Forget the equinox — for me, forsythia blossoms herald spring's arrival

J. H. Osborne • Mar 24, 2019 at 3:15 PM

If you haven’t driven through the intersection of Wilcox Drive and East Sullivan Street in awhile, do yourself a favor and make a point to do so. It’s one of the springiest places in town right now.

At least I think so. And I’m not alone. An out-of-towner recently used the word “stunning” to describe to me the forsythia bushes that are in full bloom along the rights of way headed into downtown Kingsport.

But I’ve long had a soft spot for the bright yellow blooms of the forsythia. Some bulbs produce earlier blooms each year, brightening winter days. The forsythia, however, has heralded spring for me since I was a young boy. My paternal grandmother, Maude Ward Osborne, had one in her front yard. Yes, it was too close to the driveway and if not kept properly pruned, it could get out of hand. But its location made it a focal point from her living room’s “picture window.” And she loved the burst of yellow it brought each spring. She fancied a fresh-cut bouquet of just forsythia in the house as well.

Mom and I try each spring to make a point of putting forsythia in the vase on my grandparents’ headstone at Oak Hill, usually doing likewise for that of my father, and also that of my uncle and aunt, Elmer Ray and Imogene (Flanary) Osborne. We haven’t yet done so this year. Sometimes we buy artificial forsythia stems. But we’d rather use the real thing. And we have a ready supply.

That forsythia of my grandmother’s always needed a good trim. And Mom’s always had a green thumb. Years ago she took cuttings from Grandmother’s forsythia and simply stuck them in the ground or in planters in the yard. Several took root. After my grandmother died in 1997 and some time before we sold the house nearly 10 years later, Mom “got a start” of the forsythia in our own front yard. Instead of planting it too close to the driveway, she planted it too close to the fence. We try to keep it trimmed out of the neighbor’s way. I keep urging Mom to take more cuttings and “get starts” I can plant in a better location.

I’m glad Mom got a start from my grandmother’s forsythia — and also from an heirloom snowball bush that stood sentry at the rear of the house, which was at the end of a cul-de-sac on five wooded lots. My grandparents had moved there the spring after I was born. They loved to garden and she loved making pathways and nurturing plants throughout the woods. The front of the house included two built-in planters and numerous temporary ones. A patio and deck to the side and back were always lined with flower pots for annuals and perennials, and ornamental plants bordered the front and side yard. There were lilacs and azalea and a special little garden of miniature boxwood. Near the front door grew a huge Japanese red maple.

The sale was final in a November and the new owner — an out-of-state cousin — asked for a transitional period: I’d stay in the house as he had it “updated.” The first day the “contractor” showed up he said he was going to have his crew work first outside. I came home at lunch to see the big Japanese red maple, one of my grandmother’s prized possessions, chopped to its base. The lilacs: gone. Two large boxwoods: gone. The workers were on lunch break as well. I asked if they planned to destroy the miniature boxwood garden or the azaleas that ran down the slope beside the patio. They said no. Inside eating my own lunch a few minutes later, I heard chainsaws. And the azaleas were no more, along with the snowball bush — that had come from a cutting my grandfather took from his father’s house in South Carolina. I don’t drive by that house anymore.

Mom’s forsythia is in full bloom now, just like those on East Sullivan at Wilcox. I took her picture with it yesterday.

I think today we will make some fresh bouquets and go to Oak Hill. And pretty soon, judging by the buds, we’re going to have a full crop of “snowballs.”

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at [email protected]

Kingsport Times News Videos