oriental paper bush in bloom

Back in January, I came across the magnificient Paper Bush in bud on the grounds of the Scott Arboretum, blogged here. Back then it was hung with delicious metallic furry fairy-attracting buds.

Edgworthia chyrsantha Jan 25th - buds

I took a walk the other day and was hit by the scent first – a clean sweet just utterly delicious smell that transported me to a magical kingdom where everyone has good intentions.  Then I saw the blooms – BOOM – they are huge and almost Seussian!

Edgworthia chrysantha 'Tony's Clone' or 'Snow Cream' Mar 19

This member of the Daphne family is high on my list of must-have shrubs!

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some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

the meaning of floral design?

roses in for VDAY at falls flowers shop

“In floral design, there is no better teacher than the flower itself.  This is the essential maxim.  In a flower’s perfection, we instinctively recognize the infinite creativity and wisdom of nature.  By looking closely at each flower, we take the first step in discovering how best to display its beauty, arrange its placement, and find possible companions in a floral design.” – Alisa A. de Jong-Stout, in A Master Guide to The Art of Floral Design, a book I checked out of the Swarthmore library.  The book our Longwood teacher recommends is $180…so, I think I’ll wait on that one.

helleborus 'snow bunting' at scott arboretum mmmmmmm

I think in picking up this book, I was hoping to get some answers on what floral design really means.  I want it to be meaningful.  I think I struggle with its meaning somewhat because I know plants better as they are growing, alive, with roots in the ground.  For me, plants/flowers take on an almost spiritual cast while in their natural state – they are to be observed, identified and photographed, in a worshipful way.  Before I read this book and started this learning program, I had this somewhat disdainful view of the floral industry – that floral design is just nature’s wannabe imitation, that making bouquets is sort of cheating when the real work is in growing things.  But now I think I feel differently – we can learn from the flower whether it’s in the ground or in the vase – marvel at its patterns and form and color.  You can respect the biological side of things and at the same time appreciate the art of the flower while its in a jar.   And I’m loving the artiness of it all!  Because, you know, according to Ms. de Jong-Stout, “cutting a flower outdoors to display indoors was conceivably the first and most basic of all artistic impulses.”

parrot tulips

“Abstraction is the defining quality of floral design.  Even botanical compositions, which emphasize the specific identities of the plant material involved, contain an element of abstraction. Simply taking a bloom out of its original environment dilutes its botanical purity, which is why a floral design can never completely duplicate nature. As abstraction increases, inherent qualities of shape, form, or color, independent of floral identity come forward.  Yet a design can never be purely abstract because its foundation is a living flower.  …Success can only come to those who take the time to read the flower and benefit from its incredible wisdom in design.  Respect for the natural essence and character of our medium assures its identity will be preserved, even in abstract compositions.”

bouquet by Peicha

Happy Valentine’s Day!

life lessons

Taking a walk today at the Scott Arboretum, I was counting myself extremely lucky to be at such close distance to these grounds.  I’ve taken many (dog) walks here, and there’s always something to see whatever the season.  It’s especially exciting to watch the landscape return to life after the dormancy of winter, and noticing the little signs that spring will come (eventually) fills one with a sort of buoyancy.  The tinge of pink of this Higan Cherry tree starting to bud caught my eye.

Prunus subhirtella, Higan Cherry

Over the next hill, a flowery fragrance wafts towards me on the foggy misty air.  What could it be? It’s so promising, and clean.  Ahh…it’s Witch Hazel! I filled my nose with it’s bright scent while marveling at the strappy little punk rock petals, bursting lemon yellow from their red bud shells like party favors.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

It’s formal name is Hamamelis mollis ‘Early Bright,’ a cultivar of Chinese witch hazel which was actually introduced by the Scott Arboretum in 1988. They noticed one particular plant which consistently bloomed about two weeks earlier than it’s neighbors, and over several years selected, named, and released this winter beauty.  Here it is blooming in late January but it’s been known to bloom during the first few weeks of January.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

Among those responsible for this fine introduction is Andrew Bunting, now Scott Arb’s Curator and owner of Fine Garden Creations, a company I worked for in 1996/1997. I consider Andrew and his team responsible for getting me started on my journey into the world of horticulture, a world I’ve been sadly distanced from in my profession as TV producer.

Rose Hips in Rose Garden

But witnessing the bravado of buds and fruits in the winter landscape, my spirits are lifted.  There is rebirth, change, growth all around us.   I can grow and change too, and I am, and I will.  I spent a moment really examining these plants, and took in their scents and colors, and when I walked away I think maybe I learned some kind of lesson, that the cycles which govern every living thing also govern me; and that when I feel connected to Nature, I am more alive and more myself.