Monday, January 23, 2017

Thinking Yellow Thoughts on a Gray Day

I used to say I didn’t want any yellow in my garden, which is sort of strange because I happen to really like all kinds of yellow as a color. I wore yellow, I used yellow in my paintings, I even had yellow in the art I hung on my walls, but I really didn’t want it in my garden. I guess it was because I was just so enamored with pink and blue and lavender and white and I felt that yellow would stand out too much, and be an eyesore. So I planted only white daffodils, banned Black Eyed Susans from all my planting schemes and pooh-poohed forsythia.

Boy have I changed. I now embrace yellow to such a huge extent that not only are a large majority of my roses yellow, but I crave yellow plants for the impact they bring at all seasons of the year. I lusted for and now own a baby yellow rhododendron that I am coddling from a twig to smallish shrub and which I hope becomes a huge statement plant. I have lined the entire back wall of my property with a mass of forsythia that is a wall of electric egg yolk yellow when March is at it’s bleakest and dreariest. I jam clumps of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Lemon Queen’ into the backgrounds of all my largest flower beds (at my house it grows to 8’ tall) and I invested in a gaggle of Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas) just to make sure I had something yellow bridging the gap after my witch hazels but before my magnolia’s kicked in and did their thing. I have three yellow magnolias, which made me feel somewhat superior. Then, last year, Marders brought in six different yellow varieties, so now I feel that I have sort of dropped the ball slightly.

I’m not sure if my change of heart about the color yellow came about because I matured, or if I just suddenly realized that if I wanted flowers that bloomed all year long I would have to get over myself and embrace this color. Not only that, but After gardening for a little while, you realize that the high, bright, white light of July and August washes out all those delicate little soft pinks and lavenders and only bold, bright and strong colors really pop when the sun is beating down on them.

Of course it also helped that I fell in love with witch hazels. To be honest, I first noticed a witch hazel when it was doing its fall peacock thing with leaves that looked as if they had been dipped in day-glow paint, yellow, red, maroon and green all on one leaf. It was fantastic, so I started paying attention and noticing them in gardens around town. Honestly, I’d not really noticed them before I started working as a gardener, because in February or early March, when ‘Arnold Promise’ was doing its incredible acid yellow, lemony, blooming thing none of the nurseries I was visiting out here really had them. Or if they did, by the time I started shopping, I’d have missed the blooms, but most of the time the nurseries didn’t have them because most of their customers are not year round gardeners.

Once I was out here full time, and once I realized exactly how important yellow was to battle the dismal grayness of late winter and early spring, I started seeing witch hazels everywhere. I once was actually almost rear ended when I slammed on the brakes after catching a tantalizing glance and at enormous fan shaped wall of something lemon shimmering in the snow that had followed a pretty shallow dusting of snow. The plant was an old one, with what I now know to be it’s classic vase shape, and it was filled with flowers. The gentleman in the car behind me had some choice words for me as he veered around my vehicle, but I was entranced by the possibility of blooms in the snow. I had, of course already invested in two Prunus mume trees, the Japanese apricot that had lent its image to the classic Chinese export pottery pattern referred to as Hawthorn on a Cracked Ice background. They flowers weren’t Hawthorne, but no one outside of China had ever seen a Prunus mume, so they named it after a more familiar flower. The Prunus mume, does however, have a habit of blooming in the snow, both here and in the Far East, so of course I had to have it, especially as Chinese Export Porcelain was a family hobby, but the witch hazel I saw in the snow that day was revelatory, so I tracked one down and bought it immediately.

‘Arnold Promise’ is a cross between two species of Hamamelis, H. japonica and H. mollis and thus is called Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise. I actually now have either 6 or 7 different varieties of these intermedia witch hazels, specifically for the note of electric promise they bring as the days slowly start to get longer. One of my favorites has the most enormous and fragrant flowers, but its leaves are marcescent (meaning the old leaves stay on the tree until the new leaves push them off) which is a bummer as the dead foliage spoils the elegance of the long tassel flowers. It was marked as Luna but I think it was mismarked as Luna’s leaves normally drop long before it blooms. Anyway, I have been adding witch hazels to the garden for at least a decade and planting most of them intentionally at the far back end of the property (where the whole back property line billows with my sea of forsythia) so that when I walk all the way back there, I’m rewarded by things in bloom. Today I took that stroll to cut some branches to force in the house and three of my witch hazels were in bloom. All orange ones of course (so I’ll have to write about orange on another day) but one of the Arnold’s was just starting to push.

It was a balmy 48 degrees, so I also noticed at least a dozen dandelions pushing through the lawn. I have always loved dandelions, and although they self-seed into my flowerbeds like crazy, I leave them up for my bees to feed upon on unusually warm days like today when the girls are tempted to leave their hives. Other flowers of note in bloom today, my Lenten Roses (Helleborus niger), a number of my pussy willows (although not the pink or the black yet) and my Edworthia is looking like it’s getting ready to pop.  Both of my Prunus mumes died last year; I guess the temperature ratcheting from 50 degrees to in the single digits and back up again was just too stressful; or they’d be in bloom. I miss having these trees since no one else had them in the area, much less knew what they were. They weren’t yellow, but they consistently flowered in the snow, which naturally made them plants I adored.

 Paige Patterson’s hydrangea buds have started to crack open, so if the temperatures drop there’s going to be no hydrangea flowers next year. Bummer.

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