Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sprout season

We’re entering the part of the year that I think of as sprout season. The ground is now erupting here and there with little green points. Some plants, some snowdrops in particular, are already blooming. For the next two months the weather will be up and down, back and forth, unpredictable and mercurial. Although spring itself does not begin until the end of the third week of March, much of what we think of as the spring garden flora will bloom during this period. The locally native flora in general waits until April.

The next two months will see snowdrops, winter aconites, the early squills, glories of the snow, reticulate irises, crocuses, the earliest tulips and lots of odds and ends blooming.

We don’t have a term in English for this season, but Karl Foerster used the German term Vorfrühling to name it. This is the season of hybrid witch hazels. In the garden today, Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ is in full bloom. This was named for Jelena de Belder over a half-century ago; she died as recently as 2003. Also in bloom today is Hamamelis ‘Feuerzauber’. There are others in the garden, and these will come later if they are going to bloom this year. The witch hazels here tend to alternate between years in which they flower very freely and years in which they flower little if at all. For instance, ‘Pallida’ this year has very few flowers; last year every twig bloomed.

Helleborus foetidus is now on the verge of full bloom: the earliest blooms are open, but the best is ahead of us. The inflorescence of this plant is a vivid, tender, pale green which is improbably lively for this time of year. To my way of thinking, of herbaceous plants which bloom at this season it’s the best.

This morning while walking Biscuit I noticed the really handsome effect produced by the low, early sun on the densely budded masses of Magnolia stellata branches. The buds of this species are gray and hairy: they catch the light beautifully. The gently mounded outline formed by these plants really lights up nicely under the right conditions.

The zoysia lawn was mowed about two weeks ago; this was done to keep it tidy looking. I cut it very low, and the dense, neatly cut brown stubble is very handsome now. In some lights it has an unexpected orange-brown tint. Zoysia is an acquired taste, and I’ve definitely acquired it.

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