Posts Tagged Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’
I am a self-described crazy old plant lady. I am not ashamed of it. I’m not proud of it. It is simply who I am.
My connection to the Green World began when I was very small. That world has been my through-line, the ever-present song in my heart and story in my head that prevented me from tumbling down the dark well of despair more times than I can count or remember.
I am grateful beyond words for the privilege of being able to live on the same piece of land for over 30 years. This is my forever happy place. Years ago when I worked a desk job in an airless office building, I stayed sane by mentally walking around my yard, admiring a current bloomer, or reminding myself that the tomatoes would need picking when I got home. Every bit of effort I have expended on my land has been returned in beauty and story a million-fold.
I start most week days standing outside after Wonder Spouse drives off to his airless office. I listen and smell and watch for the current stories unfolding around me as an ever-increasing parade of vehicles zooms down our once-quiet country road. That traffic noise today was not enough to prevent me from hearing frogs chorusing in the adjacent wetland. Spring peeper songs have grown loud of late, thanks to absurdly warm nighttime and daytime temperatures. A small flock of cedar waxwings, their distinctive whistling calls revealing their presence in a large southern magnolia, flew off when I greeted them; their tight flock formations always remind me of schooling fish.
As I stood watching the waxwings, thousands upon thousands of seagulls that winter on a nearby reservoir flew overhead in ragged vee formations for over five minutes. They scavenge county dumps for food by day and shelter on the lake at night until their internal clocks tell them it is time to return to their coastal summer homes. Today, low clouds that will bring rain by noon – I can smell it in the air – caused the seagulls to fly low enough that I could actually hear them calling to each other, conjuring a memory of the smell and taste of the sea.
The pair of pileated woodpeckers nesting in a sycamore just on the other side of my creek called to each other loudly. They are mostly quiet these days, but when it is time to trade places on the nest, the returning parent calls to the other; the nesting parent replies immediately, sounding to my story-prone mind impatient to go off duty. Woodpecker species are early nesters. They, like the pair of barred owls calling to each other every late afternoon, are supposed to be in reproductive mode in late winter.
Red-shouldered hawks are also early-season nesters. I’ve lately spotted the pair that shares our land with us often sitting in a tall walnut beside my house, and today I was showed why. I stayed out so long watching seagulls and listening to frogs that they grew impatient with me. One flew right over my head calling, I think perhaps as a diversion, because shortly thereafter its mate flew soundlessly overhead beyond the walnut to a small group of towering loblolly pines, a long thin branch dangling from its sharp beak – nesting material! Not long after, the hawk that spoke to me also flew overhead. It stopped briefly in the walnut, I think to see if I was watching. When I pretended to be interested in something else, it joined its mate.
This location will be a tough one to observe – lots of camouflage to obscure their activities. But once over a decade ago, a pair nested just across the creek in a winter-bare sweet gum. Our elevated back deck gave us a perfect vantage point until the trees leafed out, and Wonder Spouse got some lovely photos of still-fuzzy nestlings as they began to move about and stretch their wings.
Strong, possibly dangerous storms are predicted for tomorrow, along with multiple inches of heavy rain. I thus decided to take advantage of this last bit of quiet before the storms to walk around the yard this morning with my camera. As is true for all of my region, many flowers are blooming weeks ahead of schedule. This early in February, a killing freeze is almost inevitable.
So today I walk, inhaling moisture-laden air perfumed by the fragrance of precocious flowers, grateful for my connection to this land and the time I have to appreciate it.
Winter cold finally arrived in my area about three days ago — highs in the upper 30s-low 40s, lows in the low 20s, and a wind chill that hurt skin accustomed to the weather of the previous four weeks, when nighttime temperatures rarely dropped into the upper 30s, and daytime temperatures stayed in the upper 60s and low 70s. During the 60+ years I’ve lived in North Carolina, an occasional winter warm weather interlude has not been unusual, but I can’t recall an entire month of such weather from mid-December to mid-January.
Such a prolonged warm spell caused many plants in my yard to break dormancy far earlier than normal — by at least six weeks. Many birds began displaying signs of territorial behavior as mating instincts awakened. Bluebirds burbled to each other as they discussed the merits of nesting box options. Insects were everywhere, as were the frogs, snakes, and lizards that eat them. It all felt very wrong.
The day before winter cold finally arrived here, I walked around the yard and took a few photos. Now that ice covers the abundant shallow water in channels on the floodplain, I suspect my late winter bloomers that opened four weeks early are probably now brown. I haven’t looked yet; that wind chill is mean. To remind myself of their loveliness, I include a few shots here, along with photos more typical of winter vegetation.
January jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) usually starts blooming in February, a few blooms at a time until March approaches. Many folks confuse them with forsythia, but a close examination makes the differences abundantly clear.
A native late winter bloomer, Hamamelis vernalis, is usually only showing a few petals by now. But the warmth caused the cultivar I grow to open more fully, scenting the air with a light, clean perfume that I always associate with spring cleaning.
An array of winter buds, remnant leaves, and bright moss lush from winter rains also caught my eye.
Late on the afternoon I took these shots, I was on my back deck when I noticed an insect on a window. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized it was a Green Lacewing adult, much smaller than the ones I routinely see in my garden during the growing season. It saddened me to know that this delicate-looking beneficial insect would certainly perish soon. If the freeze didn’t kill it, the absence of food certainly would.
I’m a fan of the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck. It is full of fine actors having a wonderful time. Many great lines from this movie are permanently implanted in my brain, including the one in this title, stated tearfully by the actor playing Cher’s grandfather, who is deeply befuddled by the goings-on in his household at that moment. Deeply befuddled is exactly how I feel these days as I wander around my little corner of southeastern piedmont.
Multiple species of frogs chorus lustily. Wonder Spouse had to gently relocate an enormous toad from the middle of our driveway this morning. The green anoles are scampering around the front garden chasing insects and each other. Robins and Carolina Wrens are beginning to trill mating calls. And the plants — I am so confused — and so are they!
I have recently written about most of the blooming plants in this post, but I was shocked — shocked, I say — by the opening flowers of the Royal Star magnolia. Granted, this is an early bloomer, but the earliest I’ve ever seen it open in my yard is the third week in February.
We haven’t seen an actual sunny day in my yard in at least two weeks. It may have been three. Frankly, it’s gone on so long, I’ve lost track (I would not survive Seattle weather for long.) The humid, warm air holds the perfume of the blooming Prunus mume trees close to the ground. When we step out any door of our house, we are greeted by their wondrous fragrances.
But the mood lift I get from these bouts of aroma therapy are tempered by the knowledge that this is most of what I’ll see and smell from these plants for the rest of the winter. In past years, the flowering apricots doled out their flowers judiciously during the brief warm spells that usually punctuate our winter season. But this December’s insanely mild weather has caused them to abandon caution and open all their flowers simultaneously. It is gloriously reckless, breathtakingly lovely, and deeply confusing.
Of my three flowering apricot trees, only one has not opened the majority of its buds yet. I think it is sited in a slightly cooler spot, which slowed its enthusiasm just a bit. It is my hope that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior) will be able to protect a fair number of flower buds for later blooming spells as winter progresses.
Peggy Junior’s flowers are much pinker than the rose-colored blooms of Peggy Senior, and they lack the cinnamon undertone to their perfume, but they are still very lovely.
As you might expect, mushrooms/toadstools/lichens are all flourishing in this un-wintry landscape. I like the serrated edges on this grouping of fungi.
My witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ hasn’t opened much more, probably because we’ve had no sunlight to encourage it. Still, it was pretty enough this morning for another shot.
The biggest surprise of the day was a blooming stalk of native columbine. The flowers are pale — either the result of a genetic mutation or perhaps the near-total absence of sunlight, but the flower at the top of the stalk was open. The earliest columbines normally bloom in my yard is March.
It has rained every day for at least a short while for most of December — or at least that’s how it feels to me. Yesterday, a line of showers came through just before sunset. As they headed east, the tall canopy trees on the eastern side of our yard were illuminated beautifully by the rays of the setting sun, which appeared just in time to disappear.
The moral of this confusing tale — if there is one — is to appreciate the precocious bloomers now, for their moment is nearly past. Seasonable winter temperatures — with actual sunshine — are predicted to return for a prolonged stay beginning New Year’s Day. I’m hoping that’s a sign that 2016 will be a more orderly, predictable year — hey, I can dream, can’t I?
Before the clouds closed in, our day started with the eastern sky ablaze with color, the air filled with bird song and frog calls. And because this day was preceded by a day packed with warm air and sunshine, I have a few flower shots to share.
Every late-winter/early-spring-blooming plant I grow is 3-4 weeks later than usual in blooming. Not that I blame them! That was one rough February for all of us. My trees, shrubs, and bulbs have bided their time, but they couldn’t contain themselves any longer when sunshine and warmer temperatures finally returned.
The little bulbs showed up first. The snowdrops got flattened by our snow, but the crocuses and little irises were not far along enough to be damaged. So delicate and lovely!
My three-year-old Aurora witch hazel exploded in orange-yellow strappy petals that emit a sweet, clean fragrance detectable on the breeze.
My Amethyst witch hazel starting blooming about a week before Aurora, but it is still quite pretty.
Every year I can remember, the Ice Follies daffodils are first to bloom. But not this year. This year, the big yellow ones — I think they are King Alfred’s — bloomed first. As of yesterday, the Ice Follies were not quite open still.
My small Cornelian cherry dogwoods (Cornus mas) are lighting up the landscape with their small, bright yellow flowers. Individually, the flowers aren’t much to look at, but when they cover an entire plant, you can’t help but notice this tree.
This year, the Lenten Roses actually waited well into Lent before beginning to show their bloom faces.
My past records tell me that my Royal Star magnolia often begins blooming in early February. This fuzzy shot is of the handful at the top of my 25-foot-tall tree that opened in yesterday’s sunshine.
The afternoon sunlight did a nice job of enhancing the color of this hazelnut’s golden catkins, the male flowers. I looked for the tiny female blooms, but didn’t see any.
This one surprised me. My beautiful Parrotia persica tree always blooms this time of year. Its flowers are small and inconspicuous, because they are wind-pollinated. Evidently, my neighbor’s honeybees still managed to find something in them worth visiting.
Not to be left out of the act, the forest giants are beginning their bloom cycles too. The elms have been blooming for a couple of weeks, as my allergies will testify. Now the treetops are punctuated with the crimson flowers of the Red Maples. Some of the trees have orange-tinged flowers like these, but others have deeply scarlet blooms.
My beleaguered ornamental flowering apricots are also still pushing out flowers. Their landscape impact was severely impaired this year by the prolonged cold. But when the wind blows from the south, I still get an occasional whiff of Peggy Clarke’s perfume.
All in all, I’d say March is treating my landscape with lamb-like kindness — so far, at least. Here’s hoping it remains a kinder month than that brutal February we all endured.
I am not a gambler. I don’t buy lottery tickets or spend money at casinos. I am not a gambler — except when I garden. As with any game of chance, all the variables involved in gardening cannot be controlled by humans. In truth, even the plants are gamblers. My lovely ornamental flowering apricots are prime examples. Ten days ago, they were barely blooming, but a slightly (and I do mean slightly) milder round of weather this week persuaded them to open fully for business, much to the delight of my neighbor’s honeybees, who were also out taking advantage of the relative warmth.
When I realized my early-blooming gamblers were waking up, I made a quick trip around the yard a couple of days ago. Although the January Jasmine was still barely open, My Amethyst witch hazel was in full bloom.
The Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’) are just cracking open their flower buds. I told them to hold off for at least another week. Betting on successful blooms this upcoming week is a sure way to lose.
All these early-blooming gamblers may pay for their enthusiasm this week. Winter has decided to slam us hard at least one more time before allowing Spring to take over. The weather seers haven’t quite made up their minds (divergent models) about the duration and depth of the cold — and the amount of frozen precipitation that may or may not come with it, but I feel certain that early flowers will mostly meet their demise this week.
I confess the impending forecast has me wondering if I’m being punished for my impudent suggestion in my previous post to defy Winter. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I was left wondering what I should do now. All the spring greens I sowed in the greenhouse two weeks ago are well up. If we lose power, they will turn to green mush, along with all the potted plants I overwinter there.
Today’s mail brought my complimentary seed order from Renee’s Garden. She offers garden writers a few seed packets in exchange for publicity about her wonderful offerings. I am happy to oblige, and you can find my accounts of previous seed trials if you search on the company name. Several of the varieties I ordered this year require a lengthy nurturing period in the greenhouse before they’ll be ready for transplanting into the garden. I pondered — should I sow them now, or wait a week until the arctic deep freeze abates?
What the heck, I figured, I might as well double down and go for broke. I sowed the new seeds in the greenhouse this afternoon, and I fed my vegetable seedlings with a dilute solution of fish emulsion/seaweed to encourage strong growth.
Go big or go home, I say — at least when it comes to gardening. I’ve got plenty of leftover seeds. If all is green mush in a week, I just begin again. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.
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.
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.
The snow drops survived being buried by six inches of snow and ice and are in full bloom.
And the Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’ is scenting the breezes with the fragrance of gorgeous purple flowers.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clark’ isn’t quite open yet, but many of the buds on both my trees are showing hints of rose pink.
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.
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.
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.
Some crocuses are still blooming where I planted them — more or less. I love the subtle striping on these paler lilac beauties.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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!
The snow drops I showed you in the previous post are now fully open.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.