CLARKSDALE, Miss. -- Each year at this time, I wish I had invented the Bradford pear tree. Millions have been sold over the past 20 to 25 years and every spring several million more are snapped up by eager gardeners. There's hardly a yard that doesn't have one or more, and they line driveways and park trails in small towns and large.
Personally, I consider them the weeds of the tree kingdom. Brittle and subject to being decimated by the now-and-then ice storms that plague the Mid-South, they're messy as the devil (and smelly!) when the miniature pears start rotting and dropping all over creation in late autumn, and a constant nuisance are the root shoots that pop up helter-skelter in the lawn, adjacent flower beds, and even in driveway cracks.
Many's the time I've berated myself for not hacking down the two I inherited when we bought our house. Then, they were small and it would've been no major chore; now, they're 30 feet tall, and I don't do chainsaws. Besides, my wife, whose only awareness of things yard-wise is when she goes from the house to the car, fancies them.
Dislike them though I may in my own yard, I nonetheless grudgingly admit that when they're in full bloom, and sited for plenty of room to grow — as in parks, commercial landscapes, or country estates — they can be strikingly beautiful during their one week of glory each spring.
This year, they're particularly lovely, as is the case after a preceding wet year and a cold winter, which encourage greater bud-set and bloom. In the bright spring sun, against a clear, blue sky, they're gorgeous. And on my last few 4 a.m. walks, in the light of a brilliant full moon, they've been luminescent, shimmering clouds of white.
One has to work at being a curmudgeon this time of year, when the earth is springing back to life from what has been a particularly dismal winter. Daffodils are a'bloom everywhere. Japanese magnolia trees, almost as numerous as Bradford pears, are enrobed in great masses of purple (in three years of five they get zapped by a late freeze when bloom is at peak, but it looks as if they'll escape this time around). Wild plums, flowering crab apples, forsythia, flowering quince, and other trees/shrubs add to the colorful palette.
In another couple of weeks or so, dogwoods should begin flowering, and as a result of the rains during bud-set last summer/fall, they should also be particularly outstanding. Unfortunately, not a lot of dogwoods are in the Delta proper — they aren't crazy about heavy clay soils — but in the hills, there should be quite a show as Easter nears.
Back to Bradford pears: A consolation is that they're relatively short-lived, only 20 to 25 years, so statistically, mine should be nearing adios-time.
And there's a guy in Texas who avers, "The best thing you can say about Bradford pears is that they make good wine." He offers recipes for both sweet and dry wines ("allow a year for the best body and flavor").
The stomach churns…