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Believe in spring

February 27, 2002

Ere Man is aware

That Spring is here

The Flowers have found it out.

- ancient Chinese saying

The darkest days of winter are over. We are about to open the gate to spring. No, the calendar doesn't tell us so, but the heart does.

The days are longer. Each day the sun rises higher on the horizon giving us more light. Oh, winter will steal in the back door more than we'd like during the coming months. But spring is coming.

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You can give spring a jump start by bringing it inside your house. Your yard is teeming with dead looking stems that are just aching to bloom. Look carefully at the twigs of that forsythia over there or the apple tree or the crabapple - see the buds swelling in anticipation of warm weather? You have the power to give them a head start.

Forsythia is disdained by many garden designers because they regard its cheerful yellow flowers as too showy, too coarse. But this golden incarnation of the sun is exactly the reason this somewhat gawky shrub is so beloved by country gardeners. After its regular flowering season is over you can keep your forsythia in bounds and full of blooms for next year by cutting it back to about two feet.

The fruits of another variety of forsythia - the weeping (and sparsely blooming) Forsythia suspensa - has a long history as a medicinal herb in China.

In "Green Thoughts," Eleanour Pernyi notes that the flowering of the common garden forsythia acts as a warning for Long Island farmers that the arrival of the cabbage root maggot is at hand. For the rest of us it is a good indicator of the depth of the winter snow cover. If you've lived in the north you may have seen a huge forsythia with blooms on only the bottom few feet. The buds of those flowers were protected and insulated from freezing by a cozy snow cover blanket. In the last ten to fifteen years nurserymen have introduced varieties of more cold-hardy and floriferous forsythia shrubs.

To get a head start on your spring cut long branches from your forsythia or other flowering shrubs for the house. If you nip off just the tips of the branches, your shrub will begin to look stumpy. Once you have the branches inside pound the bottom two inches of the twigs with a hammer to allow them to soak up more water.

Put the stems in a deep vase or bucket filled with six inches of warm water and place in a cool place. Check in two days and add more water to keep the level at six inches. In a few days the bare branches will be heavy with cheerful golden bells. Bring the twigs out of their seclusion and arrange in a tall vase, or, as we do, in a huge old coffee pot.

Abracadabra, you've created your own spring.

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