Spring has sprung, the days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and the flowers are opening. As a child, I remember early spring as being a riot of color and the air being filled with the sound of birds singing louder as they returned after a cold winter. The air also had a different scent and feel; I guess more humidity returning to the air. Anyway, one knew spring was on its way. It was fun to anticipate when the first signs of brown bushes would explode into color.
As spring approaches, so do some of my favorite flowering shrubs. These early spring flowering plants brighten up the landscape (as well as my mood). I am crazy about some of the new shrubs that flower in March and April, but I cannot forget about the ones that I recall from my childhood. Those that created the nostalgic memories that I cherish.
I was one of five girls and we all walked to school, as did all of our friends. As you walked, you tended to notice more. We passed by houses that had some of the same shrubs in their garden that we had in ours. People in those days did not have very sophisticated bushes; the houses with prettier yards were because of the placement of plants rather than having unusual plant material.
As I think back on what blooming shrubs we had to look forward to, the vibrant yellow flowers of two shrubs come to mind first. Forsythia was in many gardens and a few people had another one named Kerria japonica, or Japanese rose as some called it, which bloomed shortly after the forsythia finished flowering. Both have long arching branches and make a magnificent display of color. Forsythia flowered first and was like a ray of sunshine after the dark days of winter. The brightly colored flowers that covered the branches opened to a profusion of blooms. Then, not too long after the forsythia turned green with the new foliage, kerria would take center stage. With those long arching branches of brilliant yellow blooms, who could help but enjoy them. Both of these are extremely hardy and so easy to grow that I am sure that is why most homes grew them.
Another old-fashioned shrub is quince. I love quince not only because of my childhood memories but for other reasons too. Most of the ones that I saw growing up had red flowers and many people had this plant somewhere in their yard. The old-fashioned varieties had fruit that resembled apples. They were quite bitter and, as children, we would dare someone to take a bite of the fruit. People would make jam from the bitter, apple looking fruit that would be present in the summer. Today, the quince I grow does not have the large fruit that I remember. I guess that has been bred out of the newer varieties.
Today, I grow three different quince bushes and they are some of my favorite plants, but it is for a different reason. It might not be the prettiest bush when it is not flowering, but I love it because it is easy to force into bloom. I pick branches starting in early December and bring them in the house to open up. I do this about every two weeks after that so that I have a continuous arrangement of them blooming in the house. When I pick the first branches, it takes them longer to open, but after Christmas, it takes less and less time for them to open when I bring them into the house since they are getting closer to the time when they would naturally open.
People think I am so talented for having these flowers in the house, but all it takes is to remember to pick them and bring them in to open up. Try it next winter and you, too, will be rewarded with an abundance of flowers. The branches I do not pick look pretty over a long time in the garden. You can find quince in white, pink, red and an orange-red.
Now, if fragrance is a trait you really want to have in your garden, you cannot beat the fragrance of Daphne and Korean spice viburnum. Daphne is a low growing evergreen shrub with a wonderful fragrance that when brought in the house, will perfume a room.
Korean spice viburnum is a flowering bush that is so aromatic that it fills the air with a lovely scent when in bloom. The buds are pinkish in color and then give way to white flowers. My daughter, Laura, gave me the bush that I presently have and I think of her each time it is in flower. This somewhat larger shrub produces clusters of dainty, pastel-pink buds in late March and the spicy fragrance alone is worth growing this delightful shrub.
I do not know what plants stir up memories of your childhood, maybe you remember some of these jewels. I hope you enjoy spring and the waking up of the trees and shrubs and enjoy those lovely sounds that fill the air. I certainly do.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.