How to Survive a Winter Without Flowers  

In the Garden With Jamaica Kincaid: The author remembers a peony from Mount Baldy and a poppy from Nepal to endure the harshness of the season.

Philadelphicum Jamaica Kincaid

The Garden in Winter

Here is what I do when I look out the window and see my garden buried under three feet of snow: I think of the gardens and the plants I saw in them, or the plants I saw in the wild.

In August I was in Daniel J. Hinkley’s garden, where he and Robert Jones were getting married. This garden is on a cliff from which there is an excellent view of Puget Sound’s Bainbridge Island. All of this is to say that the garden is in a very sheltered spot, and Dan can grow all sorts of plants that love a Mediterranean climate. He used to be the owner of, without a doubt, the best nursery in North America, and why he doesn’t own it anymore is not something I think about when I am in any garden. But the afternoon that he got married, he unveiled a series of agapanthus that he had spent years breeding, and he asked all the women to choose one, and he then named the ones we chose after us.

I looked down on these beautiful, varying shades of blue fists with Sue Wynn-Jones, a colleague of Dan’s in seed collecting, and I remembered that the last time I had a real conversation with her was when we were struggling up to a pass that was between the villages of Topke Gola and Thudan in remote Nepal, not far from the border of Sikkim and Tibet, in the shadow of Kanchanchunga. The pass was just a little under 17,000 feet high, and we were in search of seeds of the blue poppy (Meconopsis benticifolia) and its other forms and also some rare Primulas. All around us, in abundance, was a plant no one has ever been able to cultivate in or outside a garden, the grand noble rhubarb (Rheum nobilis); at the top we found blooming under a covering of snow some ground-hugging white delphiniums, with a little fuzz of hair, perhaps for protection. They, too, cannot be grown in a garden by anyone not living in that climate and under those conditions. I believe Sue chose the most beautiful of all the agapanthus, but I say that because I would want her to.

The peony can be found in Asia (both herbaceous and woody shrub) and Europe (herbaceous), but except for along the mountain coasts of California and Oregon, they do not exist in the Americas. There are two species: P. californica, which can be found in the dry foothills of the mountains in Southern California, from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego, and P. brownii, which is found further north going all the way up to the state of Washington. I could very well be wrong about this P. brownii, for I have never seen it except in a picture. P. californica is another story.