Curing the winter blahs

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

Meet Peggy Clarke. She is not native to the southeastern piedmont region, but she and her Asian kin — the ornamental flowering apricots (Prunus mume) — don’t appear to invade natural areas, so she is welcome in my yard. In fact, she is more than welcome.

I am hopelessly captivated by the cinnamon-sweet fragrance of her blossoms. The double rose-colored flowers are quite striking as they adorn bare branches in late winter/early spring. But it’s the fragrance that I would bottle if I could figure out how to do it.

You can find many cultivars of P. mume readily available locally and in nursery catalogs, and they all are lovely. But the only one I’ve found with the intoxicating fragrance of cinnamon sugar is Peggy Clarke.

We planted this small tree about fifteen years ago, and it has bloomed as early as December for us, depending on weather patterns. This year, her buds are only now beginning to swell, and I’m hoping that the warmer temperatures promised for the weekend will coax her into showing herself, so that winter breezes can waft her perfume across the landscape.

I’m not the only one eagerly waiting Peggy’s return. The local honeybees can’t get enough of her flowers. If it’s warm enough for Peggy to be open for business, it is warm enough for winter-starved honeybees to zero in on this early food source. The little tree hums with activity on warm winter days.

All that bee activity does produce fruit set, but the small fruits are not supposed to taste good to people (I’ve never tried one). The local squirrels, on the other hand, find them tasty.

The horticulturalists at North Carolina State University have a great Web site full of Fact Sheets about many horticultural plants, including Prunus mume. Read about it here.

This tree isn’t the only fragrant winter-blooming plant that will perfume your piedmont garden. But P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ will likely always be my favorite.

We recently needed to prune our mature tree (we have a younger one too) , even though this isn’t an optimal time for it, because the flower buds are already set. We brought the branches inside and put them in water.  Our warm house quickly persuaded Peggy to perfume our home — a preview of outdoor treats to come.

Twice the aroma therapy for the price of one plant — that’s what I call a sure cure for the winter blahs.

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