I think the photo came from Southern Living magazine. A Tin Eye search returns several blogs that re-posted it, but Southern Living seems like the original.
The colors, the composition, the beautiful blooming branches and expensive glass jars all sing to me.
So on the last day of January, when a crazy warm front switched our temperatures from 10 degrees F to the high 50s overnight, I went outside to gather branches for forcing.
It was warm and windy and wet and sloppy, but with pruners in hand, I set out.
First on my list was witch hazel. The hybrid Hamamelis 'Diane' was in bloom, but for the life of me I can never see those little flowers. The foliage is rusty brown and persistent and the scattering of rusty flowers are tiny and hang below the brown leaves for a truly ghastly effect.
This witch hazel had been split apart by a storm in 2011, and in 2012 I pruned it severely to try to regain some shape. So there were few branches to cut that hadn't already been taken off. I found a few, but the flowers seemed to be clustered at the base of the stems, and would wind up under water in the vase. No matter. I stripped the dry leaves off the branches I cut and brought them in.
I have never ever smelled any of the famous fragrance that witch hazels are supposed to perfume the countryside with in winter. Nothing. But as they warmed up in the sink, as I cut them and stuck them in a vase, bringing them up to my face as I carried them to the living room, I caught a tiny whiff for the first time. Spicy. Wonderful.
I also had trouble finding sufficient branches to cut from a newly planted winter honeysuckle. This Lonicera fragrantissima is still tiny, with just a dozen whippy branches on it, so finding a few to cut was a problem. But four were taken, and I am eagerly waiting to see if there will be blooms indoors. I have never smelled winter honeysuckle, but like the elusive witch hazel scent, it is supposed to perfume the air.
I cut some forsythia, just because you can. Forsythias will bloom inside if you look at them.
I took just a few budded branches from a Dawn viburnum (Viburnum bodnantense). Like my other shrubs, it is not big and there are so few branches to sacrifice. It is another young plant that I have never seen bloom and have never smelled, so I hope it opens its pretty pink buds and delivers a scent indoors.
I cut some fothergilla branches, some cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) and aronia, just a few of each.
Jim came into the room and asked, why do we have pruning clippings in the living room? Not prunings, I told him, those are branches of winter flowering shrubs. Well why do we have a shrubbery indoors?
Because it's midwinter and I need to see something bloom. I need to smell something fragrant. I need to create my own version of the picture I have been ogling all winter, even though I know some glass florist vases, a ceramic pitcher and a shot glass aren't even close.
In the shot glass is one tiny budded branch from my yellow flowered magnolia 'Elizabeth'. That tree suffered storm damage last year too, and there is not one branch I can spare. But could you resist this fat fuzzy bud, so ready to open?
And could you resist knowing you could force it to look like this in midwinter indoors?