Friday, February 1, 2013

The Wisdom of Yellow

This is the time of year I am so glad I planted yellow in the fall.  Here, if you don't get it planted by September it won't grow.  You think your teenagers can pout?  You've never met a four inch annual planted in muddy soil in late fall.

Late August seemed too early, the days still hot and sunny, the nights just beginning to cool and lengthen.  Yet the Icelandic poppies I planted then are huge, with nodding cups of coral over the leafy mess that the garden has become since this year's freeze.  The one I found in its pot in December, the one I missed?  Still no bigger than its pot, but the rest are bushy, shaggy, floriferous (love that word).

Daffodils on the hill under the oak trees have joined the paperwhites that have been blooming since Halloween.  I keep saying I'll plant under the oaks, perhaps Douglas iris, the California native.  But I love the bareness, the sweep of land, the only color the daffodils of winter (it's California - they bloom here in winter)  and the self-seeded spring surprises.

Last year there were forget-me-nots and California poppies under the oaks, the orange of the poppies made more brilliant by the pure blue of the forget-me-nots.  

There were a few Campanula primulifolia last year, and there are hundreds of babies now.  Neatnick gardeners think I'm lazy for letting things go to seed, but I have masses of foxglove and forget-me-nots, of campanulas and hellebores.

Annie's Annuals has the campanula, and many more wonderful things besides - this is their photo.  Doesn't do the plant justice, but so many gardeners are seduced by pretty flowers.  (It is fashionable in some quarters to make fun of these people and sniff that they're not real gardeners.  Grow up.  We are all captivated by something, it's why we garden.)

Hellebores have been blooming since Christmas, and have seeded in the paths and rock walls where they're not supposed to thrive.  Live and learn.  I pull off some of the old leaves so the mother plant doesn't smother the babies.  Pinks and whites, and one so dark it is nearly black.  I have seen some yellow hellebores in English gardening magazines, but I'll wait 'til they work out the kinks - just yellow is not enough, I want beauty too.  And for the price to come down.

Outside the kitchen window, yellow pansies join last year's primroses - plant primroses high and in summer shade and they'll come back for years.

At Christmas I almost ripped this all out in favor of white cyclamen.  Then we had a few cold nights, and last year's cyclamen growing under the oak tree turned to slime.  And during the cold gray days (remember those?) just looking at this made me happier.  

Fragrance is one of winter's gifts, an apology that there are not more flowers, a compensation for the smallness of winter's blooms.  Daphne is the classic, but I have been seduced by Sweet Box, Sarcococca ruscifolia and aren't you glad you asked.  Last year I cut small sprigs to bring in the house, then in summer I cut the plant to the ground.  What a waste.  This year I cut many long branches, and my house is full of the sweet kind smell.  And when I prune in summer I won't have as much work, and I will remember the gift of fragrance in the dark of winter.

It makes a fabulous hedge for shade, it's not fussy, and the branches I cut last year lasted for three months, until I noticed the roots they had grown and planted them out in the garden.  So there may be a sweet box hedge in my future...or yours, if you come by.  Stay for tea.

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