This week, I am quoting an author whose book I do not yet own: Anna Pavord, author of “Tulip” and “Bulb.” I need to own the latter. In middle age, I have realized that I have a few consistent passions toward specific kinds of plants. One of them is the family of bulbs and corms. I think what I love is the gift-like nature of bulbs: they are like little papery packages, hiding wonderful flowers within. I love the surprise aspect of not knowing exactly when their shoots will suddenly appear; and many of my favorite flowers come from bulbs: narcissus, crocus, amaryllis, lilies, etc. Bulbs work on their own timetables.
“At the heart of the whole business is the feeling that when we garden we abandon a timetable constructed around dentists’ appointments, car services and the possible arrival of trains, to plunge headlong into a completely different timetable, an immense and inexorable one entirely outside our control, ruled by the sun, the moon, the seasons.”
It has been so unseasonably warm here that temperatures have regularly reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit all December. As the New York Times points out, gardens and gardeners are confused: December Heat Tricks Flowers Into Putting On Spring Display. Today’s Saturday Snippet is from Rosemary Verey’s classic, The Garden in Winter.
To teach yourself to ‘see’ your own garden in winter, look first at the trees and shrubs planted for their spring or summer flowers, their handsome leaves, their autumn colours. In their winter guise they will have a different allure. Each has its own winter character, with buds of varying shape, size and texture… The one thing they all have in common is that they are waiting for spring’s warmer days.
This year, those warmer days arrived in December. Blooming in my garden right now are: mahonia, camellias, roses (David Austin’s lovely yellow Teasing Georgia), hellebores, chrysanthemum, winter daphne and Japanese apricot. Dozens of confused narcissus have sent up green shoots. My containers are still blooming with pansies, snapdragons, begonias and oxalis triangularis. The brilliant red twigs of the coral bark Japanese maple, whose lower branches I twined with Christmas fairy lights, shine in today’s sunlight against the dark evergreen leaves of the southern magnolias. It is as if summer and fall never really ended, except for the autumn leaves, but winter and early spring have joined them.
Photo: The New York Times.
I am behind in my Saturday Snippets because I have been able to do actual gardening the last two weekends! We have had unseasonably warm weather and the ground is still quite warm, so I went and stocked up on dozens of marked-down spring bulbs. Mostly narcissus of various kinds, but also some winter aconites, grape hyacinths, and Dutch hyacinths for forcing (those are in the fridge, cooling).
One of my favorite bloggers, The Teddington Gardener, posted this “Gardener’s Prayer” with some gorgeous photos of hellebores and snowdrops, so it is my Saturday Snippet:
O Lord, grant that in some way
it may rain every day,
Say from about midnight until three o’clock
in the morning,
But, You see, it must be gentle and warm
so that it can soak in;
Grant that at the same time it would not rain on
campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavendar, and others which
You in Your infinite wisdom know
are drought-loving plants-
I will write their names on a bit of paper
if you like-
And grant that the sun may shine
the whole day long,
But not everywhere (not, for instance, on the
gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron)
and not too much;
That there may be plenty of dew and little wind,
enough worms, no lice and snails, or mildew,
and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano
may fall from heaven.
Credit: The Teddington Gardener.
And the featured image of the Annunciation is one of the Tiffany stained glass windows in my church, with some of the most beautiful lilies you will ever see.
The slender green shoots of Ipheion uniflorum have popped out between the flagstones at the back of our old garden, visible now that most of the leaves have fallen from trees and shrubs. Unlike most spring bulbs, the starflower sends up its leaves in the fall, where they add an unexpected spot of soft green to the autumn tones of red, orange, yellow and brown. In early spring, they will be covered in small, star-shaped blossoms of light blue that give off a soft, pretty fragrance when left alone. If the leaves are bruised, they smell like garlic. Scott Ogden has this to say, in his wonderfully useful book Garden Bulbs for the South:
After the new year, any brief spell of sunny weather will coax these leafy clumps into bloom. The flowers are a cheerful pale blue and resemble six-pointed stars. Once they begin to appear, the blossoms continue steadily into March.
These lovely blue flowers present a perennial mystery for gardeners who discover them in the grass. They seem to have created consternation for botanists as well. The usual questions are “What are they?” and “Where did they come from?
I’m not fussed about what they are or where they came from. In my garden, what they are is lovely and welcome. Where they came from is random, as they spread so quickly and readily by offsets, seeds and runners. I’m always happy to see their harbingers, the tender green shoots of their leaves!
Photo: Wendy Kremer, finegardening.com.
I am half English and when I was a child, my English relatives often sent me and my siblings classic English storybooks as gifts. So I grew up on Arthur Rackham, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton. J.M. Barrie — and Cicely Mary Barker, author and illustrator of the Flower Fairies series of little books. They helped inspire and sustain my love of flowers and gardening, as I could imagine the fairies while my parents taught me how to plant perennials, weed flowerbeds and pot up bulbs.
Today, I will be planting winter aconite tubers, as well as various narcissus, and ajuga reptans to fill in among the flagstones of a new, small patio and pathway. Today’s Saturday Snippet:
The Winter Aconite Fairy
Deep in the Earth
I woke, I stirred.
I said: “Was that Spring I heard?
For something called!”
“No, no,” they said:
“Go back to sleep. Go back to bed.”
“You’re far too soon;
The world’s too cold
For you, so small.” So I was told.
But how could I
Go back to sleep?
I could not wait; I had to peep!
Up, up, I climbed,
And here am I.
How wide the earth! How great the sky!
O wintry world,
See me, awake!
Spring calls, and comes; ’tis no mistake.
Cicely Mary Barker
Illustration: Cicely Mary Barker (copyright The Estate of Cicely Mary Barker).
I am late with my weekly post, in part because I was traveling and in part because it has taken me a couple of days to think about the recent tragedies in Paris and Beirut, and to consider humbly what can be said in light of these losses. I know Paris well and love it. As I was looking at the map of the terror attacks, I saw that they took place not far from Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the first metropolitan garden cemetery. Pere Lachaise provided a new model for funerary rituals and grieving the dead but also for remembering them, as mourners and strangers would be able to stroll among the graves in a setting of natural beauty.
Another blogger had the same thought, so today’s Snippet is a re-blogging of his lovely post and photos:
Jeffrey Bale’s World of Gardens: Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris.
A wonderful book by veteran gardener and garden writer Ann Lovejoy, whose books on perennials and mixed borders are among my very favorites, Fragrance in Bloom sums up this season very well:
For gardeners, fall is less an ending than the beginning of another great cycle of work and rest and fulfillment. In fall, we plant the bulbs that will illuminate the spring yet unborn. In fall, we dig and divide and recombine our plants into fresh combinations to enjoy next summer. In fall, we commit new plants to the ground, giving trees, shrubs and perennials a chance to make strong root growth before winter. In fall, we can relax and let our plants ripen into maturity before they sleep. Autumn is also glorious in its own right. As the night air cools, leaves catch fire, the tired greens igniting to lava reds, ember oranges, and smoldering copper. As the slanting daylight lengthens, it gilds the garden with a soft haze. Numinous and transcendent, the autumn light turns mess into magic. When we can appreciate that the slumping, seed-spangled demise of summer’s magnificence is truly magnificent in itself, it becomes easier to stop being so concerned about grooming away every browning leaf. Instead, we can relax and simply revel in autumn’s richness.
One of the blogs I follow is Walter Pall’s Bonsai Adventures. Walter Pall is one of the world’s greatest bonsai masters. I particularly admire his work because he works with so many deciduous trees, including my favorites, Japanese maples, but he also works with many European trees, such as European beech.
Today’s Snippet is a reblog of the latest correspondence between Walter Pall and Arthur Jura of the North Carolina Arboretum, home to a magnificent bonsai collection and the annual Carolina Bonsai Expo, where Mr. Pall was recently the featured bonsai artist and lecturer. The letters are a tour de force of bonsai explication.
Source: Dear Arthur, Dear Walter #4
Today’s Saturday Snippet is not a text, it is a gallery of beautiful flower photos by The Teddington Gardener, Martin Ogden: Back together again – explaining a near two-month absence…. . I am so happy to see more of his lovely photographs!
This Saturday Snippet is not from one of my collection of gardening books; it comes from The New York Times and an article called “Our Vanishing Flowers.” Those of us who love flowering plants should pay attention.
Ours is one of the most colorful relationships of history: We need flowers for our very survival, and in turn flowers — the plants that exist as crop cultivars or horticultural cut flowers or potted beauties — rely on us to reproduce and spread. But all is not well in this storied partnership: We who behold or nurture flowers are condemning their wild relatives to extinction at an alarming rate, and the world is quickly becoming a lesser place without them.
The author of this article, Stephen L. Buchmann, is a professor of entomology and evolutionary biology who has written a book called The Reason for Flowers. Sounds like one I will want to add to my collection.
Photo: Retha Meier, for The New York Times.