|Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi)|
The bee wasn't desperate, just impatient. She had crocuses, scilla, and grape hyacinths to choose from, but she was crawling over the fat, tightly closed buds of the largest sand cherry, digging at the patch of white just showing between the sepals. Her eagerness had all my sympathy. Spring is so near, and the cherry so close to bursting into flower that I feel ready to nudge those buds along myself, and I don't have a craving for sand cherry pollen.
A few days ago I was admiring the deep blue of a dawn sky, framed by the cherry's branches.
Since then the fattening buds have brought the branches from the margins to the foreground of my awareness. The way those pale green nubs gleam in the sunshine has taken center stage.
Shifting between background and foreground—a lot of that happens in the garden this time of year. The 'Winter Gem' boxwoods, which have been so delightfully green all winter, bless them, are now less interesting than the patch of ipheion at their feet (no buds yet, but soon). The burnet in the main garden, which has been lush and shapely through the spare, lean months, is suddenly just a backdrop for grape hyacinths. Even 'Wild Thing' autumn sage has been standing meekly by for once, while the crocuses get the glory.
Spring, with its small, pleasant upheavals, is good at making you see things differently. Daily routines change as activities move from indoors to out; Daylight Savings Time shuffles morning and evening light around; windows opened to the breeze let a little life and movement back into the house. (Pardon me while I go find a paper weight.) When you have snow in the morning and lunch on the patio at noon, a little mental flexibility (not to mention layered clothing) is your friend.
I've been thinking about the garden lately while poring over bulb catalogs for fall planting* and thumbing for the umpteenth time through regional books and catalogs before the spring frenzy begins. Ideas I was working with last summer when I started replanting the garden (and which many of you helped me with) have taken clearer shape over the last few months, and now New Mexico's famous spring winds are blowing away some old, lingering assumptions. As a result, my excitement about sand cherries and crocuses notwithstanding, flowers have begun to take the back seat in my garden. (I would never, ever have thought I'd say that.) A number of things have moved forward to take their place, but the biggest factor, the one that's taking center stage at the moment and dancing an enthusiastic buck-and-wing on it, is light. (Texture is warming up in the wings.)
In Plant-Driven Design, Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden talk about light as a feature of western gardens, but until recently I thought of light as an accessory to a floral-print outfit, not the other way around. Now I see it differently—or realize that I've done so all along. The reason I'm always as impatient as that bee for the sand cherry to bloom is because I love the blossoms' incandescence in front of the shady north-facing wall...
|I have yet to take a picture of them that isn't either over-blown or too damped down, though. March, 2011|
I've been sitting on a sunny patio almost every weekend morning through fall, winter, and now early spring, looking south over the backlit garden and being dazzled as the sun glowed through turning leaves, ricocheted off grass seeds and blades, made the desert olives' pale gray trunks gleam, and set the oils in the autumn sage leaves to glistening. Seeing the crocuses glowing with light this spring was the last step in moving background to foreground for me. The garden and its leaves and flowers are lamps; they collect and shape light.
So as I consider new plants, I'm wondering how they'll play with dappled light under the olives, or how they'll give back summer radiance; whether they'll glow in the warm backlighting of autumn or in the low, white gleam of winter. In some ways it's complicating matters; in others making them quite easy. (There's no point in planting a grass with light-catching seed heads behind the winter shade line, no matter how sunny that spot is in summer.) Every so often I make a note of what color the flowers are, in case that matters, too.
(And somehow, I suspect that it might.)
* It turns out that spring really is the best time to make your bulb list—another thing they say in gardening books that ends up being true.
Has anyone ever grown ornamental comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum)? I was thinking of it for the deep shade under the big sand cherry but don't know if I'll regret it. Other dry shade (think really dry, like, really, REALLY dry) suggestions would be welcome. Thanks for any advice!