The Fragrance of Winter

The flowering apricot, P. mume 'Nicholas', bloom in the winter garden with a fragrance reminiscent of spring behind the garden gates of Old Charleston.



       For days the high temperatures hovered in the 20’s, the lows trembling in single digits. Outside the kitchen window the Full Wolf Moon hung just above the ridge top. I closed the shutters and took myself to bed.

         The next morning I woke to sunlight warm upon my face, and then I smelled it – the slightest promise of a thaw. And inhaling, a hint of something more, like the scent of hope and of memory. Following my nose, I stepped outside the front door and on an exhale was transported to springtime in Charleston a decade ago. Exploring a Hobbit-sized and cobbled street, I stumbled against a pair of tall iron gates wrought in roses and vine. From the garden beyond, reflected in whorls of white and greens and pale azures, floated the same perfume that greeted me that February day at the end of my garden path. That remembered fragrance of white Narcissus and pearled Daphne and cool blue hyacinths blending with the scent of moss on old stone and breezes off salt water.

And then, across a distance of a hundred footsteps, I saw her – Prunus mume ‘Bridal Veil’.  Three years before, along the walk to the hen-house, I’d planted her, my untried treasure from Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, NC.

Since, I’ve added ‘Nicholas’, ‘Pink Panther’, another ‘Bridal Veil’ and ‘Peggy Clarke’ – four of them. I placed the the trees where the morning sun would shine on their heads, and they could bask in its light until mid-afternoon. Not fussy or fickle in their needs, the rain and I watered them well the first year, and after that the rain has gone it alone.  Every spring, they get a top-dressing of home made compost and nothing else.

Small trees, flowering apricots range from fifteen to twenty-five feet at maturity, and about that wide. Here, ‘Nicholas’s’ winter silhouette looks like that of  a Tiffany vase or an old-fashioned “Gibson Girl” – narrow hipped and busty. ‘Pink Panther’ is shaped like that same “girl” after too many dishings of clotted cream. In their youth the Peggys remind me a little of Cindy Who. And ‘Bridal Veil’, she weeps and is so beautiful.

P. mume 'Bridal Veil'
P. mume ‘Bridal Veil’



Their fall color? I hate to say, I’ve seldom noticed, what with the Japanese maples, the Katsuras, the bald cypresses, sourgums, sweet gums. The unassuming sisters playing wallflower to their flashier siblings, Prunus mume mostly turns a nice serviceable gold with moments of orangey glory.

In this zone 7 garden, they flower for weeks – the buds continuing to open throughout February and into March – in colors ranging from white, to blush, to rose. (Some varieties hardy to zone 5.)  Only the fully opened blossoms tempt fate in a blustery cold snap. I never pass the fairy-like blooms without gathering a few to float in the seashells I have in every room of our old house. They bring with them  their scent of hope and sweet memories.

Outside now, snow is falling and the temperature is to drop into the teens tonight. But on my walk to close in the chickens for the evening, I passed through my grove of Prunus mume and witnessed their swelling buds. Soon, soon.


Photo Credits:  Camellia Forest Nursery