For over a year I have looked forward to a time when there would no longer be the heavy burden of social distancing. Visits with friends were scarce during the pandemic. I worried that fist bumping might permanently replace a handshake.
There was a bright side.
I never bothered to mask up or social distance around friends with Latin binomial names.
I was safe in the garden.
I grow many plants that have personal stories. They mean much more to me than colorful ornaments. Among them are a common pine, a rare snowdrop and an old daffodil. If you walked by any of them you might not bat an eye, but they’re worth knowing.
The pine tree came from Charles Murray, the snowdrop from John Elsley, and the daffodil reminds me of Elizabeth Lawrence.
Charles Murray gathered a few seedlings of longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, in the Sandhills northwest of his hometown, Wagram, North Carolina. Murray is a retired doctor who plays the piano, has presented philosophy papers on Charles Peirce, and was a disciple of Howard Hughes (not that one), the Japanese maple expert. Charles grew the pines for a few years and gave me one. I figured the longleaf pine for a long shot in our state, but after eight years the tree has survived the colder winters of central Kentucky. The pine, however, took a hit in mid-February when an ice storm flattened it to the ground, but it soon bounced partway back. I then staked it upright with a little rope and an iron bar. It was the least I could do.
Galanthus plicatus subspecies byzantinus ‘Beth Chatto’ was given to me by plantsman John Elsley several years ago. John was at Kew and Wisley in the United Kingdom, before coming to the Missouri Botanical Garden as a botanist, and then he switched gears to horticulture at Park Seed and Wayside Gardens from 1982-1997, where he eventually became Vice-President. I called John last month to learn the backstory. Author Graham Stuart Thomas was visiting Beth Chatto at her garden and nursery in Essex, in the 1960s, and noticed a snowdrop that had larger blooms with gray-green leaves lying nearly horizontal to the ground. Chatto gave a few bulbs to Thomas who, in turn, shared ‘Beth Chatto’ with Elsley. The bulb is scarce as hen’s teeth, coveted by galanthophiles and priced, if you can find it, for a king’s ransom.
I thought for many years that author and gardener Elizabeth Lawrence might have described Narcissus ‘Little Beauty’ in The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens, but I could find no mention of it. recently Why, then, was I drawn to this early-flowering daffodil? I emailed Andrea Sprott, who is Garden Curator at the Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden in Charlotte, NC. Andrea emailed back and said, “Elizabeth kept records of 450 different daffodils that she had grown, over 35 years. Elizabeth got hers from Mr. Heath (Now Brent & Becky’s Bulbs) in the fall of 1956, and recorded bloom dates through 1965. On her index card, after recording flower colors and measurements, she wrote: ‘very nice—stem 4’. That is high praise, considering how many daffodils she grew and knew.”
Mine grow a mere eight inches tall, but I won’t quibble with Miss Lawrence on height, and I agree: ‘Little Beauty’ is very nice.
Not all of my friends have Latin binomial names. Last year, our neighbors joined us, or we joined them, for outdoor drinks and dinner every Saturday evening until we separated in the fall when we were forced inside.
Rose and I had our last meal outside on Thanksgiving Day. It was chilly. Rose’s brother Milton came out. We picked up a Turkey N’ Dressing Dinner Deluxe from the Cracker Barrel at curbside and made the best of a bad year.
I missed my friends.
Winter Zoom meetings felt like watching television reruns of Hollywood Squares.
Gray skies were as thick as black vultures on roadkill.
There were snow, ice and floods, but these seemed to be behind us by mid-March. Rose and I got our shots.
Days grew longer.
And then, suddenly, the spring equinox arrived. The sun came out. Friends drove out to the country last Saturday. We were vaccinated and unmasked. We sat at a picnic table behind the barn and caught up on the past year.
The afternoon passed in the blink of an eye.