Fill the house with daffodils
Hear the courting birds trill
Winter sleep comes awake.
Spring calls but she’s still stuck in a chilly end to winter. The hills remain leafless with just a few red maples blooming ruby red against the grey, but the hollow cannot help tipping into spring with crocus and daffodils splashing purple and yellow against the golden fields and meadows. It’s irresistible to bring them inside to fill the perfect vase.
Narcissus is one of the few families of plants that is truly deer and rodent proof and the old Van Englelen mixtures of naturalizers and miniatures have served us well over many years with a long reliable succession of bloom. Crocus tommasinianus Lilac Beauty and Ruby Giant come back year after year.
At the other end of winter, I filched seeds from the Murray Morris Meadow at Sentara Hospital in Charlottesville for a few weeks in February and March when I was a regular there and learned first-hand the truth of the healing power of gardens. This perfectly-designed stroll garden, with a path that begins with a steep drop-off at the top of a panoramic view from Pantops Mountain, winds you down toward a pond among grasses and trees that wave over your head, then out into the open again as you circle back up the hill accompanied by birds flitting to and fro.
Oaks, maples, hornbeams and a variety of viburnums dot the slopes, interplanted with thick swaths of grasses and perennials. Switchgrass (Panicum virginiana), Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latiflolia), Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus), Beardtongue (Penstemon sp.), Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida sp.), Bergamot (Monarda sp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias sp.) provide shelter, berries, nuts and seeds to bluebirds, finches, mockingbirds, sparrows, crows and hawks, with nectar for myriad butterflies, dragonflies and moths.
There’s a lot going on in this diverse human-created ecosystem that respects the lay of the land and offers the comfort that comes from contemplating the enduring beauty of nature. Last visit saw the yearly cutting that sustains the meadow, revealing the rolling contours of the slope and the still-winter architecture of trees and shrubs.
Here at home in the hollow I have to keep myself from pruning the Beautyberrys (Callicarpa japonica) until they see our resident mockingbird through the rest of winter. I saw him out there the other day pecking the shriveled tiny fruits out at the end of the twigs. The city bird settles into a rusty blackhaw viburnum (V. rufidulum) with dark blue shining berries.
This dashing, alert bird with its white epaulets has become my totem this season, perching himself faithfully each afternoon atop a favorite tree or shrub to turn his breast to the last of the sun.