Posts Tagged Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

Fast forwarding into Spring

Red Maple flowers brighten the canopy.

Red Maple flowers brighten the canopy.

OK, there’s still a pile of snow in my back yard. Really. It was a huge pile from cleaning our back deck, and it’s still not quite gone. But don’t tell that to the Spring Peepers or the Red-shouldered Hawks nesting on the floodplain, or the Red Maples throughout my yard. They all seem to be persuaded that Spring has arrived. It hasn’t, of course — not quite yet. But it seems as if the plants and animals in my yard have been biding their time, waiting for the frigid air to exit so they could explode into Spring Mode.

Most of the early-flowering plants had impressed me with their patience, not showing a hint of bud break as the arctic air ruled my region. The flowering apricots were hit pretty hard, of course. Many just-opening buds were browned by freezing temperatures. But the unopened ones still tightly shut have now opened with enthusiasm. The air around my front yard is fragrant with their perfume. I am delighted, and so are the honeybees finally making their appearance during recent warm afternoons.

The Cornus mas trees burst into spectacular bloom, yellow spotlights in a mostly brown landscape.

 

Cornus mas 'Spring Glow'

Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’

The Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ had been exhibiting unprecedented patience with the weather, but recent 70-degree days have caused its flowers to begin opening.

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

The snow drops survived being buried by six inches of snow and ice and are in full bloom.

Resilient Snow Drops

Resilient Snow Drops

And the Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’ is scenting the breezes with the fragrance of gorgeous purple flowers.

Amethyst lives up to its name.

Amethyst lives up to its name.

The warmer temperatures have all the early-nesting birds displaying territorial behavior as they pair off and claim nesting sites. Woodpecker drumming punctuates the air from dawn to dusk.

A Downy Woodpecker male refuels between bouts of territorial drumming.

A Downy Woodpecker male refuels between bouts of territorial drumming.

And the salamanders somehow managed to complete their late winter mating activities despite the cold and ice, as evidenced by this glob of eggs in our tiny pond.

Those black dots are developing embryonic salamanders.

Those black dots are developing embryonic salamanders.

Of course, my gardening fingers got itchy the minute the weather warmed and the frogs began chorusing 24/7. I got out the seeds that I’d ordered and contemplated my strategy.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Because I can’t expect the spring-like temperatures to last just yet (They’re on their way out as I type this), I can only start as many containers as will fit at one time in the germination chamber in my greenhouse. I settled on starting a few of all of the greens I’m trying this year (4 lettuces, 2 spinaches, and an arugula) plus the four flower varieties that require the greatest amount of time to reach blooming size. I sowed the seeds last Thursday, and here’s what they looked like this morning:

Seedlings in the germination chamber

Seedlings in the germination chamber

The nonpelleted lettuce seeds are well up. The coated lettuce seeds are still meditating on the merits of germination. One Tyee spinach has emerged; spinach is always slower than lettuce. All the arugulas are up and growing. And the dahlia seeds I sowed have begun to emerge — the first of the flowers, and a bit of an early surprise.

Now that I’ve got seeds going, it was time during our first warm weekend in forever to return to the vegetable garden and begin to prepare the early spring garden beds. I’ve got one weeded and ready to go for the greens. I’ll do more as weather and my aging joints permit.

Greeting me with enthusiasm were the chives I grew from seed two years ago. I was a bit worried that our prolonged freezing winter temperatures might have killed them. I worried for naught. These beautiful, delicious herbs are well on their way to growing tall enough to once again season salads, eggs, and whatever else can use a light taste of oniony goodness.

Chives showing they can handle Winter's worst.

Chives showing they can handle Winter’s worst.

This week’s return to winter temperatures will be harder on me than the plants and animals, I imagine. It felt so wonderful to be back in the dirt, pulling weeds, cleaning up old flower stalks, discovering sudden flowers tucked into various parts of the yard.

On the other hand, my creaky joints could use a day or two — OK, maybe three or four — to recover from my pent-up gardening enthusiasm.  Perhaps I’ll even feel a bit nostalgic toward this latest round of wintry temperatures. Because now I’m sure — Spring really is almost here!

 

 

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Blooming Today

A driveway dandelion

A driveway dandelion

One of the advantages of living in the Piedmont region of NC — most years, at least — is that it is possible to have blooming plants in your landscape every month of the year. To do it, you have to sneak in some well-behaved non-native beauties, but I think it’s worth it for year-round blooms.

Granted, most gardeners aren’t too fond of that little weed above. But I’ve always liked dandelions. These non-native naturalized weeds were brought to North America by early colonists. It was considered an essential medicinal plant, and is still consumed in tonics, wines, and salads by many people. In fact, you can find horticulturally improved dandelion seeds in the greens section of many seed catalogs.

In my yard, the dandelions seem to prefer our gravel driveway. I know most folks would eradicate them, but I love their cheerful yellow faces on gloomy winter days. And if it’s warm enough for the honeybees to fly, you’ll find them swarming every yellow lion they see.

Most of the flowers blooming today are non-native trees and shrubs, all but one of which I added to our landscape. I apologize for the less-than-stellar photos. My camera objected to the limited light offered by today’s mostly cloudy skies.

Pink Prunus mume

Pink Prunus mume

As has been the case in recent years, the pink-flowering ornamental apricot (Prunus mume) variety has begun to bloom before Peggy Clarke. For better pictures of this variety, try here.

January Jasmine

January Jasmine

Right on schedule, the January Jasmine began blooming last week. Judging by the number of still-unopened flower buds, it should be brightening the landscape through January.

The January Jasmine usually blooms several months before forsythias start, but not this year. Our November was deeply cold, but our December was visited by several very warm bouts of weather. I think this may have prompted the forsythia thicket that grows along my road front to open a few flowers ahead of schedule.

A few precocious forsythia flowers

A few precocious forsythia flowers

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clark’ isn’t quite open yet, but many of the buds on both my trees are showing hints of rose pink.

Peggy Clark about to burst into gorgeousness

Peggy Clark about to burst into gorgeousness

And finally, one named variety of a native tree species that I recently added to my landscape is just beginning to bloom. Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’ has partially opened a set of flower buds closest to the ground, where I suspect temperatures are just slightly warmer. I added this variety of witch hazel specifically for its winter blooms. The strappy purple flowers should be dangling in clusters from all the branches very soon.

The ground was too muddy to kneel down for a fragrance check.

The ground was too muddy to kneel down for a fragrance check.

One other native currently has two sets of flower buds that may manage to open before the next round of deeply cold weather. The coral honeysuckle vine growing on the trellis along my front walk, though mostly devoid of leaves, is sporting crimson flower buds.

Such floral enthusiasm is welcome in my mostly drab winter landscape. Every bloom reminds me of life’s persistent resilience, promising Spring’s imminent return.

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Blooming Today

Nothing screams "Spring!" like sunny crocuses.

Nothing screams “Spring!” like sunny crocuses.

After returning home from errands today, I noticed quite a few flowers blooming among my five acres of green chaos. I thought of all the folks buried under feet of snow, and decided to offer them some hopeful signs of spring. It was approaching noon when I shot these, so apologies in advance for the less-than-stellar quality of some these pictures.

Long ago — over 20 years — I planted a number of traditional spring-flowering bulbs here and there in the yard. I haven’t done anything right by them since. I haven’t divided them, fed them, mulched them (on purpose — some get leaf mulch because they’re under trees), or given them any supplemental water. Despite total neglect, they brighten our late winter/early spring landscape every year.

The daffodils have mostly spread in place, making ever-larger clumps. However, the crocuses travel. I don’t know if birds, insects, or rodents are moving the seeds or corms, but somehow, I now find blooming crocuses in unexpected places. Take, for example, those bright yellow beauties in the top photo. They just appeared beside my pink flowering apricot a few years back, as if to keep it company. That tree has finished blooming, but the location continues its spring show, thanks to these sunny crocuses.

Another volunteer crocus is blooming in deep shade beneath the loropetalums. Every year, I mean to relocate it, but, of course, I forget it when the leaves disappear.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

Some crocuses are still blooming where I planted them — more or less. I love the subtle striping on these paler lilac beauties.

Subtle and lovely.

Subtle and lovely.

I almost overlooked the blooming dwarf crested iris I planted some years back. These diminutive specimens are native to Piedmont floodplains, but horticulturalists have created a number of cultivars. I have long forgotten the name of this variety that continues to thrive among overgrown Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

I wrote some time ago about all the volunteer wildflowers — many non-native originally — that have naturalized and taken over much of my “lawn.” Blooming vigorously right now is this little Speedwell. I think it’s Veronica persica, but don’t hold me to that. This clump is growing in my gravel driveway with the rest of the weeds.

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

Both of my Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ specimens are still blooming. Peggy Junior is nearly done; she was more severely impacted by a recent bout of sub-freezing weather. Peggy Senior is protected from north winds by our garage. Her branch tops are still filled with fragrant rosy flowers; abundant honeybees enjoy this resource every sunny day now.

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

As I mentioned previously, this is the first year that my non-native Parrotia persica has bloomed abundantly. It’s still doing so, but most of the flowers in this picture are spent. The brighter pops of magenta here and there are the currently blooming flowers.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

The daffodils on the floodplain open first, because the area is a tad warmer than the hilltops. Ice Follies is always the first daffodil to defiantly declare spring’s arrival — sometimes in snow!

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

The snow drops I showed you in the previous post are now fully open.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

About 8, maybe 10 years ago, I planted a hybrid Hellebore. This clump of Lenten Roses grows more enormous every year, and, no, I haven’t gotten around to dividing it. As is usually the case, its flowers begin opening well before the onset of Lent most years.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Inside the deer fence on the north side of my yard, two recently planted specimens are showing their late winter flowers right on schedule. The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) from last year is completely covered in bright yellow flowers. The new plant we added this year is blooming some, so I’m hoping we’ll get at least a couple of fruits, now that I’ve provided a source for cross pollination.

The small flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow' are difficult to capture with my little camera.

The small flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ are difficult to capture with my little camera.

My hybrid witchhazel, Aurora, is just starting to show off its strappy yellow-and-orange petals. It should be more impressive after a few more years of growth.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

Up front beneath the shelter of mature loblolly pines, Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ is about to explode into snow-white star bursts of potently fragrant glory — assuming no freezes brown petals prematurely.

Fingers crossed that cold won't damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star.'

Fingers crossed that cold won’t damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’

I can’t close before showing you a couple of native trees now in glorious full bloom throughout my yard. The Red Maples are heating up the forest canopy with their usual crimson display.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring's imminent return.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring’s imminent return.

Some feet below in the subcanopy, American Hazelnut trees are ornamented by numerous dangling male catkins. Every breeze makes them dance, releasing pollen onto the tiny female flowers scattered among them. These native shrubs/small trees disappear into the landscape when everything leafs out. But right now, they are quite conspicuous. As I wandered around my yard today, I discovered a large specimen growing in my backyard that I had never noticed before.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Then as I walked the creek line, I realized that at least a half dozen more specimens were blooming on my neighbor’s land across the creek. I spotted a very large tree over there so covered in catkins that I wondered how I’d never seen it before.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

One final enthusiastic bloomer will close today’s post. This rosemary has been growing against my house for a number of years. I always intend to prune the branches away from the siding when the plant stops blooming, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t really ever stop blooming. I certainly can’t bear to cut it now, when every branch is covered in delicate blue flowers beloved by hungry foraging honeybees. I’ll try to remember to do this in summer, when bloom enthusiasm decreases, and the pollinators have myriad other options.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

All of these early flowers are signaling me that it’s time to start some spring vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. When the weather moderates a bit, that will be my next task. Happy February, ya’ll.

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December Flowers

Flowering Apricot perfumes winter breezes.

A flowering apricot perfumes winter breezes.

One of the many advantages of gardening in the southeastern Piedmont region of the United States is the relatively mild climate. We get our share of mornings in the teens and twenties in winter to be sure, but the soil rarely freezes, and certainly not for long. By choosing the right plant for the right spot, gardeners in my region really can have blooms in their yards every month of the year.

Both of my just-beginning-to-bloom plants are not native to my region. These ornamentals come from Asia, but neither has ever demonstrated any invasive tendencies. I confess I’ve forgotten the cultivar name of the flowering apricot (Prunus mume) in the top photo. Despite benign neglect on my part, it has thrived for over a decade beneath a canopy of mature loblolly pines. Its fragrance is pleasantly sweet, without the undertones of cinnamon that characterize my other P. mume (Peggy Clarke).

The show looks likely to linger quite a while.

The show looks likely to linger quite a while.

This small tree is sited near my driveway, where I must pass it to retrieve my mail. It began blooming two weeks ago, and I’ve been making a point of stopping on my way up and back from the mailbox to deeply inhale the scent of these delicate-looking flowers. By the number of buds still present, I predict I have at least a month more of flowers from this tree.

January Jasmine beginning to bloom a few weeks early.

January Jasmine beginning to bloom a few weeks early.

Also just starting to bloom: January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). I first fell in love with this sprawling yellow-flowering low shrub when I saw it draped artfully over a rock wall at a local college campus.  The stems are evergreen, but they must not be tasty, because my neighborhood deer have always ignored my specimen despite easy access.

Some folks mistake this shrub in bloom for our ubiquitous forsythias, because the arching branch growth pattern is similar, and the flowers — from a distance — resemble this more common ornamental. But no forsythia I know blooms in December or January, and most years, not even late February. If you live in the Piedmont and see a yellow-blooming shrub with arching branches this time of year, odds are it is January Jasmine.

This shrub will be covered in sunny flowers in another week -- if ice stays away.

This shrub will be covered in sunny flowers in another week — if ice stays away.

January Jasmine needs room to sprawl. Rock walls make excellent supports and also provide a warmer microclimate as the rocks hold on to the heat from weak winter sunshine. I had no convenient rock wall, so I let my shrub form a natural mound that had widened over the twenty years since I planted it. Last year, Wonder Spouse and I severely pruned it back to prevent it from crowding out the daffodils planted near it. This indestructible plant responded by blooming more vigorously than it has in recent years. It will peak in another week or so, as we enter its namesake month. The bright yellow flowers offer no scent, but the flowering apricots more than compensate for that in my yard.

Coming attractions...

Coming attractions…

Last but never least, my other flowering apricot cultivar, P. mume ‘Peggy ‘Clarke,’ will be bursting into rosy-petaled, cinnamon-scented glory any minute now. It always opens a week or two after the pink one, even though both of my Peggy’s are sited in warmer microclimates. I know they are worth the wait, and you do too, if you’ve read my earlier entries here and here.

I read a disheartening article today about the latest gardening trends noted by the horticulture industry in the United States. According to their research, younger generations confine their gardening efforts to a few pots on their patios, having no interest in doing anything more than “mowing and blowing” the rest of their yards.

I hope this isn’t really true. You can’t grow flowering apricots or January Jasmine in pots on your patio. But I promise you, the winter flowers they give you in exchange for a few hours a year of work are worth every drop of sweat and sore muscle accrued on their behalf.

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A Cultivar Conundrum

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior)

I got myself in trouble with a reader a few years back when I wrote about Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ in an article for a local newspaper about late winter/early spring bloomers. I based the description in my article on my personal experience with the cultivar — a tree currently producing the gorgeous flowers in the above photo. I wrote about how much I love the fragrance of Peggy’s flowers in an earlier blog entry here.

I happen to think the color of Peggy’s flowers is quite lovely. Most of the P. mume cultivars I see have much more pastel-colored flowers. My Peggy’s flowers are a rich, deep rosy pink — a real eye-catcher in the winter landscape.

But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the fragrance of Peggy’s flowers that completely captivates me. Instead of the lightly sweet fragrance characteristic of most flowering apricot cultivars, my Peggy’s flowers smell strongly of sweet cinnamon. As I’ve written before, if I could figure out how to preserve and bottle that fragrance, I would be delighted beyond words.

And that’s how I got in trouble with that reader I mentioned. My enthusiastic prose describing my Peggy’s many wonderful attributes persuaded her to go out and buy the same cultivar to plant in her yard.  When her young tree bloomed, I heard from her. The nursery she bought her specimen from insisted that it was indeed P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke,’ but her Peggy’s flowers were not the same color as my Peggy’s flowers — and worse, neither was the fragrance.  Not a hint of a cinnamon undertone wafted from her Peggy’s flowers. She wrote, demanding an explanation from me. I didn’t have one, so I conducted an experiment, of sorts.

Blooming branches of Peggy Senior

I bought three different P. mume cultivars when they first became available about 18 years ago from a local nurseryman who specializes in choice plants from Asia. A double-flowered white bloomer didn’t last more than a couple of years. Its fragrance was nice, but the tree didn’t bowl me over, and it clearly didn’t appreciate the site where I planted it. I do not remember its cultivar name.

The single-flowered pastel pink cultivar that I showed you here is still with us, blooming reliably every year, and emitting a light, sweet fragrance that is pleasant, but often so faint that I must stick my nose right in a flower to get a good whiff of it (note — check for honey bees before trying this maneuver).

The third cultivar I bought was P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke.’ I never forgot her name because she is such an exquisitely memorable tree when her flowers perfume the late winter air of my landscape. No kidding, I stop by this tree every day — rain or shine — when she’s blooming, for a bit of aromatherapy, inhaling the cinnamon goodness of her flowers. Peggy’s fragrance never fails to brighten my mood, no matter how dreary the day.

When my reader accosted me regarding her disappointment in buying a paler pink Peggy Clarke with no cinnamon note to its fragrance, I decided to buy another Peggy Clarke. I wondered if perhaps over the course of almost two decades that this cultivar had somehow changed. I think perhaps it has.

My original source for flowering apricots no longer sold Peggy Clarke, so I opted to buy from another source — a mail-order firm that had a good reputation. The tree that arrived was healthy, well-shaped, and certainly looked like a P. mume. Peggy Junior, as I call her, bloomed sparsely for us the second year, but it was enough to confirm what my reader had found. Peggy Junior was a pale imitation of Peggy Senior; her flowers were similarly shaped, but a much lighter shade — more of a carnation pink than a deep rose, as you can see in this close-up of Peggy Junior’s blooms this year:

Peggy Junior’s paler pink flowers

She’s pretty, I’ll grant you, but if you scroll to the top photo of Peggy Senior, you can’t miss the difference in color. Peggy Junior’s fragrance is also a disappointment. She is sweet, but there is no cinnamon magic in her perfume. She smells like my pale pink single-flowered cultivar — nice, but not intoxicating.

Peggy Junior’s flowering branches don’t have the same visual impact in the landscape. The paler color of her flowers tends to disappear on gray winter days. Here’s a shot of her blooming branches so you can compare it to the previous one of Peggy Senior’s branches:

Peggy Junior’s paler pink flowers lack the pizzazz of Peggy Senior’s flowers

I spent some time trying to find a reason for this significant difference in what is supposed to be the same cultivar. I can’t find a reference anywhere that discusses variation in color and fragrance within the same cultivar of P. mume. Thus, I can only guess at why my Peggy Senior dominates my winter landscape with cinnamon scent and rosy color while my Peggy Junior (four years in our yard now) does not.

Guess One: Through an incredible stroke of good fortune, I got a unique specimen unlike all the other Peggy Clarke’s known to the horticulture industry.

Guess Two: As the popularity of flowering apricots among homeowners exploded, the horticulture industry cut corners to generate sufficient stock to keep up with demand. In so doing, cultivar characteristics were compromised.

I have no proof to back either hypothesis. But I am grateful that my obsession with extraordinary plants led me to acquire my original Peggy Clarke when she first appeared in the trade. Be assured that if I decide my landscape needs another Peggy Clarke, I’ll be rooting cuttings from Peggy Senior to ensure I retain this captivating cultivar that perfumes and brightens my winters.

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