Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a range of other interests

in the constantly evolving

garden of life.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tale of two plants, two states, two surprises

Once upon a time, a Christmas tree was just that, a tree that served through the winter holidays, then was tossed aside for the birds to nest, the machine to grind, the weather to rot.

Then, years ago, we began buying live trees, which I plant early in the new year. So it was in early January, when I hauled the 4-foot laurel out to the front garden, hacked out a hole in the frozen ground and shoved it in. Because it had been inside for a couple of weeks and was put out like a housebound cat on a sleeting day followed by brutally cold temperatures, I half-thought the shrub wouldn't survive. So did neighbors in the cul, judging from the skeptical looks as I planted.

But it did. Then, a few weeks ago it produced perfumed white blooms that lit up the garden and extended the season of sweet surprises.

The 'Otto Luyken' laurel, seemingly without effort, performed from bud to flower to fading blooms as if it had been planted in this earth for years. Of course, it is said to be hardy all the way to Zone 4, but I don't think it expects anyone to plant it in the frozen ground in the middle of a hard winter.



The final image in this sequence, taken today, shows that even to the end of its bloom cycle, the laurel was in a decorative frame of mind.

As the laurel fades to seed, another surprising survivor takes its place: a no-name lilac that moved from Connecticut, where it grew for a half dozen years in a hunk of volcano rock. I suspected it would survive the winter, but I had no idea whether it would bloom.

When I lived in Georgia before, I couldn't pay a lilac to bloom. Not enough cold for them, apparently. Well, this winter was plenty cold, so that may have been just what this rock-bound lilac needed.



It peaked today. I bowed and inhaled deeply, getting another surprise. It was the sweetest lilac I can ever remember. I swear it didn't smell as strong in Connecticut.

After all the years of lilac envy I suffered while living in Georgia back in the 1990s, this surprising success was as tasty as a big bowl of homemade ice cream on a hot day in July.

33 comments:

  1. two great plants, you're bringing back memories of plants from my plant id days

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    1. Yes, these are two of my personal proven winners. Glad they're on your list, too.

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  2. Hey, Lee,

    Really a delight to read, as always.

    What a wonderful surprise that your Connecticut lilac bloomed. You brought Connecticut Winter with you, that's why.

    I love that laurel. They are planted as hedges many places in the South. Also, I've seen them in the gardens in D C along 4th to Independence and in the Haupt garden between Constitution and Independence. What a grand place with so many grand plants; and yes, even a beautiful lilac which was in full bloom one of the times I was there.

    One time out of many I did get there at the peak of cherry blossoms. Glorious.

    Enjoy it all. At last.

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    1. Heyyy, Barbara,

      You know you're singing my song when you talk about those D.C., plantings, including the cherries I so enjoyed when I lived there.

      Indeed, laurel as hedge is more popular than I would have thought. I can only imagine the fragrance. I can only imagine the bees, too. Some folks who are allergic to bee stings don't plant them as hedges,

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  3. I love tough plants...a coddler I am not! Will have to look for that laurel. So glad the lilac blessed you with blooms. Mine haven't opened yet, but soon. You know what else I enjoy about lilacs? When the leaves first appear, and they're kind of sticky...if you cup your warm hand around them and breathe on them, they smell like apricots.

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    1. Phyllis, I love that hand-cupping and breathing and inhaling. I have a lilac that hasn't bloomed yet and will definitely give your technique a try.

      I'm with you on toughness and have always been a Darwinian gardener.

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  4. Nice! I'm glad your Lilac is doing well in your southern garden--that's one plant I would miss if I ever move south. The Laurel tree is fabulous! I can just imagine the neighbors wondering what you were doing, and what you were thinking. ;-) I think my neighbors sometimes think I'm a little crazy sometimes with all my plant experiments and picture-taking. But, oh well, I guess I am a crazy plant lady. Congrats on your survivors and the beautiful blooms!

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    1. Lilac, as you know, has historically been an object of desire for us Southerners – just as Northerners have lusted after those creamy, lemon-scented blooms of the Southern magnolia. Ironically, now both are available North and South.

      Are you growing that magnolia in Wisonsin? One I grew in Connecticut was 'Bracken's Brown Beauty'.

      Crazy? Of course we're crazy. But it keeps us from going insane.

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  5. What lovely surprises. That laurel looks as happy as can be (beautiful shape too), despite what you did to it. I've done terrible things to plants when moving them and some are just the forgiving type (some are not). . . your laurel has absolved you of everything. And I'm glad your northern lilac found Georgia to her liking!

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    1. Glad you like them, Laurrie. On the laurel shape, thank you; you know how much I love to prune; hey, maybe taking off excess branches helped it survive the abuse.

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  6. Lee, many thanks for sharing your beautiful words and giving us an update on the progress in your lovely garden. It is showing your unique planning and personality.

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    1. Rose Lady, thank *you* for such fine words that brighten this gray, gloomy Georgia day.

      I hope you were as fortunate as we, coming through the storms OK, so far – unlike so many in other places.

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  7. What wonderful gifts, both of them. It's nice that something positive came from this wretched winter. Enjoy the scent.

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    1. To be sure, Kathryn, I feel fortunate, all things considered. Amazing how important and satisfying fragrance can be. Any good scents going on in your garden these days?

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  8. Gardening is full of surprises, isn't it? Like anything though you unfortunately have to take the good and the bad. Glad to see it's all good for you today.

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    1. You bet. Gardening, like weather, is unpredictable, to be savored when it's making you feel good.

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  9. How lovely that laurel look in flower, I have never seen that before! I have never heard of it being used as a Christmas tree though, but I am sure it won’t take long before it gets introduced over here too!

    I have a laurel on my wish list too, but the tree version, and an edible one, the Laurus nobilis rather, and I hope to tame it to a nice little standard for a container. I am so happy to hear the plants you brought with you are continuing to perform, it shows that moving house doesn’t mean you have to lose your whole garden – certain plants can move with you :-)

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    1. Thanks, Helene. I enjoy getting double duty from Christmas trees, instead of tossing them after the holidays. That bay you're contemplating certainly will add culinary zest to your garden. Nice fragrance in the leaves, too. I planted one in the ground last summer, but the hard winter killed it. Next time, a container.

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  10. I love these spring surprises. Congratulations to you! I had a garden experiment going in my garage this winter: pots of mixed bulbs. They are actually poking through the ground now! Astonishing! :)

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    1. Thank you, and congratulations to you, too. Isn't it great to be surprised, astonished, even. Enjoy!

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  11. That laurel seems like a toughy. It sure is a beauty. Does it stay evergreen in your area? I haven't had luck with Laurels or lilacs for that matter. My neighbor directly behind my garden has a Lilac that is blooming it's head off right now. She isn't a gardener and doesn't know what kind it is but it is very fragrant. The blooms are on the pink side of purple with very small leaves.It is on the opposite side of her yard barn from our house. I can even smell it over in our garden if the wind is right. I will just have to look at yours and sniff her lilac to enjoy them.

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    1. Laurel indeed is evergreen around here – and popular, as you'd imagine. Lilacs root fairly easily, so what would it hurt if you begged a few cuttings from your neighbor. Or got a little branch that ground-layered itself. At least, you'd be working with proven performers in your very own neighborhood. They'd have have no excuse for failing.

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    2. Excellent idea Lee. I will go snooping in her garden soon. I am sure she would gift me with a start.

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  12. I'm gonna have to find a laurel like yours.

    As for the lilac, I really, really, really miss the northern lilacs that I grew up with. It's amazing that you got a northern one to overwinter and bloom here. I do have a lilac 'Miss Kim" that is blooming right now. It's got a more acridly pungent aroma than that of the northern species, and I have never quite gotten used to it. A neighbor passing by on her run liked it, so I told her she could come back and take some branches later. She did. That made me happy.

    My Iris Germanica 'alcazar' are in full bloom. Pretty soon some corms will be ready for you.

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    1. Atlanta-area Pike Nurseries stores were selling laurels around Christmas time. They may still have some.

      Interesting that your lilac fragrance is stronger than the northern types. Passalong plants are happy-making, whether you're the giver or receiver. Speaking of which, I look forward to those corms.

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  13. Such an intriguing story about your survivors, Lee. What is it about those badass plants that seem to decide for themselves that they're just going to do what it takes to make it? I've been trying to grow good old columbines in my border for 3 years without success. This week, I discovered three seedlings, all volunteers, growing in less than ideal spots. I moved them to better places in the same border this afternoon, but they were probably happier growing up through the monarda. Guess it's a plant thing, and a way to keep us humble.

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    1. Yep, just one more way to stay humble among many in the gardening game. I've always loved being chosen by seeds in the wind (and those carried by birds). The serendipity and surprise add value to gardening. Congratulations on your columbines; I'm still waiting for lady-slippers.

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  14. One of the things I love about northern VA is that it's warm enough for crepe myrtles but cool enough for lilacs. I had Luyken laurels in my garden in SC and they are very sturdy shrubs. But I didn't realize they'd respond so well to your tough love agenda. Did you use them as a Christmas tree?

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    1. Those laurels do surprise with their toughness. This is the first one I've ever used as a Christmas tree, but I might do it again. You ever press them into holiday service?

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  15. you must be very gratified by these blooms!!! more to come I hope

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    1. Thanks, Sharon, I always hope for more.

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  16. So glad your lovely Otto Luyken laurel did well. I had four at my former Virginia house, and they did well no matter how bad the weather. I haven't had a lilac for years, but you never forget the fragrance.

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    1. I'm surprised you haven't gotten yourself a lilac. So many plants, so little time?

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