Spring's Early Gifts

Weary of winter? Celebrate the coming season with blooms cut from your yard.
Charlie Thigpen

Between winter and spring, there's a period when the garden just can't make up its mind. As winter yawns and begins to bow out, spring tries to slip through the back door. Plants are confused, not knowing if they should stay dormant or flower. The sun finally wins the seasonal battle, warming the earth and coaxing anxious buds to unfurl. These early flowers are special, and riding the coattails of a long, gray winter, they signal the beginning of another gardening year. Celebrate the new arrivals by clipping a few blooms to create arrangements.

These containers of flowers can be brought into your house, where they will brighten your day and fill the rooms with fragrance. Or you can strategically place them throughout the garden to create views and to draw guests into the yard. Cut flowers will last for days in the mild temperatures outdoors.

Clipping branches from small trees and shrubs helps to shape them. Limbs that are loaded with heavy blooms will benefit from the removal of some of the weight to keep the branches from breaking. Always clip them back to a crotch or a growth bud. Use sharp clippers to make clean cuts. Don't be afraid to take whole shoots back to the ground on shrubs such as quince, spirea, and forsythia. This promotes new growth from the base of these mounding plants, and the canes will make nice arching lines in arrangements.

These colorful bouquets showcase old-fashioned Southern plants from a February garden. Study the arrangements and the plants used to make them. Add a few blooming trees, shrubs, or bulbs to your landscape to jump-start the season, and with each passing year, you'll have more and more flowers to pick for arrangements.

Blooms For Cutting
Common camellia (Camellia japonica)--A large evergreen shrub or small tree, this plant can grow 10 to 20 feet tall depending on selection and location. Blooms come in pink, red, white, and variegated colors. Camellias prefer fertile, well-drained, acid soil and light shade. They are best suited for the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South.

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles sp.)--An inconspicuous shrub most of the year, quince draws lots of attention when in bloom. Depending on the selection, it can grow from 3 feet to a towering 10 feet tall. Flowers range in color from pink, red, and white to orange. Some selections produce a fruit that looks like a small apple. Tolerant of most soils, it needs full sun to light shade. Blooms may be sparse on plants growing in the Coastal South.

Border forsythia or yellow bells (Forsythia x intermedia)--This broad, deciduous, mounding shrub grows to about 6 feet tall and wide. Sprays of bright yellow flowers line arching stems from late winter to early spring. A versatile plant that can be used to create a thick hedge, forsythia grows best in full sun to light shade.

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)--This rather large, semi-evergreen shrub grows 10 feet tall x 10 feet wide. Several plants growing in a staggered row can form an impenetrable thicket. Their tiny white flowers aren't much to look at but are sweet-scented and excellent for cutting.

Saucer magnolia or tulip tree (Magnolia x soulangeana)--This deciduous magnolia grows about 25 feet tall and works well in the residential landscape. Flowers are 6 inches wide and usually pink to purple, though some selections vary from white to dark reddish purple. It grows in full sun to partial shade. Blooms can be damaged by the cold.

Star magnolia (M. stellata)--Growing around 10 to 12 feet tall, this is one of the smallest magnolias;it's often used in shrub borders or as a specimen. Straplike, multiple petals form a 3-inch-wide fragrant flower. Star magnolia takes full sun to partial shade. Its blooms are also vulnerable to cold weather.

'February Gold' daffodils (Narcissus cyclamineus 'February Gold')--One of the earliest bulbs to flower, it features classic yellow blooms with swept-back petals that spring to life each February. These bulbs will naturalize in the landscape, and deer and rodents won't eat them.