You cannot be cynical if you are a gardener, especially if you are an aspiring plant snob like me and you lust after exotic and unusual flora from mail order catalogs. Gardening requires optimism, courage, and faith, as anyone who has ever received a bare-root plant by mail can attest. When you rip open the package and see the dead-looking twigs you spent $50.00 on, you need to dig down deep inside your soul and believe that, with proper love and attention, this twig will transform into the centerpiece of your garden, making you the envy of your neighborhood, and securing your reputation as a Goddess of Gardening forevermore. You also need to believe you will live long enough to see this happen.
I wasn't content to plant the same old pink saucer magnolias that all of my neighbors' yards were sporting, so I ordered a couple of Unusual Varieties from Wayside Gardens two years ago when I bought this house (and inherited the barren, neglected yard that came with it). Magnolia "Yellow Bird" was touted for its vivid yellow blooms that were supposed to appear later than the pink-flowered varieties, after the danger of late frost damage had passed. Yellow Bird was supposed to be a tall, narrow, compact variety, making it well suited for its intended location at the front corner of my house so that anyone driving down the street to our home would be welcomed with masses of yellow blooms each spring, and all of my neighbors would be able to see the tree and remark to one another about its beauty, it's novelty, and it's exquisite loveliness... Did I mention that the blooms are supposed to be yellow? In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "Aaaaarrrgh!!!!!" I waited for two and a half years for this tree to get established and finally bloom, and now I finally have a flower, and it's PINK. Pink like Barbie, pink like Hello Kitty, and pink like every other saucer magnolia in the neighborhood. I hate pink. I've been had!
There is another Plant of Mystery in my garden, also from Wayside Gardens, and this one is even more maddening. I have longed for lilacs ever since moving to the South, but most varieties require colder winters than what we get here in Zone 7. So, about the same time that I ordered the Imposter Magnolia, I also ordered a lilac variety that was supposed to be well suited for my climate. Imagine -- lilacs in Charlotte, North Carolina! No one has lilacs in Charlotte, at least not any that I have seen in the eleven years that I've lived here. I ordered two plants, and gave one to my mother to plant at her house, just a few miles away from my own. Well, two years have gone by and although my mother's lilac has produced blooms each year, mine gives me nothing but leaves. My husband tries to placate me, pointing out that my plant appears healthier and much more robust than my mother's, and mine is certainly much larger now. He tells me that my mother's lilac is blooming out of despair because it thinks it is going to die and wants to try to reproduce to save the species (my husband has an active imagination). But I didn't order a lilac so that I could look at lilac leaves; I wanted to see and smell lilac flowers, for goodness' sake! How is anyone supposed to even know that it's a lilac if it doesn't bloom? It's not as though your average Charlottean can recognize a lilac from its foliage. That's my lilac in the photo, just a collection of healthy twigs sprouting boring green leaves. Grrr...
And yet, spring is in the air and getting under my skin as well. My daffodils are poking up and starting to bloom, and I've noticed some flower buds on the azaleas. The clematis that looked so dead through the winter has reawakened and looks as though it will bloom within the next week or two. I have pruned and sculpted my crape myrtles and find myself musing over which annuals to plant in the front beds this year. Will this be the year I finally get the window boxes I've always wanted? The magnolia and the lilac are disappointments, but I haven't given up on them yet. We'll see what they have to say at Wayside Garden's customer service department. Maybe next year I'll get those exotic spring flowers that I've been waiting for!