Sheer joy...

The fine art of playing hooky achieved ever-greater heights this past week. The lengths to which people went were stunning. But the sun was out. Day after day. It became imperative to take time off from the usual day-to-day drudgery of life and bask in the sunshine.

It seemed as though everyone's mood was also lifted to greater heights of optimism. Crabbiness took a backseat to forthright hopefulness. It was hard to be overly enchanted with the flowery displays at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show when the sweet, powerful fragrance of Daphne odora wafted in the air of our own gardens.

Will we be like the poor sods on the East Coast who experienced a soft, benign January followed by being slammed with a huge winter storm this past weekend? Oh, I hope not.

Even with the glorious sunshine, our winter gardens are looking a bit bedraggled. After seeing the fullness of the show gardens, the barrenness of our own gardens is tough to take. This is when it is most important to have some early bits of intense color to brighten one's spirits.

Through the Web or using specialty bulb catalogs like Old House Gardens, it is possible to order the early-blooming crocus bulbs. These are generally not available at garden centers, for they prefer to sell the larger and showier later-blooming crocus. But the early, diminutive crocus adds a fine punch of color and surprise.

The other must-have for the winter garden, aside from the aforementioned Daphne, is Iris unguicularis, commonly known as the winter iris. It is now often available at local nurseries. This plant fell out of favor and was terribly difficult to find because it does not like summer water. It is native to Algeria. With our over-irrigated landscapes the plant failed due to rot. But if you have a dry south- or west-facing spot in your garden, it will thrive. The key to this plant, aside from drought, is cutting back the lush evergreen leaves in October or November so that you can see the exquisite blooms that start arriving in late December.

What a glorious week of sunshine - I hope you had the chance to revel in it. I hope those weather "specialists" are wrong with their forecast of snow for Friday!

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