When I was at law school, I hung around with an international crowd, most of whom I met at the graduate dorm I stayed in at Berkeley, International House. These guys loved to organize “soirees” of an evening where everybody had to perform: singing, reciting, dancing, playing an instrument or some such. Some people looked artistic, but some didn’t. It was always amazing when someone who appeared to just swell the crowd would step up and offer the most stunning performance.
This is how I feel about the forsythia shrubs I planted in the front yard of my little French cottage, my hero shrubs. They look just like every other foliage plant you’ve ever seen, and then they begin to sing.
The Double Life of Forsythias
Forsythia shrubs are deciduous flowering bushes, easy-care, fast-growing and altogether a desirable addition to a deciduous hedge or shrub grouping. These shrubs grow in an upright form with long, arching branches.
They pass the winter naked, looking like every other small deciduous tree or large deciduous bush in winter: long bare branches covered lightly with snow. Then, suddenly, as February rolls into March, the forsythia shrubs step up and steal the spotlight.
Brilliant Yellow Blossoms
This transformation occurs while all of the plants around the forsythias are still knee-deep in winter. The oaks are bare of leaves; the roses just jutting stems, the plane trees only skeletons against the winter sky. One morning I carry my coffee out to the picnic table and stare open-mouthed at the forsythias, their arching branches suddenly and always unexpectedly laden with brilliant yellow blossoms.
The performance is stunning, in part because they bloom before any leaves appear. That means the naked branches are filled to overflowing with four-petaled flowers in an absolutely bursting shade of yellow.
My Hero Shrub
I love these shrubs for their sudden and always surprising show, just when I need lively color the most. After a few weeks, the shrubs leaf out, the flowers fall and the forsythias recede into the background with the other trees and bushes sending out foliage. All summer long, they “swell the crowd” of foliage shrubs, then drop their leaves and go dormant for winter.
But they have a secret, a secret that I share: that winter will end and spring, with its forever hope and joyful beauty will again appear and inspire us. Even when I am far from France in late winter, I see the brilliant yellow blossoms of my forsythia shrubs in my dreams.