Round Robin: Notes from Lansing, New York

Spring brings exotic blooms despite the wind and snow.

| February/March 1997

How the wind does blow! We’re bracing ourselves for the heavy snows that often come in March and sometimes even April. When they come that late in the season, they bury the Daphne mezereum that are already adorned with clusters of tiny, rosy lilac, highly scented blossoms. Their fragrance is so exotic and heady that if you close your eyes and try to forget you’re wearing boots and a heavy jacket and that a cold wind is making your nose drip, you might think you’re in a Buddhist temple in Bangkok or somewhere in Nepal. It’s an amazing perfume to encounter in northern North America on a chilly spring day. It’s not surprising that this European shrub has become naturalized in some sections of our country, for it self-sows energetically. It drops its red berries and makes little Daphnes all over my woods garden.

Too bad that D. x burkwoodii ‘Somerset’ and the stunning variegated D. ‘Carol Mackie’ don’t do the same. That would be too much to expect of such classy plants. But at least their cuttings root readily, thank goodness. I put them under a cloche in August and leave them outdoors all winter. In the spring, I often find the 3-inch cuttings blooming endearingly under their cloches.

In March, I brace not only for snowstorms but for armies of Corydalis ­solida that appear as soon as the snow melts. What a curse! The first one came years ago as a stowaway in a perennial pot from a nursery. I admired its lacy foliage and lavender flowers and thought myself lucky to have got two plants for the price of one. Little did I know! That first plant proliferated with such determination and speed that its descendants now sweep over my woods garden like the conquering hordes of Genghis Khan, doing their best to wipe out my dear Primulas and other reticent and refined residents of that garden. If I tug at a corydalis, its leaves and stems usually come off in my hands, leaving husky little tubers the size and shape of after-dinner mints safe in the earth below. If I burrow after them with a trowel, I damage the plants I’m trying to protect. C. solida goes dormant in late spring, but I always know the tubers are down there, multiplying, multiplying. If only the chipmunks would develop a taste for them and eat them instead of the species crocuses!

Speaking of crocuses, have you ever planted Crocus sativus, whose dried stigmas give us saffron? I often use saffron to color and flavor rice dishes such as paella and my Dutch mother’s Easter bread. It’s so expensive (and why shouldn’t it be, considering the trouble of gathering and drying those tiny stigmas?) that I thought to save money by growing my own. The venture was a failure, however; for several years, the corms produced only leaves—no flowers—and then the chipmunks ate them. I’ll still have to depend on the grocery store.

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