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Garden info a cure for writer’s block

Garden info a cure for writer’s block

Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

The Messenger 02.28.12

Often — no, just once in a while — I am stricken with a temporary case of writer’s block. It renders my Apple hand paralytic and my brain atrophies to considerable degree.
Fortunately, except for the latter symptom, it is temporary. Somehow, some way, I come up with some kind of subject before my next deadline. So today, a this-and-that. Some of it might be of use.
All winter, while the sun is at a low declination to the south, I have counted unplanned blessings resulting from some random planting or other that suddenly popped out of the woodwork.
Such is the case with a grouping of southern magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora, in our woodland. This particular covey of them, some 15 years or so old, is located southwest of the house and about 100 yards or more away.
It is only in winter, with the surrounding overstory barren of leafage and that low sun extant, that sunlight reflects off the magnolias’ glossy leaves to such degree that in late afternoon it appears as if white lights are shining from them. With any kind of breeze at all, the “lights” flicker with the movement of the leaves.
Another group of those magnolias is to the southeast, and the result is the same, but in the early morning hours. My assistant, alas, is yet abed at such times, but I get to enjoy both sets of trees in one day.
So you, too, plant one (or more) southern magnolia trees for yourself (if you are young; they’re slow) or for some future heir at whose behest you dig.
When you do, furthermore, pick one of the newer varieties with finer foliage and form than random seedlings.
For a medium size tree, it should be “D.D. Blanchard,” with very dark green, glossy leaves.
Smaller are “Little Gem” and “Teddy Bear.”
The former was the standard dwarf (to 20 feet) but should be superceded by the latter.
“Teddy Bear” makes up into a more conical tree, with tighter structure.
An older variety is “Edith Bogue,” which will get larger.
Lenten rose used to be Helleborus orientalis, but seems to have been hived off into Helleborus hybridus. Go figure.
At least the taxonomists have something to do.
The Lenten rose common name (it has nothing to do with roses) results from its habit of blooming around the time of Lent. That started on Ash Wednesday. If you’re not hung over from Fat Tuesday, you can enjoy them right now.
As a matter of fact, ours have been blooming since Jan. 1. That early flowering has become common since Al Gore invented global warming. (I like Gore’s winters, but I’m not too fond of his summers.)
Lenten rose is right at the top of my list of favorite perennials. What else throws blowsy flowers, ranging from white, through pink, purple and on to deep maroon, in January, for crying out loud?
On top of that, a single plant will continue to bloom for three months before, finally, the flowers petrify on their stems and will look decent until well into summer.
On top of that (the pile is getting pretty high) the foliage is evergreen, staying glossy right through winter.
On top of all that, deer absolutely refuse to touch Lenten rose. Whew!
Seedling Lenten roses do not come true to color from their parents, and you never know what will turn up. Most of them have nodding flowers but some newer named varieties face upward. These, however, are more expensive.
You will be happy with the straight species, believe me. Seedlings take about three years to come into bloom.
And, of course, daffodils. Who can live without them? Our old-fashioned “buttercups” are as good as any, and better than many. Their botanical moniker is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Don’t ask me why.
From their abundance all across the eastern United States, one would assume they are native.
They are not, but instead come from the British Isles and Europe, where they are known as Lent lily for their habit, as with helleborus, of blooming at Lent.  They were brought over with the pilgrims, along with Norway rats and starlings. One out of three ain’t bad.
Buttercups are ridiculously easy to grow, else how could they fight it out (and win) with honeysuckle, fescue and, believe it or not, kudzu? They make fine garden subjects.
I presume you pay your road taxes, so go out and dig some along the right-of-way which, after all, belongs to you.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.


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