Mrs. Horrell’s Paperwhites

North Street is broad and level, making for an easy, leisurely walk. Along the street are a couple of old apartment buildings and old homes that are now businesses. Farther south, one finds uninspired, banal state office buildings, terminating in the triple atrocity of the MDAH compound. Bill Harvey says the avenue was once lined with homes whose splendor was second only to those along North State Street. Today, the only private residence on the street belongs to the Horrells. The house was built in 1920; now a “For Sale” sign is planted before the front door.

For the many years I have walked from my home on Poplar down North Street to the Welty Library, Mrs. Horrell’s narcissus have been a delight to me. The narcissus are the earliest in the city to bloom, coaxed out of the ground by the weak sun of mid-winter. Most people refer to these flowers as paperwhites, though ‘Paperwhite’ is actually the name of a variety of Narcissus tazetta Mrs. Horrell has, along with ‘Grand Monarque’ and the fragrant double ‘Erlicheer.’ She also has several types of large yellow narcissus many know as daffodils, a few clumps of blue-and-violet bearded irises, and gnarled, ancient rosemarys. Mrs. Horrell told me the narcissus lining her front walk came from her grandmother, who received hers from a friend or relative decades before.

The area has been zoned commercial, so once the property is sold, the house will be razed, and the in-place plantings will be lost. Developers’ architects view landscaping as ancillary or incidental, and plantings in-place are expendable. The new developments on Manship obliterated a dozen or more varieties of iris, narcissus, azaleas, and old pass-along ornamentals. The landscaping of the new dining venues is attractive in a bland, generic way, but historic plantings help define the character of a neighborhood and deserve to be left in place and cherished.

You can still find old plantings struggling beneath mats of Asian jasmine throughout the city. Two Novembers ago, we freed an old street corner of choking vines, weeds, and rotting wood, built up beds and loosened the dirt. In March, along the edges of our work, the old double daffodil, ‘Butter and Eggs,’ an authentic Southern heirloom and folk favorite, came barreling out of the Yazoo clay, and they’re blooming again today. Our earth remembers what we forget.

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