Forsythia Time

b combo forsythMy niece Cynthia once told me that when she was a small child, her mother told her these bright yellow flowering branches were named in her honor: For Cynthia. I can just hear my sister saying it, and I must add it’s an improvement on the truth. How much lovelier to have a brilliant source of cheer and hope named for a little girl, rather than for a Scottish botanist. But of course, it was the Scottish botanist who earned the privilege of horticultural immortality, through having introduced the Chinese plant to Britain. In China the fruit of forsythia was used in traditional herbal medicine to treat colds, fevers, bronchitis, and allergies, though in Britain the shrub was purely ornamental. You may be surprised to hear that forsythia has fruit. After putting all that gold into its flowers, the fruits are small, dry, and brownish, and look rather like husks of leftover sepals. Forsythia is also a member of the olive family, and doesn’t look like that either.

But they’re blooming in my backyard now, airy rocketing branches – they can grow as much as 24 inches in a year – carrying a payload of spring. Wherever a looping branch cascades back to earth and touches the ground, it can root and become a whole new bush.

b down moreNaturally, it has inspired many poets. Mary Ellen Solt’s poem is the one I always think of – an elegant example of concrete poetry. When you see some concrete poems you say to yourself, oh cute, or oh clever. With Solt’s you say of course! Perfect!

Forsythia is the gift of a moment – well, maybe two weeks, but what is that in the life of a garden? Which brings me to the other poem I think of with the first bright flowers of spring.

b flower closeupNothing Gold Can Stay

    By Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

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