Normandy 'Forest' Has Deftly Managed Natural Feel


Backyard 'Jonquils' Lie Below Grand Oaks

March 24, 1991|By Mary Gold

Normandy residents Georgia and Paul Miller describe their 2-acre backyard as a good example of a typical Maryland forest in its final stage.

It includes spirelike oaks and tulip poplars, a medium-height understory of dogwoods and such low-growing native shrubs as spicebush and wild hydrangea. Small birds flit around a feeder close to the house.

Surprisingly, there is a huge bird nest stuck near the top of a particularly tall oak.

The mass of sticks has recently been reclaimed for the season by a red-shouldered hawk "who greets us by dive-bombing the kitchen's bay window at full tilt and pulling up just beforecolliding," Georgia Miller says.

As the late-winter sun lines up tree shadows against the grays and browns of last year's fallen leaves, it becomes evident that more than Mother Nature's hand has been atwork in the Miller's 2 acres.

The woods are chock-full of thousands of jonquil plants, many already in bloom by mid-March. Drifts of cheerful yellow flowers and the vertical green foliage are everywhere.

Naturalizing is what horticulturists call it, but not all is leftto nature's whim.

The pleasing placement of clumps around the many rocks, the use of small clearings and the hint of footpaths wandering

around the property suggest some method to the naturalness. Andthe clearing of dead branches and some of the undergrowth, as well as controlling the poison ivy, are ongoing tasks for the Millers.

Georgia Miller started planting her bulbs 26 years ago, when she movedinto the newly built stone-faced house. She inherited her first plants from her father-in-law and has been digging and planting ever since.

Once planted, the jonquils pretty much take care of themselves,she says. They are long-lived and a perennial spring delight.

Thevarious varieties that she has planted provide about six weeks of displays. This year, the first blossom opened Feb. 21.

The only upkeep is thinning out crowded clumps every few years.

She does this by waiting until early summer, when the foliage has almost completely wilted and yellowed. Waiting any longer risks the disappearance of the old leaves and therefore not knowing where to dig for the bulbs.

After digging and separating the clump, the bulbs are immediately replanted in more spacious accommodations. Her method allows the jonquil leaves to manufacture the maximum amount of energy for the bulb's next season of bloom.

If you are wondering what flower Georgia Miller is referring to when she uses the name "jonquil," you are not alone -- and you are probably not from Maryland.

In the United States,there is a great confusion in the use of the terms "narcissus," "daffodil" and "jonquil." Common definitions of what flower falls into which category vary regionally.

Official nomenclature has changed several times. For what it's worth, the Royal Horticulture Society of London, in its most-recent revision (1950), defines the term:

Narcissus is the genus name that includes all of the flowers we call narcissus, daffodils and jonquils.

Daffodil is the common name for hardy, large-trumpeted, one-flower-per-stem varieties of narcissus that properly should be called "trumpet narcissus." An example is the popular variety "King Alfred." Jonquils are a specific classification of narcissus that have small, deep yellow, sweet-smelling flowers, several to one stem. "Suzy" is a variety of Narcissus jonquilla.

The society lists many other types of narcissus, and most of the names are self-descriptive, such as large-cupped (e.g., "Salome"), small-cupped (e.g., "Barrett Browning") and double (e.g., "cheerfulness").

Others go by their Latin class names. Triandrus have multiflowered stems,thin leaves. Cyclamineus display petals that slant backward like cyclamen flowers; tazetta is the oldest known type and includes the forcing types like "paperwhite."

Poeticus are the narcissus of the Middle Ages and are still seen around castles in Europe. There are stillwild forms of narcissus, unaltered by man, available also.

The above classification is well and good, helpful at bulb buying time, perhaps.

But here in Howard County, most gardeners call the early, trumpet narcissus "jonquils." In a spin off of the old maxim, "If it isn't broken, don't fix it," perhaps we can add: If we know what we aretalking about, don't change the language.

Georgia Miller's efforts are not limited to her jonquils. She has tried many kinds of plantsand techniques.

The perfect pink flower of a camellia bush nodding next to the kitchen door and an Easter Rose (helleborus) in full bloom nearby -- both fussy here in Howard County -- attest to her skills.

Although the Millers' property looks open and fairly sunny at this time of year, it will transform itself into a fully shaded lot bymid-May, when the oak and poplar leaves will form a dense canopy overhead.

Paul Miller says that vegetable gardening is out of the question. If a volunteer tomato plant does appear, it quickly becomes scraggly and never produces.

But there are already hints of the positive things that in later weeks will be seen in this shady enclave.

Leaves of Virginia bluebells are just visible here and there. Azaleas -- or what is left of them, notes Georgia Miller, after the deer have munched on the tips -- are poised for bloom. There are dogwoods and plumed ferns ready to take center stage.

Inspiration for their yard's impressive landscaping comes from his wife, says Paul Miller. But the job couldn't be done without his willingness to take on the heavy work, she adds enthusiastically.

Although Georgia Miller grewup in Baltimore, she spent her early years surrounded by people who cared and talked about plants and growing things all the time.

"Eventually," she says, "the love of nature and gardening became a part of me right down to the tips of my toes."

The Millers' gardening partnership carries on this spirit.

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