You know a good way to get even with somebody up north calling Southerners rednecks? Send them a daffodil picked from your yard on New Year’s Eve and say, “It’s already spring here.” I swear you can hear the scream of anguish 800 miles away.
photo: ‘Lady Clare’ camellia
That’s what great about gardening in the South. Almost every week of every month, you can find something in bloom. Back in November and early December, I thought spring might be late. The temperatures were much colder than usual here in Birmingham — we had a couple of nights it dropped below 20 degrees. I know that 20 degrees in December is considered tanning weather in Minneapolis, but here it just means that the stinking cat won’t go outside.
Well, the cold is over now. The days around Christmas brought us record warmth — up to 75 degrees one afternoon — and surprisingly enough, no tornadoes. Today, it will be about 65 and here’s what I found in bloom already.
1. The first daffodils — Probably ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’. I saw a photo of them on Garden Web blooming in Chicago on April 2! Whew! That’s early!
2. ‘Lady Clare’ camellia — Huge, deep-pink blooms, an old variety, still one of the best. (pictured above)
3. ‘Shishigashira’ sasanqua — A dwarf sasanqua with deep rose blooms.
4. Tea Olive — Tiny, white flowers with an incredibly sweet fragrance; you’ll smell it in bloom before you see it; every town with a paper mill or the Detroit Lions should plant 10,000 of these.
5. Rosemary — We all know about the aromatic foliage; why doesn’t anybody ever mention the flowers? The blue-flowering selections, such as ‘Arp’ and ‘Blue Spires,’ are quite showy in bloom.
6. Japanese apricot (Prunus mume). Aldridge Botanical Gardens here in town has a nice collection out front of white, pink, and red bloomers. Sure, they bloom so early that the blooms get frozen in some winters, but so far they’re looking great.
7. Pansies & violas — Mild weather has really brought out the flowers. If I had to choose between them, I’d always go with violas. As a rule, they’re much more tolerant of both cold and heat. I had some blooming into June last year.
8. Autumn flowering cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’) — I am convinced that whenever this gets planted, 99% of the time people think it’s something else. They’re looking for a spring bloomer, like a weeping, ‘Yoshino,’ or ‘Kwanzan’ cherry, and come home with this by mistake. They’re bummed when it doesn’t bloom much in spring, but spare its life when it’s the only thing blooming in fall and winter.
9. Winter daphne (Daphne odora) — Budded and ready to pop. Possibly the most fragrant flowers of any shrub, but harder to care for than Amy Winehouse.
10. Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) — Related to daphne, with fragrant, pale yellow flowers. Budded and ready to pop. This is one of the easiest of all shrubs to force into early bloom, which is why almost every landscape display at the winter flower shows feature it.
11. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) — Bright yellow flowers on mounding shrub in winter and early spring; many people confuse it with forsythia.
12. Dandelion — Everyone’s favorite wildflower.
Speaking of people who pine for spring, the Grump would like to officially welcome Kathy Kelly to Grumpiana. Kathy graduated from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland the same year as I did (1874), but we never ran into each other. Maybe it was because I had echo-location DNA inserted into my chromosomes so I could avoid colliding with other people, like bats. More likely, though, it was because Kathy was always dissecting things as a Bio student and I get queasy at the sight of buttering toast. Anyway, Kathy has just taken a position at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, where, thanks to a fantastic conservatory, she can have flowers year-round too. The next time I’m in the Bronx to visit my good friend, George Constanza, who works for the Yankees, I’m going to stop in the NYBG and bring Kathy some kudzu. Hey, New York gave us Barbra Streisand and Eliot Spitzer. I’m just getting even.
photos by Steve Bender