Snow and ice are slowly melting on our Heath hill, but we are intermittently being teased by 50 degree temperatures. Will we really have an early spring this year? Will the ancient forsythia bushes at the edge of my lawn really bloom properly this year?
The forsythia bushes were here when we moved at the beginning of the bitter winter of 1979. Spring did not arrive promptly and we watched the forsythia put on a half hearted show of welcome. That routine of half hearted bloom continued every year. Was it the variety? Or more likely, was it the way a sudden and late spell of frigid air blasted the flower buds at a critical moment? I kept threatening to rip out the bushes, but the job was so daunting I never made the attempt.
There is still plenty of time for the weather to get nasty, but this year I was determined to get some of that early sunny bloom. Forsythia sets flower buds in the fall, as do many other blooming shrubs like rhododendron On February tenth when the temperature was just above freezing, I went out and cut a few branches that seemed to have good buds..
After bringing my branches in the house I recut the stems and immediately put them in a pitcher (one I use as a vase) of warm water. They did not look promising.
I kept my pitcher of branches in my living-dining-kitchen space which is the only space we really keep heated. Because this room has lots of south facing windows there is solar gain on a sunny day. This is also a season when I do a fair amount of baking so temperatures can rise as high as 75 degrees during the day. This is not ideal for forcing branches which can be put in a cool room with temperatures in the 50s.
This living space is beautifully bright, but I put my vase against the north wall, out of direct sun, and away from any direct source of heat. While it can get warm during the day, temperatures do go down at least to 60 during the night.
After a week I changed the water and noticed that the buds were fatter and seemed tinged with green. I was not very happy. Did this mean I really had a forsythia variety that was useless at producing flowers?
But then I started to see gold! The emerging golden flower was protected in the bud by green sepals.
Now, on February 22, as I write and take photos of the forsythia the sunny bouquet redeems the bushes outside. Maybe I will get good bloom this year. In the meantime I get to enjoy this happy precursor of the true spring.
As I saw the green appear on the forsythia buds I was encouraged enough to go out and cut some of the branches off the Sargent crab. This small tree is a veritable cloud of pink and white bloom in the spring because the little flowers appear all along the branches. Now more than a week later, it does not appear to be progressing towards bloom, but I did put this vase in a cool room. That gives it a more natural schedule for blooming, moving from the cold outdoors, to the cool room, and later to a warmer room. The forsythia took only 12 days to bloom. I’m willing to be more patient and hopeful while I wait for those tiny apple blossoms.
For those who do not have a forsythia to bring them spring sunshine outdoors, there are new varieties like the 5-6 foot tall New Hampshire Gold that is bud-hardy to minus 35 degrees and with foliage that turns a deep shade of burgundy in fall; Show Off is a smaller variety that doesn’t need the hard pruning older varieties need; and even white and pink varieties.
Forsythia is not a fussy shrub, needing only sun and ordinary garden soil. It also has the virtue of not being attractive to deer.
Recently when I asked readers to tell me what plants welcomed wildlife to their gardens I didn’t expect a reply from a neighbor, Myra Carlow, who said deer enjoyed her hobblebush (Viburnam lantanoides) as well as mountain laurel and alternate leaved dogwood. It is good information to have. On a happier note she said wild turkeys liked her winterberries (Ilex verticillata), starting low on the plant and then eating higher on the tree as snow gave them some lift. Not this winter, of course.
In another column I said there was no good local supply of succulents. I apologize for my error. At the Bridge of Flowers committee meeting the other night Judy Lawler said that Annie’s Garden Shop in Amherst which remains open all year, has a good selection right now, and a bigger one as the season progresses.
Please do send me your comments, suggestions and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a note to 43 Knott Road, Charlemont, 01339. I look forward to hearing from you.
Between the Rows February 24, 2012