Garden Muse

Oh, how I ache for some sun this cold, wet spring! So I'm especially grateful for clouds of pink plum blossoms against the gray skies, a sight that warms my heart.

Early flowering weeping cherries, like pink veils, brighten neighborhoods and parks. One rainy afternoon, I was thrilled to see masses of pink and white flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) blooming along a freeway bank, turning a drab commute into a holiday. I treasure every morsel of color on these overcast days.

Trees for spring bloom

This year especially, I've noticed a profusion of mature star magnolia trees, bursting into bloom like white fireworks. Now that the saucer magnolias are opening their sumptuous chalices, blending tints of pink, purple and white, spring is well on its way.

In my garden, some of the earliest flowers are tiny - but blooming on bare branches, they're as festive as confetti. The old 'Elephant Heart' plum tree is covered with myriad white flowers, and soon the apple trees will be a haze of pink and white.

The branches of Cornelian Cherry tree (Cornus mas) are studded with tiny yellow flowers, echoed by the newly emerging leaves of a golden mock orange shrub (Philadelphus coronarius 'Aurea') beside it. I can't wait for the piercingly fragrant flowers of mock orange to scent the garden in June.

All around town, tiny red flowers light up the red maples (Acer rubrum), showiest in fall with flaming leaves, yet sparkling in spring with plentiful blossoms along the bare branches. In my own garden, I can see the little red flowers dangling like dainty earrings from the branches of fern-leaved full moon maple, growing in a large terra cotta pot just below my office window. Dissected leaves will unfurl next, and soon the tree will be clothed in elegant foliage.

Every spring, I admire crabapples in gardens I visit, especially the ones with pink flowers, but haven't planted one of my own yet. Great Plant Picks ( has researched the best ones for our wet springs, selecting five varieties resistant to disease. The flowers, fruits and shapes of Adirondack, Red Jewel, Strawberry Parfait, Sargent's Tina and Golden Raindrops are described in detail at their website.

Flowering cherries are spring's signature. My favorite is Daybreak (Prunus 'Akebono') for its graceful shape and luminous pink flowers. In my mind's eye I can still see a hillside of flowering cherries at the Portland Japanese Garden (, which reminds me it's time for a visit there to celebrate spring.

Flowering shrubs

Each day I check the bare branches of deciduous shrubs for newly arriving flowers. At last, the flowers of my favorite currant, Ribes x gordonianum, are dangling in dense clusters, growing longer and opening more fully each day. I love their warm tints, red on the outside of the flowers and yellow on the inside, blending together to give the impression of coral.

While weeding around the trunk of Grace smoke tree, I caught a surprising whiff of sweet perfume, and looked up to see Osmanthus x burkwoodii (formerly called Osmaria) in full bloom. The small white flowers are modest, but the scent they emit is heavenly. This evergreen shrub has slowly but surely grown five feet tall and four feet wide. Together with several Lovely Fairy roses, it thickens a long border and screens the view beyond.

Japanese kerria is an old-fashioned plant that I'd seen many times in woodland settings. Arching branches laden with double yellow spring flowers form bright garlands. But it was Golden Guinea, with large single flowers, that stole my heart on a garden tour. No matter what the weather, it's sunny in my heart when lemon yellow kerria flowers open April.

Carpets of color

The small flowers of a vigorous bishop's hat, Epimedium x versicolor, are a froth of yellow beneath the canopy of trees. They're the perfect complement to blue lungwort, and pink and wine hellebores. Newer named varieties of bishop's hat such as Cherry Tart, Okuda's White and Purple Prince chime in with pink, white and purple flowers.

I must be more careful about buying new epimediums. I'm so enamored with their foliage - heart shaped, arrow-shaped and mostly evergreen - as well as their delicate flowers, that I've already bought Cherry Tart twice. To correct this, I've started a list of the 37 varieties in my garden, to date. Still, I crave bright pink Ruby Tuesday, which I spotted at the Gardenpalooza plant sale, just as the very last plant was snatched.

Sebright Nursery's ( Thomas Johnson took pity on me and promised there'll be a 'Ruby Tuesday' waiting at his nursery next time I visit.

Coming events

• Clackamas County Master Gardeners Spring Garden Fair, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 30, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 1. Plants, garden art, tools for sale; free classes, seed packets, raffle prizes. Clackamas County Event Center, 694 N.E. Fourth Ave., Canby, 97013. Parking free, admission $3. For complete information, visit .

• Portland Japanese Garden Annual Plant Sale, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 23. Portland Japanese Garden, 611 Kingston, Washington Park, just above the International Rose Test Garden. Free event.

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