Timeless Observations of the Sun and the Season from Americans Henry Beston and Charles Burchfield

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the sun shines through a frosty forestAfter what Charles Kingsley just gave us, would it harm to tarry on the phenomena of nature–and our responses to them–just a little more? In 1927, while living in a two-room house on Cape Cod, recent Harvard graduate Henry Beston would muse that

A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimage of the sun.

That “pilgrimage of the sun” is followed, as he said, more closely by some than by others. In A Hat Full of Sky (2004), British author Terry Pratchett would observe, breezily wresting a bit of imagination from the mundane, “The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it.” A writer as brilliant as Alexandre Dumas could not have put it better. In February 1946 artist Charles Burchfield wrote in his journal,

The other day, starting with December 21, and working in opposite directions in time, I placed opposite each other the corresponding dates in their distance from the solstice. Thus today is equivalent in the slant of the sun’s rays to November 2–and yet, what a different quality to the sunlight; now it is powerful, waxing and expanding, and in November it is fading, and waning. It cannot be just a state of mind. Read more

Do You Appreciate the Wabi-Sabi Effect and Early Flowering Time of Ornamental Quince?

a white quince in a 3 gallon container at the nursery showing blooms before the leaves come outIn temperate climates, one of the earliest shrubs to bloom is the Ornamental Quince. The display will usually peak at the same time as forsythia, and you can make spectacular combinations by putting them side-by-side. Since the red form of quince seems most common, I thought I’d point out that they come in other colors too: orange, pink, and white.

white crocus blooming in a lawnA few of these shrubs with Iris reticulata at the base would make a fine show that in most parts of the country would appear in March. Or consider planting with crocus, creeping phlox, Siberian squill, Puschkinia, or Chionodoxa. Read more

Improve a Dismal, Off-Season Yard With the Easy, Shade-Loving Evergreen Bush Almost No One Grows and Appreciates

a view of leafy bushes even in late winter or March: the dwarf evergreen plant sweet box

The reason this is called Sweet Box is it’s related to boxwood, which is the evergreen shrub people customarily make into balls and hedges. I knew about boxwood since I was young but I only saw the connection made last year. I never would have made it myself because the leaves and growth habit differ so much. I never would have thought of this plant as a boxwood (relative) for shade or a boxwood (relative) with fragrance. By the way, actual boxwoods stink. Smell one in case you never noticed! Read more

“If That Isn’t Enough, Then What Is?” Vincent van Gogh’s Passionate Letter to His Brother From London

a watercolor of an Indiana wildflower called Dentaria painted around 1915 by Hannah Overbeck
Dentaria laciniata (around 1915)
Hannah Overbeck

In January 1874, Vincent van Gogh would write from London to his brother Theo,

How I’d like to talk to you about art again, but now we can only write to each other about it often; find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.

. . .

Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see. Read more

The Ornamental Cherry ‘Okame’ Offers a Celebration of February Plus Symbolic Luck and Happiness

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branches of the ornamental cherry 'Okame' loaded with pink flowers in late February 2017

Over most of its range, this tree comes into bloom before March. In the area around Philadelphia, where it was introduced to this country, it is also among the first trees to flower, usually between late March and mid-April. ‘Okame’ will grow as far north as zone 5 although it’s not commonly sold some places where it would grow. Since the flowers open so early, you might be worried about their ability to withstand late freezes. Worry not! Like other plants of very early spring, it can take a night or two below 32 without harm in bud or in bloom. In fact, I’ve seen it endure 17 degrees after flowering just ended.

So who or what is Okame? Read more