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Green Acre # 99: Stolen Spring

Above and on the front, branches of Korean spice viburnum smell as great as they look, / Photos by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

DAMN RIGHT I stole these branches.

What is this tree, I mumbled to no one, although My Prince was right beside me. I knew he wouldn’t know.

I don’t know, he said. This is just what I said he’d say. Show him a flower, any flower,  and he’ll ask, Is this a rose? Useless. Unless I need a hole dug—he’s excellent for that.

The scent, I said, waggling a branch in his face. Smell this!

Nice, he said rather warily, as if I’d pointed his slender Irish proboscis into a cluster of bees, not innocent white blossoms. Why doesn’t he trust me?

Nice is an understatement if ever I’ve heard one. The flowers on this small tree, maybe seven feet tall and so prettily shaped, were as intoxicatingly sweet as anything I’d ever sniffed.

The house where the tree stands is empty. It will soon be on the market. My Prince was asked by the long-distance owners to remove this and that to make way for painters and stagers.

I was there for the purpose of scavenging (there were numerous pots and planters and such being discarded), and I considered nipping these branches to be part of the tidying.

Posting a close-up of a flower online, it was Baby who surprised me with the tree’s name. There’s an app for that, it appears. PictureThis Plant Identifier has you upload a photo to your phone, fidget a bit, and it is miraculously identified.

She said it’s a Korean Spice Viburnum which, on looking it up, appears to be a plant of some perfection for my dry (because I often neglect to water), shady (because it’s a jungle) back garden.

At seven feet, the tree I cadged the flowers from is fully grown. According to the commercial grower Monrovia, which supplies many local garden centers, there’s “so much to love about this old-fashioned shrub, from spicy-scented blooms in spring and berries and colorful foliage in fall. Once established, it thrives with little supplemental water . . . Plant [along a shady wall] near windows, patios and living areas to enjoy the fragrance.

They call it a shrub, but it sure looks like a small tree since it branches several feet up from a solid main stem, though perhaps it was trained that way.

I must have one.

As for the purloined branches, it is rare, at this time of year, that I have to resort to stealing (or god forbid buying from a florist) flowering stems. It forever amazes me that walking down the street can offer such bounty—so many people clip and prune and discard budded branches of magnolia, dogwood and cherry when they can be stuffed into vases, taken inside and enjoyed sometimes weeks before they bloom outdoors.

It’s even more sinful when flower-laden branches lie in sad heaps along the sidewalks.  

I always allow a lower branch of my Kwanzan cherry to grow out, snipping it each spring when the buds grow fat and it’s a few weeks from full-flowering—like now. Place the stems in a warm room for a couple of days and they will burst open, giving a delightful preview of the coming pink-petaled storm.

As the flowers fade from whatever it is you pruned or scavenged, the sweet new leaves will probably emerge, giving you a little indoor tree. The yellow flowers on the long branches of forsythia I clipped weeks ago, and set as an explosion of color on the dining table, are just now turning green.

The Korean spice branches are in a broken pedestal, which gives just the right touch of ruin to the top of the living-room radiator, though it leaks like a sieve.

(Tip ahead! If you have a vessel with an opening that you think would be nice for flowers but doesn’t hold water, trim a plastic bottle to size and shove it in the hole. I’ve found that the particularly narrow 33.8-ounce bottles of Refreshe Electrolyte Water from Harris Teeter work beautifully.) The water tastes disgusting, but My Prince will drink (or eat) anything. His mother taught him not to waste.*

He’s such a handy person to have around.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

*Remind me to tell you the story of the Safeway graham crackers he once bought, two for one as I recall. Feh.  

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” shares her horticultural aperçus with us every Thursday.

One thought on “Green Acre # 99: Stolen Spring

  1. Stephanie, I’m with you: there is a special place in hell for anyone who would cut down a tree, or branches, in full bloom. We saw a very mature redbud tree across the street from us, in full bloom one morning, and cut down to the ground by 5pm that day. Shameful!!!

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