Saturday, April 11, 2015

Winter Bloomers

A chilly spring so far. This past week has been rainy, drizzly and in the 40s. The weekend promises sun and a little more warmth.

I want to talk about my winter bloomers -- no, not my knickers. Winter bloomers are plants that save us from the despair of a long cold season by flowering at the end of winter and some even smell fragrant.

Plants that bloom in the cold have a real appeal for me. At the end of a long, wet New England winter, fragrance and color are so welcome.

But I haven't been very impressed with the ones I've tried to grow.

Here is my experience with winter bloomers that open in February or March, which after a winter like the past one we had, means April, maybe early May. (Despite spring's arrival on the calendar at the end of March, April here is mostly a winter-feeling month.)

Lonicera fragrantissima - winter honeysuckle.
Here is my experience with it.
MoBot tells me mine will look big and vase shaped
like this one at some point
I planted it four years ago but have nothing to show yet.

Last year it was eaten to the ground, and regrew from the roots, so I had a small arching shrub with green leaves, but never got any flowers.

In its first year I cut a few branches to force indoors, and at least I got a few white, fragrant blooms to open and I got to smell the perfumy sweet scent.

I brought branches in again this March, but only had some green leaves open indoors, no flowers. There are no blooms on the shrub at all this year.

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' - Dawn viburnum
This is how mine has performed.
'Dawn' blooms, but I can't detect fragrance
I have never actually smelled the fragrant pink blooms of this tall, upright viburnum. I've had flowers, but no detectable scent yet.

I don't even know what 'Dawn' is supposed to smell like.

This is also a plant that I put in four years ago.

Its form is wildly out of control, but I have hopes that it will mature into an upright shrub, and I am trying to help it along with judicious pruning, which involves randomly cutting off sideways branches.

After four years it is a big, rangy, arching, splayed-out shrub, and not the vase shaped multi-stemmed plant I expected.

It is planted by the dining room window so that I can open the window on an April day and gather its scent.

Alas, no scent, few blooms, and even when I brought branches in to force in March, I got nothing -- a few browned buds tried to open but there was no scent, and the blooms dropped off.

Hamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' - Witch hazel
My experiences with witch hazels are here and here.
Indoors I do catch a whiff of scent

If anyone has read this journal in the past, they will know I have complained for years about witch hazels. Their brown leaves hang on all winter, the flowers are too teeny to see and there has been no fragrance wafting on the cold air.

But then. . . .

I cut some of the branches of 'Diane' and brought them inside in late March, and a very deep, sweet perfume was occasionally detected if I stuck my nose into the middle of them. Delightful, but fleeting.

Then, the first sunny day in April, while I was outside in the meadow, I got a whiff of sweet perfume and it came from the vernal witch hazel there. Again, it was just a whiff, but such a lovely, full fragrance. For a moment anyway.

The flowers of both 'Diane' and the spring witch hazel are so small I can't see them even up close, and "Diane' in particular is still fully clothed in dry brown foliage that hides every bud, but I am encouraged to have smelled, even briefly, the rich scent in April.

Corylopsis glabrescens 'March Jewel' - Dwarf Winterhazel
My tiny one can be seen here.
MoBot shows a full blooming plant in late winter
I only planted it three years ago, and it was tiny when I got it. I moved it once, setting it back. There isn't much of a plant there yet.

Unlike the usual large spreading corylopsis shrubs, this variety is a very low dwarf winterhazel.

It can look like a forsythia, but paler and more refined. Mine, however, has only offered one or two blooms so far and those were oddities one October.

It isn't supposed to have any fragrance, but that's ok. It actually has "March" in its name, but there are no March jewels to be seen and it's April, so like my other winter blooming shrubs, this one promises to be a spring flowering plant. I think it will need a few more years to reach maturity and bulk up a bit.

Cornus mas - Corneliancherry dogwood
How mine have grown can be seen here.
I've had better experiences with Cornus mas than with other winter bloomers. Corneliancherry dogwood doesn't have any fragrance, though.

It has yellow blooms that make this small tree also look like a forsythia, but it is a much more shapely and tree-like size.

I have two -- one little seedling tree was decapitated in 2010 but is now taller than I am. It regrew amazingly fast.

The other was a large 15 gallon container sapling that I planted four years ago and it is about the same size as the little one is now. Proof that paying for larger trees is not worth it; seedling or bare root stems are just as large after four or five years as big expensive trees.

Both are still small, though. Cornus mas is considered a winter bloomer because it flowers in March, but mine don't open that early. They flowered last year in mid April, making them more like the redbuds and magnolias of early spring.

I'm still waiting to be wowed by winter blooming shrubs and trees -- it hasn't happened in my garden yet.

If I cut branches to bring inside and force in March, I can enjoy some early blooms to brighten the end of winter. I can even get a whiff of witch hazel perfume.

But it also means I have to listen to Jim complain about looking at piles of brush in the living room.

He's right.

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