Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Flowering Trees and Shrubs of Early Spring-- if only they would last longer

Carlesii Viburnum

When I was working, I was always desperately trying to catch the magic of early spring, but my job— those mountains of papers to grade—kept getting in the way. I thought that when I retired I could really savor early Spring and it wouldn’t seem to pass so incredibly quickly.

I missed that magical third week of April last year—the usual time for the great Spring awakening in the Delaware Valley-- because of our rescheduled trip to Peru. This year I finally had the time to spend just about every waking moment in the garden, but it still passed far too quickly. I felt that I barely had time to smell the viburnum. There's just no way to put this in slow motion.

Given the fleeting nature of Spring flowering trees and shrubs, the garden books always advise selecting shrubs and trees for multi-season interest. I’ve tried to do this, but there are some shrubs so magical for a brief period that I’ll put up with the fact that they are nothing special 51 weeks of the year. Carlesii Viburnum is a scraggly shrub with nondescript white flowers which tend to bloom for a short time the third week of April. But for those few days, they produce the most astonishing fragrance.

Redbud and Cherry Trees

The Redbud and cherry trees tend to bloom about the same time as the Viburnum. Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) grows wild in parts of western Pennsylvania and is a tough little tree with gorgeous purple flowers—which last about 5 days, but redbud does have multi-season interest and produces bright gold fall foliage


The delicate blossoms of sand cherry ( Prunus Serotina ) another tough plant are also part of the mid to late April explosion. The flowers may not last long but the foliage stays deep purple all summer and turns bright red in the fall.


By the 4th week of April, all these beauties are usually gone; then the crabapples puts on their show for a very brief period. The crabapple is one of those small trees recommended for multi-season interest; it gets Fall color and berries that persist throughout most of the winter. Supposedly, the birds don’t like them and only turn to the crabapple fruits when everything else has been picked clean.

Common Lilac

Then in the last week of April what I'm longing for most : the common lilac that has the most spectacular fragrance in the world. For (at most) a week of that fragrance it’s worth putting up with a raggedy plant that gets unsightly powdery mildew at the end of the summer.

Fernleaf peony

In the beginning of May the early peonies start beginning with the graceful fern leaf peony, then the spectacular flowers of the tree peony (so called because it doesn’t die down to the ground and thus provides “winter interest”). These are the most fleeting of all—-sometimes only a day or two if there’s wind and rain.

Tree peony

By the first week of May everything has leafed out, the pale green leaves of April have darkened and my garden already looks like a jungle.
If only I could slow this down!!!!


  1. Thanks a lot for everything, I love to read about such novelties, a revelation!

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