Leaves, not just flowers, make spring show
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that the earliest flowers offer up the most excitement in any spring.
That is not to say, however, that they are the only excitement. As far as total volume goes, in fact, the greening of the landscape with new leaves offers more than those scattered patches of daffodils can.
In the woods, yellow poplars quicken early, and at a distance they are easily discerned from the surrounding gray and brown in April.
In your garden there are those domesticated things that will show the daintiest green early on, before much else. We’re not talking about evergreens, of course; they’ve been there all winter, but will fade into their surroundings as deciduous plants go green.
Among the first trace of new leaves are those of spireas. They broke a few weeks ago, tentatively at first, then more aggressively as the weather warmed after days of cold and snow.
We have a couple of summer blooming spireas either side of a path. One is ‘Shirobana,’ a variety that provides pink and white blooms on the same bush. It grows to about four feet and is pruned hard in early spring, since it will bloom on new wood.
Across the path is an older variety of the same species, ‘Anthony Waterer,’ which bears magenta blooms at the same time and is also pruned hard.
These two spireas hold their leaves well into late autumn, sometimes until Christmas. They are a respectable orange most autumns before turning tan, then finally falling. It is only a few weeks later, in February as often as not, that the new tiny leaves can be seen along the stems.
These two spireas are not among the elite plants of our garden, but they certainly gladden the heart with their brave early leafing. The blooms aren’t bad either.
Nearby is another spirea, variety ‘Ogon,’ which has, as the varietal name suggests, leaves of yellow. This one is of another species, one of the early bridal wreaths, and blooms on old wood at about the vernal equinox, that is to say, now. The tiny white flowers are strung along the stems like pearls and serve as a nice foil to daffodils, early tulips or any other greening or flowering plant nearby.
‘Ogon’ has leaves of yellow, as we said, and they are almost evergreen, or “ever-yellow.” In fact, during the past winter the plant never did completely defoliate. The yellow leaves held all winter. Only as the newer, more chartreuse-colored ones emerged were the old ones forced off.
Privets leaf early and shed late, for the most part. I have a specimen of the golden-leaved privet pruned into a cone. Old leaves hold almost all winter and turn almost black. In March the new ones begin to emerge a bright chartreuse and a fine contrast with the old ones, which soon finally fall.
The common variegated privet, with green leaves edged with white or cream, are semi-evergreen or, in bad winters, deciduous. They also leaf out early in spring, with the cheeriest pale green that will soon attain the variegation.
Euonymuses almost all leaf early. The common “burning bush” is a deciduous euonymus used for screening and grouping on a large scale. It will leaf in March in pale green, soon to turn darker for summer and then the flamboyant cerise for which the plant is noted in fall.
Other euonymuses, including the low growing variegated ones and the large “Manhattan” screening plant, will push forth new leaves before the old ones shed.
Fruit trees, including pears, apples, peaches, plums and cherries, leaf early, as do their ornamental counterparts. The otherwise sorry ‘Bradford’ pear, which is notorious for falling apart at about age 15, provides momentary joy when its new leaves green up quite early, just following, or with, the white bloom.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack: — One swallow — or a few flowers — don’t make a spring.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.1.08
Garden Path, Jimmy Williams