In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Blooms of the Japanese flowering apricot, such as these of Prunus mume 'Peggy Clark,' cloak Middle South gardens with their spicy-sweet fragrance in mid-January.

Plants I'd Grow Again

Gardeners don't move often. They like to stay put, rooting themselves into the soil they've amended year after year and twining heartstrings around beloved plants which, somehow, always make life more engaging and fulfilling.

Though I count myself among this group, my husband and I recently sold our suburban home in hopes of customizing, and perhaps simplifying, our lifestyle. We loved every minute of our child-centered years, but are ready to spin a new web.

Like most change, this time has been bittersweet. We were sad to leave good neighbors and to close a happy chapter of our lives. Letting go of the garden has been difficult, too. But I'm a forward-thinking optimist (aren't all gardeners?) and know, in time, we'll make another comfortable home and beautiful landscape.

When I share the news that we've moved, I'm always asked, "What plants did you take with you?" Truth is, I reclaimed very little. Though I collected a few seeds and a handful of divisions from pass-along plants with sentimental value, I loved the whole too much to "split the baby."

The question is a good one, though, and I've pondered it time and again as we've searched for a new place. If conditions are similar, which plants will I grow again?

Topping the list are those that share their charms in winter. I'm not exactly sure why. Perhaps it's because I've known most warm-season ornamentals since childhood, while those that flower in cold months were chanced upon more recently, one by one. Or maybe it's because as I've grown older, I've become enamored with mild winters and begun to relish the opportunity to be outside in every season.

Whatever the explanation may be, I can't imagine a garden without my favorite ornamental tree, the Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume). The cultivar I've grown, 'Peggy Clark,' greets January with thousands of rose-pink double flowers, each accented with a ring of dramatic, extra-long stamens. Best of all, however, is the spicy-sweet fragrance that cloaks the garden at a time when dank earth and decaying leaves usually hold sway.

Although named for the country where it was first found in cultivation by Europeans, the tree is native to China. There the plant is known as mei, or plum, and joins the gnarled pine and the pliable bamboo as one of the three friends of winter.

Unlike the many cultivars that sport semi-double or double blooms, the flower of the true species has five petals. In China, they represent the five blessings: wealth, health, love of virtue, old age, and natural death.

The treasured apricot of my future garden will be joined by other delectable winter-blooming plants, such as paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), a fragrant shrub with clusters of pale yellow flowers, and winter iris (I. unguicularis), a perennial with unreasonably cheerful blooms that snuggle close to the earth on short perianth tubes that serve as stems. And though I'm sure friends will share a bounty of Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis), I'll also plant 'Ivory Prince,' a hellebore hybrid with handsome blue-green foliage and pink buds that open into upright, ivory flowers.

Then, to welcome spring, I'll add Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora), and Solomon's seal (Polygonatum commutatum); for summer there will be lemon lilies (Hemerocallis flava), purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), and 'Brown Turkey' fig; and for autumn, pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'), and dahlias in every color of the rainbow.

I'll also grow variegated holly osmanthus (O. heterophyllus 'Variegatus'), my favorite evergreen for holiday arrangements, as well as Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') and pussy willow (Salix discolor), for cut stems.

Somewhere in the mix, I'll add a dwarf magnolia, perhaps 'Little Gem,' or 'Teddy Bear,' for the gift of its fresh, lemony fragrance. I'll have to wrangle a small space for culinary herbs too, especially rosemary, thyme and basil.

The list is long, I know. It's plans like these, however, that keep melancholy at bay. Regardless of what I've left behind, I have confidence the best is yet to come. True, I'll begin again with only a few seeds and sentimental treasures from my last carefully-tended plot. But, sweet memories and the lessons learned there will always be mine to keep.


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