The poor man’s (or woman’s) privet hedge is forsythia. Like our richer and more aristocratic English counterparts, many of us define our boarders with this fast growing and often leggy bush that can (without proper care) become like an ungroomed, gangly adolescent child. We put up with it, however, as its emergence this time of year is a spectacular explosion of yellow.
It teases us in early March when a first wave of warming temperatures hit and the buds begin to swell portending the blooms to come. By taking some early cuttings and bringing them inside, you can advance the first flower and get a glimpse of what is in store. But a few blooms is no replacement for the spectacle that will occur a few weeks later.
Forsythia starts out slow with a few trumpet shaped little flowers emerging on the tips of the branches. Its four petals and tiny stamen attract the flies and carpenter bees that have been exploring the yard. Within a few days, yards are graced with a row of bright yellow puffball-like bushes that iridescently stand out as do the laborers who are now patching the pockmarked roads of Spring. Some are solitary plantings near a front porch or stoop, but most line the road or a neighbor brightening up an otherwise barely green yard.
But like the mythical Phoenix, forsythia burns bright for a fortnight and then settles back into a comforting, albeit dull green, mass of shoots and branches that need trimming throughout the growing season. For my line of forsythia, this is mostly its lot. The explosion of color is the muffled pop of a New Year Eve’s noisemaker. Only the tips of the forsythia reveal yellow flowers when the rest of any given branch sends out shoots of green. In some light, it appears that the flowers are hanging from invisible supports but closer examination reveals that the stems supporting them have no buds that want to flower. I realize that my lack of flowers is due to the lack of sun they get in the summer so flowering buds set. It seems unfair that just around the corner my neighbors’ bushes are bright with life while mine are waiting to put on their green.