsythia and, for a while, I was afraid buds of the oriental magnolias were going to burst their fur coats.
Samuel Cooke, in an old English garden book, writes, "When October and November are warm and rainy, January and February are frosty and cold but if October and November be snow and frost, then January and February are open and mild." In general I have found it true that warm weather before Christmas is followed by cold weather afterward and vice versa.
This is the earliest date I have known for Prunus mume and I have kept records for more than twenty years. The few times it has flowered before the New Year, it has come late in December but this year Elizabeth Clarkson called to say that the first flower of the white mume was open, and as she said it, I looked out the window and saw scraps of pink on my mume.
Viburnum fragrans [V. farreri] also bloomed earlier than ever before. Since the fourteenth of November, there have been small, light, corymbs of creamy, fragrant pink-tipped flowers. The flowers are said to smell of heliotrope, and they really do. Next to V. fragrans is Osmanthus fragrans. Both of these went on blooming even when the temperature dropped to eighteen degrees. But the camellias have never been the same since the morning I found ice on the pool. Even the flowers of Camellia 'Berenice Boddy' are yellow in the center. However, the little wine-tinted flowers of Camellia saluenensis are still pretty, though not as large as they were when they came into bloom in mid-November. They are cup-shaped or, perhaps I should say, chalice-shaped, and about the size of California poppies. They are delicately but definitely fragrant. A nice little shrub that came in a gallon can from Mr. Coleman has bloomed well its second season, in spite of the fact that it is in poor dry soil, and in full shade in summer. Mr. Coleman said he didn't see what I wanted with it since the flowers are so small but I think it is going to be one of my favorite evergreens. It comes from southern China where it makes a large shrub to fifteen feet tall.
I have not noticed any flowering quinces about town (but would be glad to hear of any and anything else I have neglected to mention, for I haven't space to tell of all of the season's flowers), but in my garden the variety 'Pink Lady' has been blooming freely for some time, and the flowers are unusually large. Always, at this time of year, they are paler and prettier than they are in spring. I planted this variety because of a promise of winter bloom, but I don't always get it, perhaps because the bush is not in a warm or sunny spot.
Two asters are in bloom, and the frail lilac flowers of the Algerian iris open even on mornings when there is ice on the birdbath. Sternbergia fischeriana, like a highly polished yellow crocus, was battered by the rain; but the first white hoop-petticoat daffodil is still upstanding and more buds are crowding up.
Yesterday I picked a little white violet, Viola striata. From time to time I hear of violas in bloom in December in various parts of the country, even as far north as Woodstock, New York. Last week I had a letter from Alexandria, Virginia, offering me a plant of the sweet violet 'Prince of Wales'. "You say you have no source for it," she wrote, "but I ran across it on the 'one-cent sale' pages of the Spring Hill Nursery's catalogue. I ordered three in April. Of course they did not bloom last spring but they did begin blooming in the fall. I picked four, protected by mulch, between heavy frosts on the sixth of December."
December 27, 1964
FLOWERS GREET THE NEW YEAR
As the New Year comes around I always wonder what flowers will be here to greet it. The winter heath [Erica carnea], really the spring heath as it blooms in March in the mountains of Europe, is sure to produce a few flowers no matter what the weather, and I have hopes for the Chinese witch hazel.
The witch hazel [Hamamelia mollis] has been in bloom for the New Year only once since I have had it, but now, in mid-December, it is full of swollen buds tipped with glints of gold. Last year, Mrs. Booley's Christmas honeysuckle began to bloom in December, and so did her mahonia which is on the south side of the house and always blooming before those in my garden. The fragrance of both of them came over the fence to me whenever the air was warm.
Beverley Nichols, who was one of the first to write about winter flowers, and seldom (if ever) writes a book without a chapter on gardens in winter, tells in Down the Garden Path how he came home one dreary and bitter afternoon in February, just as it was getting dark, thinking that it was really not worthwhile to make his usual tour of the garden, and certainly not to the farthest corner of the orchard to see if the witch hazel had come out. But he thought better of it and went, and there "in the gathering darkness, with the high, strange wind roaring through the great elm branches above me, I saw that the twigs of the witch hazel had broken into golden stars."
Mr. Nichols puts flowers in his detective stories, too. One of my detective-story-reading friends sent me a passage from Murder on Request, in which one of the characters, returning to his garden in Surrey, long after dark on an evening in January, pokes about the dead leaves to see what has happened since he left. "For the home-coming gardener," Mr. Nichols writes, "it is never too dark or too cold to 'make the tour' and nearly half an hour had elapsed before Charlotte could persuade her uncle to put away his torch and come indoors. In the meantime he had discovered signs of pink in the winter heather, several yellow stars of jasmine, some rather forlorn Christmas roses and, greatest triumph of all, a bud of the first iris to pluck, very gently, in order that he might set it in a wine glass on the chimney piece where, in due course, it would open its petals as flamboyantly as an orchid." And, he might have added, would smell as sweet as a bunch of violets. "Do not forget the importance of picking many winter flowers in bud," Mr. Nichols writes in Down the Garden Path. "It is a secret which brings astonishing rewards."
In my garden the paperwhite narcissus bloomed before Christmas, the first flowers I have had for a number of years. I expect the buds that are still coming will be caught before the end of the year. I know there will still be little white hoop-skirt daffodils in January and I think one of the hybrid hellebores, the Lenten roses, will be out by New Year's. The early one is pure white. Two years ago it bloomed in December for the first time in all the years I have had it, and now, in mid-December, the buds are plump and white.
Mr. W. F. Parker has just called to say he had a double-flowered Carolina jessamine [Gelsemium sempervirens 'Pride of Augusta'] in bloom, with more buds to come. He says it has been in bloom almost continuously since spring. The plant came from Hastings and was bought for the typical Gelsemium sempervirens. None of the botanies or plant dictionaries at hand mentions a double form, but I remember having seen it somewhere and finally found it listed in an old Fruitland catalogue.
The Chinese say the pine, the bamboo, and the flowering plum are the three friends of winter. One of my friends, the Prunus mume (called flowering plum but it is really an apricot), will not bloom for the New Year. It was killed by borers. I have two small seedlings, but I am afraid it will be some time before they begin to bloom, though two seedlings of my tree have reached the blooming stage in other gardens.
Louisa Anne Twamley, one of the early Victorian flower painters, wrote a poem about the friends of winter: the crocus, the snowdrop, and robin redbreast. In my garden winter has another friend, the squirrel, and he is spending this one digging up the newly planted tulips and hyacinths. He had already devoured the crocuses. I doubt whether there will be one for the New Year.
January 2, 1966
Barbara Harding asked me why no one knows about the winter daphne, Daphne odora. I thought everyone knew about it, but she says no. When she asks people why they don't plant it, they say they never heard of it. One reason it is not more common in gardens is that it has a name for being difficult. I tried it four times before I managed to get it established. Now it has been in the garden for five years, and I think the reason for this final success is that the plant came in a gallon can. Also, I have learned to leave it alone. It should not be fertilized or pruned or cultivated, and it likes shade and moisture, but must be well drained. Winter daphne is a dwarf shrub and very slow growing. I don't think I have ever seen one much over three feet tall, though it is said to grow to a height of six feet.
Although it is called winter daphne, and blooms all winter at Orton Plantation, and in January at Mrs. Carl Weston's place on the Catawba River, it has never bloomed for me before the first week in February. Last year there was not a flower until the first week in March.
Mine is the variegated form. The slender leaves are tapered at both ends and have wavy cream-colored margins. It is said to be hardier and more floriferous than the type, and certainly couldn't bloom any better. The florets are magenta without and creamy within, and formed in tight little bunches. They pour out what is called the most powerful scent in the plant world, the kind Gertrude Jekyll called "almost intemperate," but no stronger I think than that of the sweet olive or tuberose. It is described as a fruity fragrance. The authors of The Fragrant Year say it is a mixture of orange and coconut. In England it is generally given a favorable situation at the foot of a south- or west-facing wall. It was introduced in 1771 from Japan, but is also native to China.
This is the most un-flowering winter we have had for years. It has not really been cold, for it has not been below eighteen degrees, but we haven't had our usual mild spells. Camellia 'Dawn' keeps on blooming, but I wish it would not. The misshapen flowers are already brown when they come out, and then they get browner. Hanging on for days they are most unsightly.
Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, has been at its best since the first of December. Since we have had so little rain and sleet, none of the flowers have been spoiled and the scent is delicious. Clematis cirrhosa is weatherproof too. It came into bloom early in October, and by mid-January, there were still a few flowers and buds while the whole vine was a mass of silky seed heads. Though it is so little known, it has been in cultivation ever since the sixteenth century when it grew in Gerard's garden in London. He called it traveler's joy of Candia, Candia being a town in Crete, as it is a native of the Mediterranean. The flowers are little greenish bells that hang among beautifully cut leaves that persist all winter, dying away in mid-summer when the vine has a short resting period.
Viburnum fragrans [V. farreri] opened a few flowers just before Christmas, and the autumn cherry made quite a little show, but both are flowerless now.
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