The New Year with our 'dream' plants

The thin, gray light this month creates quiet scenes out our windows as we surround ourselves with full-color plant catalogues and lengthy order lists. As one leafs through these seductive tomes, the mind wanders and then leaps into flights of fancy. Must have this, and this, and ...

How quickly we forget the treasures already existing in our gardens.

Pulling on some warm, bulky clothes, I took a fast amble through my winter-chilled garden on New Year's Day. There were new, luminescent blobs close to the ground that will soon unfurl into hellebore flowers. The Daphne bhuloa was covered with small, soft-pink florets. The buds of the Japanese spicebush, Lindera obtusiloba, were deliciously fat, just waiting to burst open in the next few days. The specie crocus greens were up through the mulch layer, and the winter irises, Iris unguicularis, were unfurling their blooms. These first irises of the season, I think, put the later-blooming Iris reticulata to shame. The markings are more complex, and the exquisite fragility of the blooms belies the harsh chill to the air. And, of course, the Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' was stunningly covered with its pure white blooms.

Back to my piles of catalogs, I found it much easier to start editing the order lists. If I have this much blooming in the wee light of January, do I want a huge thicket of blooms later in the year? Do I need to have all that new, newer, newest? Well, yes, some of them.

Then I started to read the plant descriptions with a great deal more care. I have gardened long enough to be wary of phrases like "vigorous, spreading clumps". Three years after the initial planting, those clumps have become thugs in the garden. You know you need to lift and divide them, but you stall for one more year, and so the "thuggishness" also greatly increases. Finally comes the day with the spading fork, and you know you have to root it all out, and you think twice about passing on this once new, newer, newest plant to a friend.

The light goes quickly these days, and you sense some restive spirits around the house who wonder where/when the dinner will be put on the table. Reluctantly, you gather up the thumbed catalogues, and hope for more "dreaming time in the garden" later in the evening.

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