Sunday, April 01, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Apricot, plum, dandelion. Three have a few daffodils blooming while one woman has masses of white and yellow, some planted last fall; mine are still emerging.

What’s blooming in my yard: Frost damaged the forsythia Wednesday; hyacinths and puskinia stems drooped Saturday morning, but revived with sun.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium, coral honeysuckle.

What’s reviving in the area: Elms bright green; neighbor’s blanket flowers coming up. Ditch meeting yesterday.

What’s reviving in my yard: Saint Johns wort, sea lavender, garlic chives, pigweed and horseweed up; ring muhly and purple ice plant greening, until frost; new blades where buffalo grass planted last summer; spirea, Apache plume, raspberry and more roses have leaves; moss phlox forming buds; peach and lilac buds showing color.

Animal sightings: Flock of small birds in drive where tahokia daisies, sweet white clover and áñil del muerto grew last fall.

Weather: Full moon; fogs and frosts; water in the crevices of arroyos. Yesterday a woman in the village was inspecting her fruit buds while her husband ran a hose.

Weekly update: Today, darkening yellow splashes signal the locations of forsythia bushes that will be difficult to find in a month when the hollow brown branches are hidden by green, serrated leaves.

The species sold here, Forsythia x intermedia, began as volunteer seedlings in Göttingen noticed by Hermann Zabal in 1878. He believed they were a cross between two Chinese species, viridissima and suspensa.

The first is an erect shrub that can grow more than 10' and can get as big around. Its sap must course through the tall spikes at the rear of my plant where the more widely spaced buds were just opening when the frosts settled. One house near the orchards has a fence row of interlacing feathered boughs some 10' high.

Their sheer magnificence offends those who believe man should subdue nature, and the garden should be an exemplar of one’s virtue. Christopher Lloyd warns forsythia "can be strikingly handsome, but one has to be careful." Albuquerque’s Rosalie Doolittle advises "it can grow out of bounds."

It has been subjected to the most severe control by those who treat it like its Oleaceae privet cousin. Near the village, there’s one dense, 3' formal hedge of rounded shrubs that’s fairly covered with flowers, and another with sparse blooms spotting bare wood. Another three people in the area have kept their hedges short, but otherwise unpruned.

Natural gardeners like Lloyd prefer suspensa’s arching branches, so long as they’re in an unfettered area. Since I built the fence behind my plant, it has abandoned symmetry to lunge for the light. The gangling, horizontal branches bend under their own weight and, if they reach the ground, may root.

Doolittle suggests southwestern architecture demands distinctive, brilliant plants, even if, like forsythia, they require attention. Eleven people, many of them living in newer houses on the main road, have a single plant near the house that’s stayed small, whether from conscientious maintenance, nipping for winter bouquets, or irritation when a branch crosses a walkway on a wet day.

Those who’ve learned from their neighbors tend to place the shrubs near a fence or wall, where they can grow unhampered, sometimes upward, sometimes outward, sometimes not at all. Sixteen yards have specimens, six have groups, often with evergreens. The best are beside an open rail fence, near grapes and daffodils.

Seven years ago, when I stared at 8" sticks of Lynwood Gold, the common intermedia introduced into this country around 1949, I would like to have known which species’ genes would be dominant. My blooming bush is now 6' wide and 4' high, but with near barren branches reaching 7'.

It turns out it may not have mattered. Ki-Joong Kim tested a number of forsythia species and cultivars to reconstruct their evolutionary relationships and discovered there was no molecular evidence to support intermedia’s traditional ancestry. All the baseborn seedling’s seedling’s bud sport’s cuttings’ cuttings can promise is better weather’s coming.

DeWolf, Gordon P. and Robert S. Hebb. "The Story of Forsythia," Arnoldia 31(2):41-63:1971.

Doolittle, Rosalie. Southwest Gardening, revised 1967.

Kim, Ki-Joong. "Molecular Phylogeny of Forsythia (Oleaceae) Based on Chloroplast DNA Variation," Plant Systematics and Evolution 218:113-123:1999.

Lloyd, Christopher. The Well-Tempered Garden, 1985.

Photograph: Lynwood Gold Forsythia between other shrubs, 28 March 2007, the day before frost killed the flowers.

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