Even as the garden winds down for winter, I gain hope and strength from the briefest hints that my garden fully expects that Spring will return in due time. I'm writing, of course about the many hardy buds on shrubs and trees that each are whispering to me, "Just wait, you'll see, I'll be green again when April beckons." Hope springs eternal in the gardener's breast.
There were four candidates for faith in Spring in my garden this past weekend. The first of these were the small fuzzy buds of the magnolias, most prolific of which are my Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’). Magnolia stellata is one of the few magnolias hardy enough to prosper in this area (I grow three different magnolias in total), and so I watch it carefully during the winter, holding my breath as the buds swell and the shrub proves to me that it has yet again survived the winter.
Lilacs, of course, provide a reliable display of tight brown buds in the Kansas landscape during the winter, seemingly armored against the winter cold, and the lilacs are our alkali-soil-loving stalwarts for spring fragrance. Native sumacs, of course, dot the prairie everywhere, but their buds in my garden are best contemplated on the tamer Cutleaf Staghorn sumac, 'Tiger Eye's' (Rhus typhine) cultivar. The fuzzy stems of the sumac resemble, of all things, deer antlers (interestingly, since deer love to eat these stems) and the buds as small scars, but eventually the buds grow out.
'Tiger Eyes' Sumac
If there are buds that I watch most closely, though it's the hard brown orbs born by Aesculus carnea 'Briottii' that stands as a specimen tree, albeit still small, in my back garden. I had a heck of a time getting this one to grow, trying twice before I got a specimen to survive its first winter. And even now I must watch carefully in the spring as the turtle-like shell of these buds opens to reveal the most delicate fuzzy green innards that slowly expand like cabbages.
A. carnea ‘Briottii’
The second year I had this tree, I was examining the newly opened buds and looking at the delicious-appearing light green foliage and I thought "hey, I bet the deer would really love this thing and I'd better get some fencing up." I procrastinated of course, and the very next morning I found half the tree denuded of the new pubescent foliage. Figuring that the deer had already had their fun, I still didn't cover the tree and, unsurprisingly the following morning the other half of the tree had been nipped in the buds. That spring, the tree started all over again producing leaves, but it survived and ever since, I make sure to protect it when the smallest green shows through the buds. Fool me once, shame on the deer, fool me twice and I'm going to be stocking the freezer with venison.