After what seemed like a slow start winter has gotten stuck in a Ground Hog’s Day loop of snow and bitter cold. Here, that is. Not everywhere. It might be hard for New Englanders to believe that this winter ranks among the warmest on record but elsewhere winter has been weirdly spring-like. A discomfiting circumstance for anyone living in such a place who worries about a last minute freeze frying the apple blossoms. But such a treat for visitors from the winterlands.
Normally (if there is such a thing as normal anymore, anywhere) the Northwest Flower and Garden Show is timed, as they all are, to enliven a raw, dark winter and raise hopes for a shining spring. For many years, back when I lived in Seattle, I relied on the show to keep from losing my will to live. I paid what felt like a ransom to soak in the smells and burn colors onto my retinas. I stroked green growing things when no one was looking. Although I was a wannabe gardener hungry for information, I never even bothered to attend the lectures because I couldn’t bear to sit still in a dark room when there was so much blooming in another one.
I timed my trip back this year (after way too long) to coincide with the show. And call me crazy, but I only spent a whirlwind morning taking it in (with Slow Flowers superstar Debra Prinzing as my guide!) because it was hard to enjoy spotlit dreamscapes, pretty as they were, when the real outdoors was bright and blooming. I neither gave a lecture nor attended one. I would kick myself now if I hadn’t been able to gather inspiration, information, and joie de vivre in mossy Ravenna Park, Pike Place Market, the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden at the Ballard Locks (where Z and I kept off the grass and forgot to feed the parking meter), the Volunteer Park Conservatory, along sidewalks of my favorite neighborhoods, and from my best friend’s front porch.
Ferns and moss-covered branches in the Ravenna Park ravine.
Locally grown tulips at Pike Place Market.
Idesia polycarpa, Edgeworthia chrysantha, and hellebores at Ballard Locks.
Giant rhody at the Ballard Locks
Through the gazing globe at the Volunteer Park Conservatory
Camellia blooming in a sidewalk garden.
Giant rosemary blooming in a U District hellstrip
Have you sought out spring this winter or has winter been spring-ish all along? If you went away, where did you find it?
FYI: I’ll be heading to the Boston Flower and Garden Show to give a talk on Friday, March 13 at 1:30. If you’re in the neighborhood that lucky day, desperate for a dose of spring, and can stand to sit in a darkened room, I will be over the moon to see you there!
If I hadn’t taken up the slow flowers challenge, and spent a few minutes on Thanksgiving searching my garden for a tiny bouquet for my bathroom windowsill, I might not have really registered that one of my roses is still in bloom. Ish. The flowers were a tiny bit melty (worse now — see photo below, right) but even during summer they seem a touch… off. Probably because they’re not really flowers. Rosa chinensis f. viridiflora produces no petals or sexual parts. Just an over abundance of alizarin-tinged sepals in a fully double flower-like bonanza. They’re lousy for attracting pollinators and have no scent whatsoever, but I love them for their oddity. And because I have a thing for green flowers. (Go figure.)
Weirdness aside, the plant has a sweet, low branching habit to about two- or three-feet tall and produces endless clusters of “flowers.” It has been quite happy living on the cusp of its cold hardiness zone (6) in my garden, rarely even bothering to die back to the ground, and the foliage seems remarkably disease resistant.
Better still, with no petals to shatter in the cold, the “flowers,” even if a little nipped, turned out to be brilliant and long lasting in this tiny late-fall arrangement with Itea foliage, honesty (Lunaria annua) and love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) seedheads. And fun to paint to boot.
Do you value weirdness in the garden? Do you have a favorite oddity?
Because I am still intending to follow through on Debra Prinzing’s slow flower challenge and had a Thanksgiving table to decorate (Frida moonlighted as a bar), I asked the florist at our nearest independent supermarket for local flowers. She assured me that during the growing season she always buys from sources close to home. Huzzah! But now, presumably ever since a hard frost fell on the region, she has nothing. Even her flowering kale came from Israel or Holland. (She wasn’t sure.) I asked about American-grown flowers and she pointed to buckets full of lilies and delphinium from California. Alas, the scent of lilies would overwhelm this tiny house and delphinium struck me as much too July for November, so I opted to forage entirely from the garden and plantry instead. I thought it was slim pickings but I loved the bouquet it made. Here’s the list of what I used: