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.
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.