by David Salman
Winter in northern New Mexico can hang around way too long. Like spring blooming bulbs and other early season perennials, these two favorite flowering shrubs assure me spring is really coming and warmth is on the way.
Crandall’s Current (Ribes odoratum 'Crandall') blooms with a profusion of showy spring flowers. The fragrance of those bright yellow blossoms is heavenly and perfumes a wide area around itself. The honeybees and our native bees, hungry from winter, are constantly buzzing this native shrub for its plentiful nectar. A selection of the Fragrant Current, 'Crandall' was chosen to be grown for its large, tasty fruit; truly a versatile and valued low care shrub for our landscapes.
My other early season favorite comes from the high plains of northeastern Colorado. ‘Pawnee Buttes’ Sand Cherry (Prunus besseyii 'Pawnee Buttes') was found growing in the area of Pawnee Buttes, part of the Pawnee National Grasslands. These dramatic bluffs jut up in the midst of the vast short grass prairie that covers this wide open piece of the planet. The area is arid and has brutal weather with Arctic winters and scorching summers. I love the grace of this selection with its horizontal, ground covering branches. In the spring the stems of 'Pawnee Buttes' are completely covered with fragrant, bright white cherry-like flowers. Of course the native and honey bees provide a constant soft buzz as they pollinate this special shrub. Come fall, the glossy dark green leaves turn beautiful shades of amber and yellow.
'Crandall' current is a wonderful choice for most of the US. 'Pawnee Buttes' sand cherry is best in the western half of the country where conditions are more arid. I recommend tucking 'Pawnee Buttes' up around the base of other waterwise native shrubs like Fernbush (Chamaebatiera millifolium) and Big Sage (Artemisia tridentata) to form a low skirt of leaves and branches. It’s also a great groundcover for slopes. ‘Crandall’ is versatile and can be used along fences, at the back of the perennial border or up against the house (preferably near a window) where its fragrance can be enjoyed.