I’ve got a favorite spring-flowering plant, and I bet you have one, too. But I can’t fully warm up to spring, or any flowering favorites, until I’ve shaken winter’s lingering, gray dreariness.
I piddled through the late winter calendar this year with hellebores, witch hazels, snowdrops and crocus. I love these teasers, but since late autumn, I have been a lazy winter gardener. I’m working on a slow-to-rise groundhog’s schedule this spring.
By mid-March our garden was in tatters—a jumble of brittle phlox stems and chickweed. I walked around it, thinking, glancing at a few early blooms and putting off chores. I can’t trust fickle March until I’ve set the clock forward an hour for daylight savings.
My mother and I differed on daylight savings. She complained that moving the clock forward was the worst night of the year. One hour’s sleep was stolen, but there was no way mom was going to miss the 8:00 a.m. Sunday communion.
I know daylight savings is arbitrary time travel, but it is also my wake-up call—an extra, blessed hour of evening daylight. A warmer, sunnier day of salvation, near the spring solstice, brings me to my senses faster than smelling salts.
For years, I’ve been rescued by a trusted, lucky charm that steadies my nerves. I am unchained when spring beauties come into bloom. Spring begins barreling along with tornado warnings and blue skies.
The few steadfast admirers of spring beauties grow weary of arguing in favor of an underappreciated eastern North American wildflower. Maybe we could upgrade its standing if we promoted the rarely used, cheerful common name: good-morning-spring.
I make a pilgrimage each year (one of many) to Louisville’s beautiful Cave Hill Cemetery where spring beauties have naturalized for a hundred years or more. For several weeks, I’ve been eyeing a small patch of spring beauties, Claytonia virginica, that are happy with other little bulbs—Puschkinia scilliodes var. libanotica and Chiondoxa luciliae.
Elsewhere last weekend, all over the cemetery, there were hundreds of thousands of spring beauties in bloom, along with flowering cherries, forsythia and daffodils. The Star magnolias are in full flower. The pristine-white blooms narrowly avoided the usual hard freeze. Freeze-burned blooms look like charred parchment. I love spring-flowering magnolias and will bet against the odds of frost every year.
Several years ago, I found two-dozen spring beauties growing in the shade of 45-year-old white pines on the farm in Salvisa. The little plants are seeding around. Now, I’ve got a hundred. I only need another hundred years to begin competing with the bounty of spring beauties that Cave Hill Cemetery has.
Jared Barnes, the phenomenally gifted and engaging Assistant Professor of Horticulture, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, described the blooms, on his excellent blog, as dime-sized with “white-flowering and dark-pink-flowering plants in the same area with color morphs along that gradient.” (Note to Jared: Can we start a spring beauties support group?) Check out Jared’s blog post on spring beauties from March 16th.
Okay, the shy spring ephemeral may not have the grace of bloodroots or the recognition of trilliums, but I don’t care. Have I mentioned versatility? Author and botanist Pat Haragan mentions an edible tidbit in Olmsted Parks of Louisville: A Botanical field Guide. The little corms can be “boiled in salted water and taste like chestnuts.” I thought the flavor leaned more toward buttered turnips. Boil the corms for 2 minutes, slice in half and throw them in a salad with chickweed and deadnettle or henbit flowers. I’m still building up stock on my spring beauties, but I’ve got all the chickweed leaves and deadnettle flowers you’ll need. Beauty and flavor are in the eye of the spring beholder.
What is your favorite spring-flowering plant that welcomes the trustworthy arrival of spring for you?