Gardening with Galligan: Blossoms brighten the Island

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO |Talk about good neighbors! This is the scene on North Cartwright Road — a gorgeous, long stretch of daffodils, against an old stone wall.

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO |Talk about good neighbors! This is the scene on North Cartwright Road — a gorgeous, long stretch of daffodils, against an old stone wall.

While the Island is alive with shades of yellow and gold, we might spend a little time on both daffodils and forsythia, two of the great gifts of spring.

Last year, if you recall, we spent a good deal of time debating “the rules” governing daffodil foliage; the major commandment had always been that the foliage had to turn brown in order for the bulb to gather strength to rebloom. This was called into question by the experiences my daughter had when her yard crew had cut down every single daffodil leaf.

Carefully charting the effects, comparing her bloom with mine, I came to the following conclusion: The longer you allow the foliage to “ripen,” the better, but “brown and crispy” isn’t really necessary. After the flowers fade and the stems are cut, the foliage stays green for quite some time. It’s this green period that does indeed seem essential; “the longer the better” would be the better rule.

Daffodils should be fed after bloom with a scattering of any all-purpose fertilizer, preferably before rain. At some point, if diminished bloom is observed, it’s probably a good idea to dig up clumps and divide them, thereby providing further incentive for growth.

As for forsythia, what a wonderful plant! Cheering, especially on the sometimes gray and chilling days of April, which we always think of as spring but often doesn’t feel like it. The shrub was named for William Forsyth, born in 1737, a Scottish botanist who was a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society, one of the world’s leading horticultural charities.

Forsythias, both drooping and upright, have an exotic history; forsythia suspensa, the “drooping” or “weeping” variety, was first seen in a Japanese garden by the botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg, who was an apostle of Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus, as you probably know, was a Swedish botanist, born in 1707, also a physician and zoologist, who is responsible for the modern horticultural nomenclature and usually wrote in Latin.

Thunberg included the shrub, which he thought was a lilac, in his book, “Flora Japonica,” published in 1784. Because of Thunberg’s connections with the Dutch East India Company, the shrub reached Holland first, by 1833. A few years later, even though it was available in England, the plant was still considered a rarity.

The erect form, forsythia viridissma, was first encountered, by a Westerner, a Scottish plantsman, Robert Fortune, born in 1812, who came across it in a Japanese garden in the coastal city of Chusan. Later, he realized that it was growing wild in the mountains of the province. It should be noted that these “plantsmen,” adventurous travelers all, went forth on their missions of discovery at a time when travel was dangerous, precarious and uncomfortable; they were often without means of communication and far from any medical assistance, should it be necessary. They did bring us forsythia and many other plants that we think of today as commonplace, although they weren’t at one time.

Forsythia’s different varieties grow from 3 to 8 feet and are remarkably hardy. When I bought my first house here on the Island, an unfinished shell, it came complete with a large burlap-balled forsythia, lying on its side, untended for several years.

When finally planted, it bloomed nicely. That being said, forsythia is one of those plants where feeding makes a major difference. Although the plant won’t die even if you beat it with a stick, if you feed it, you will see striking results.

Next week we’ll move along to another spring plant — a bulb, scilla hispanica, a favorite of mine for good reason.