TWO YEARS ago I laid down a stem of the white clematis called 'Henryl' and it rooted several places along its length. This is the best way for the ordinary gardener to get an extra plant or two of some favorite clematis he grows.
If dug and planted in their new positions in March, the young plants should grow right along. Even if you don't want any more clematis, it's an excellent idea to layer a steam or two.
The if the dreaded clematis wilt strikes, you have a margin of safety since only one of the plants in a many-layered clump will succumb.
We can easily have freezes till mid-April, and they rarely do much harm. If they do wreck something, there is not much to be done about it, so either way I have stopped worrying.
But I do have a couple of things in pots, plants that arrived from the dealers in mid-January with growth already started.
It is a nuisance to pot them then, especially since the plants are perfectly hardy; but if set outdoors in January with their soft new leaves, they might easily be killed outright.
I doubt I was ever meant to have Paeonia lutea ludlowii in the garden. Two or three have died on me, and though it is so easy to grow from seed that any fool can grow it, I have never had any success with seed, either, despite my pains of not disturbing the pot (outdoors) for two years.
The one that arrived in January, with leaves, is sulking in its pot, usually beside the dishwashing machine in the kitchen but on mild days outdoors. It is a beautiful plant when well grown, reaching seven feet or so, with canary-colored saucers of bloom and blue-green leaves. It should not be uncommon, but it is -- and I have always wondered why you never see it in our country. Unless, of course, plants keep dying for others as they do with me.
On nippy nights, to explain how I spend my time, I trot forth and cover the young shoots of the scarlet clematis from Texas with litter.
It is perfectly hardy, but my plant is only two or three years old; and this clematis with cherry-scarlet leathery flowers like little pinched bells is now so rare (for some unfathomable reason) that I would not know how to replace it.
It is said to be hard to propagate, and I have never got anything to come up from seed, certainly. Years ago bought a plant for 60 cents -- it was common enough then. I will try to layer it.
One thing I am convinced of, it is asking for disaster to move a large clematis plant. Once I moved a huge plant of this Texas variety (in the days when I had a large plant of it to move) and despite settling it into its news home in early April, within five minutes of digging it up, it died right in front of my horrified eyes. A number of plants that theoretically can be moved in fact protest strongly by curling up their heels.
On the other hand, I was obliged to move a good-sized (10 feet) China rose in August. I cut it back severely (and roses do not like being cut back severely in August) and it took no offense.
It like a south wall -- most China roses do -- because while I have known the single (five petaled) particolored one called 'Mutabilis' to survive a drop to 11 degrees below zero, it has an irksome havit of putting forth little bronzed-red leaves in late January, and of course there are always freezes after that. Against a wall, it misses a good bit of damage it otherwise suffers out in the middle of a garden.
It recovers, of course, but sometimes it does not grow more than four feet tall, if it has no wall to shelter it, and it is exactly the sort of rose that makes its greatest effect only it if a huge plant.
You may have noticed some daffodils that were blooming by mid-March were not at all hurt by later freezes. But sometimes you see a flower bud that has toppled over and you see a soft spot on the stem halfway between the ground and the bud. That is because the cold has hit it just wrong. Usually this damage is so minor -- affecting so few blooms -- that it's not worth mentioning.
It always upsets me, however.
Of course we need not expect flowers in later winter of early spring without a few casualties. I understand well enough that dogs and people die, but it still outrages me when a bloom is frozen.
You do not garden long without noticing curious behavior in plants (and other gardeners, of course). This year I had a great rash of the rich purple crocus 'Purpurea Grandiflora,' which has not bloomed much the past couple of years, and which I assumed was dying out. This year it seemed to be all over, the flowers enormous.
Another oddity was a small patch of the wine-purple 'Irish reticulata,' the wild species that smells like violets (many of its hybrids have not scent). Usually this iris quietly dies out after a year or two, or else one bulb in the clump will quietly survive and produce a flower every year. But I have never noticed this iris to bloom suddenly after five years.
This year the Carolina jasmine is biding its time. Some years it exposes its flower buds in February and they are frozen before their normal flowering time in April. You will see that young plants often misfire, so to speak, for two or three years.
If all goes well it gradually builds up some bulk and behaves itself thereafter. This is a robust, fragant vine, Gelsemium sempervirens.
The semi-weeping winter jasmine (Jasminum sempervirens) is a quite different fish, producing its scentless but delightful little yellow stars on bare twigs from January on, the main flush coming in mid-March, usually.
In a small garden like mine, there is never much to see in the way of a fine spectacle, but plenty to amuse one like myself who is easily amused by trifling things. In late March I like to keep an eye on the mouse-ear leaves of the purple Japanese barberry, a common creature and lovely. Also the stems of Akebia quinata are pimpled with purplish warts like small mulberries. These are the naked flower buds of the purple blooms that early in April will suddenly unfold, as the fern-like leaves race to catch up with them. Later there are fruits like gray-violet fat sausages.
The leaves of some honeysuckles are violet and rose. The flowers of the butterburr sit on the ground like a pinchcushion of greenish white. They are now showy, not even pretty, and do not look wholesome. But there they are.