A Mother’s Day Gift

A Mother’s Day gift that keeps giving is this pink dogwood along the driveway. The yellow shrub is Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora.’

Special trees, like dogwoods, take root in your heart

By Michael Leach

The affair started with the first glance and continues almost a half century later. As with similar affairs, it’s unrequited love. The object of my affection couldn’t care less and never deigns to notice me. Yet enchantment grows and reaches fever pitch for about a fortnight each spring.

My aloof horticultural love in this case is the pink dogwood tree, Cornus florida f. rubra. I encountered pink dogwoods when taking a shortcut to church through an old cemetery near my apartment in the small southern Ohio city of Portsmouth. This was during my cub reporter days. Jaw-dropping clouds of cotton candy tethered daintily to slender black trunks were scattered across the sward of Irish green grass.

I had to have one. I eventually bought two — as Mother’s Day gifts that I planted at the home place in suburban Columbus. Mother, who had planted two white ones in the yard, was delighted.

My journalistic career took me from Portsmouth to Kentucky, Florida and finally back to Columbus 30 years ago. I moved into the home place. Every spring since then, I’ve had my own little pink cloud to look at. Sitting in an old wicker rocker on the sunporch makes a comfortable, all-weather viewing spot. 

One of the pinks was cut down almost four years ago, new growth couldn’t keep up with the dying branches. The second tree was stingy with flowers this spring, after being a small cloud of pink in previous seasons. Perhaps this is only a hiccup. Mother’s little white trees slowly declined and were cut down about 20 years ago. This is not great territory for  dogwoods.

Pink dogwoods serve as memorials in Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, OH.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth’s Greenlawn Cemetery launched a memorial pink dogwood plan in the 1990s.  Even in that much friendlier clime, they aren’t known for longevity. However, the ones that do live decades become spectacles. At the base of many trees are small white marble markers with the names of special people. Their horticultural legacy is a tree with burgundy foliage in fall, a silhouette worthy of a Japanese print in winter, and those pink clouds every spring.

In recent years of semi-retirement there’s been time to head south to Portsmouth for a view of the dogwoods. Along U.S. 23 are what could pass for tufts of clouds that got too close to the branches of the chartreuse wooded hills. They are groves of dainty white dogwoods, often accented with redbuds. It’s a 3-D Impressionist painting.

The allure and excitement never dims. Each spring I thank God for granting me another view of pink clouds. And each time I pass the little tree at the end of the sidewalk, I remember Mother.

In autumn, dogwoods produce another spectacle.

Catch Me If You Can

Debra Knapke on the Spot at Chadwick Plant Sale!

It’s plant sale time and you will find me in the role of plant ambassador at the Chadwick Arboretum Sale on Friday morning from 8 to 11 a.m. I will be there to answer questions and find plants that will work in your garden. At 11:00, I will be a guest of All Sides with Ann Fisher on WOSU-89.7 and answer more questions.

One question I anticipate from listeners and sale visitors is: what are the effects of the record precipitation last year – 55-plus inches – plus the wet winter and spring?  In Central Ohio we are already 6” above normal for this time of year, and much of the Midwest is experiencing similar weather. My response will be: “Good question; let me consult my crystal ball.” Then I will relate what has happened in my garden.

One casualty of last year’s rain and wet winter was my thyme lawn. It looked approximately 95% dead on April 23rd when this picture was taken. It is slowly coming back, and I can now adjust the death toll to 85% dead. By this time in May I should see flower buds forming; however, I am happy to see any green leaves.

Thyme-less lawn

This spring may be different than what we think is the normal* spring, but I do want to remind you that Mother Nature has offered other mercurial springs over time. Last year, we had several “100-year rains.” Most of my plants made it through, but I lost several lavenders, some hens and chicks, and a few sages. The daffodils planted in that swamp were not especially happy and flowered less last year and this year.

In May of 2006, we had low overnight temperatures in the 30s which threatened the tomatoes and chilies in my vegetable gardens. Yes, those are newspaper hats.

And in 2009, we had freezing overnight temperatures (in the mid-20s) during the week of May 23rd.  You are looking at Remay fabric which is much easier to use than making 25 paper hats.

So my best advice is to wait, observe and mark the places where plants have disappeared. Then drive over to the Chadwick Plant Sale or to your favorite garden center and purchase replacements. This is where the old adage, “when you get lemons, make lemonade”, is very appropriate.

Wishing you a productive Spring!

P.S. – *normal is relative; happy to hear what you think is a normal spring.

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