By Stephanie Cavanaugh
IT HAS BEEN damn cold this past week, and that’s a fine thing.
Not so cold as to nip buds on the hydrangeas or, God forbid, the Yoshino cherries around the Tidal Basin. But cold enough to put the boiling pot of chicken soup* on the porch overnight to chill so as not to spoil the milk in the fridge. Fridge-cold is what it was. Like a florist’s cooler, keeping blossoms fresh for your bouquet.
Look at the daffodils! Still as fresh as daisies, weeks after they began to bloom.
So, the unseemly advance of spring has been forestalled, which promises a flower fest in the weeks to come. An everything-everywhere-all-at-once Oscar winner of a spring.
While they do stay green all year, which is certainly a positive, I do not much care for camellias (this is not a change of subject, just hold on). Washington DC’s climate is not the best for the bushes, with their dense rosettes in shades of pink and red and white and orange. While they’re full-out at this time of year, their flowering is usually a bit of a disaster.
The flowers open and look spectacular for maybe 48 hours, and then they turn brown and fall off, squishing unpleasantly underfoot like slippery, overripe fruit. While they resemble roses, their flowering (and dropping) is far more prolific, creating a disgusting mess. About now, they should be on the skids.
Not this year! Flowers on plants around the neighborhood—some of them six feet tall and nearly as wide—began opening about 10 days ago, smothering stems with masses of blossoms, and they’re hanging in. This chilly weather arrived at the perfect moment, and perfect temperature, to preserve them, not freeze them. It’s a spectacular show, reminding me of why I wanted one in the first place.
Not that I particularly love the one I have. It’s not the most attractive specimen. I don’t recall what it is or why I bought it; probably it was cheap and I figured, as I do, it will probably be pretty or at least prettyish.
It’s kind of meh, when I study it, an unfortunate shade of red, a faded shade like rusted rhubarb. However, it does give a cheer to the front doorway, as long as you don’t look closely. In a few days it will be full-out and the flowers will last as long as there’s a nip in the air. Then, as the heat rises, it will do the brown-and-squish number, leaving piles of mush beside the door.
But by then the rest of the garden will have caught up. The tulips and cherry trees will be out, alongside the magnolias, forsythia, pansies, and apple trees. Roses will start to bloom, wisteria too. It will be magical, a flower-show symphony that’s like a fairy tale.
*Timely note for Passover: When chicken soup cools, fat rises to the surface. Don’t toss it out. The Yiddish for this rendered fat is schmaltz.
Time was, I had a poultry guy, Mel, who would save lumps of fat for me to render and use in matzoh balls and chopped liver. Sadly, Mel sold out and the new guy looks at me blankly. Rare is the whole chicken that arrives with enough fat worth saving. That risen soup fat comes to the rescue. Strain it off the top and melt it down. Even if you use a matzoh ball mix (the one from Streit’s is a little bland, but very good), the fat, now infused with chicken and vegetable flavors, will give the balls so much more flavor than vegetable oil will.