March has come in like a lamb! Though the vernal equinox is still a week away the force and pulse of spring is undeniable. The explicit energy of Spring bursting forth is expressed in a flurry of activity; flowing sap, expanding buds, unfurling flowers and buzzing bees. Henry David Thoreau wrote of Spring as an experience in immortality.
Our gardens celebrate this renewal of life with colorful crocuses and fragrant witch hazels. The witch hazels have bravely bridged the garden season from winter to spring. Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’ started blooming in December and has sustained violet-purple flowers for over two months. Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ is the most fragrant witch hazel with large, lemon-yellow flowers. Witch hazels will grow in full sun or partial shade and even in containers. They mature to a large shrub, 10 to 20 feet tall. Following the witch hazels is the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) with yellow puffs of flowers. Because of its early seasons, Cornus mas branches are favorites for forcing cut branches into early bloom in the gloom of February, along with branches of forsythia.
Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is one of my favorite shrubs. A true workhorse, with beauty from spring to fall. Spiraea ‘Ogon’ greets you in early spring with chartreuse foliage and arching branches sporting clusters of white flowers. It is easy to accommodate in any garden, happy in partial shade or full sun, it forms a fine-textured colorful mound to four feet. It’s fresh-spring chartreuse foliage is attractive all summer and turns pumpkin-orange in October. Contrast Spirea’s fine textured foliage with the bold dark green, evergreen leaves of Mahonia bealei.
The foliage of Spiraea ‘Ogon’ offers a great garden foil for spring daffodils, summer daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Ed Murray’) and fall Asters such as Aster ‘October Skies’. Spiraea japonica ‘Mini Gold’ is a diminutive shrub that ideally complement perennials all season. It will grow in sun or shade. In shade combine with blue flowered Lungwort (Pumonaria ‘Majeste’), Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) and the hybrids of the Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis). The white, pink, maroon and multi-colored flower bracts of Hellebores start blooming now and will last until the first of June!
An especially bright spot in the early spring garden is the whorl of evergreen, gold-striped foliage found in Yucca filamentosa
‘Bright Edge’ and ‘Gold Sword’. The gold variegated yuccas are unsung heros of the sunny mixed-border. Spring bulbs; blue flowered scilla and grape hyacinths and Miniature daffodils such as Tete-a-Tete are a smashing combination with Yucca ‘Gold Sword’.
|Spiraea thunbergi 'Ogon'||Hamamelis mollis 'Wisley Supreme' and Hamamelis japonica 'Shibamichi Red'|
|Helleborus orientalis||Cornus mas|
Winter Flowers and Expectant Buds
The Vernal Witchhazel ‘Amethyst’ (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’) has been in bloom for nearly two months, first unfurling spidery flowers at the end of December. Amethyst has shrugged off snow and cold, even the extreme of 9 degrees F. below zero. Hamamelis x ‘Jelena’, ‘Diane’, Hamamelis japonica ‘Shibamichi Red’ and Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ are now joining the flurry of colorful winter flowers.
Accompanying the witchhazels are the brightly colored flower buds of Pieris japonica ‘Dorothy Wycoff’. This Japanese andromeda, also known as the lily-of-the-valley shrub, is clothed with very glossy, dark green leaves. The stems are terminated with bright red flower buds arranged in red, pendulous racemes. This beautiful, winter composition of red and green will transform in early spring into abundant clusters of fragrant white bells tinged with pink.
Magnolia stellata, the star magnolia sports fat, fuzzy, flower buds whose silky filaments glow incandescent in the winter sun. The star magnolia is a beautiful small tree with attractive silver-gray bark. The pubescent flower buds will explode into white petaled stars.
Snow drops and minor bulbs are also emerging.
|Pieris japonica 'Dorothy Wvcoff' buds||Magnolia stellata bud|
Plants That Offer Colorful Flowers, Fruits, Foliage and Twigs through Winter to Early Spring
A garden that celebrates the winter season, from solstice to vernal equinox, may seem extraordinary. However, the winter landscape is not grey shadows against a snow white mantle or an “Arrangement in Grey and Black”. It is abundantly colorful and enchanting. Vermillion-red stems of the shrubby dogwood (Cornus siberica ‘Westonbirt’) punctuate icy white drifts in the Entry Garden at Tranquil Lake Nursery, where flowers bloom throughout the winter!
The most magical and unexpected elements of winter gardens are winter blooming shrubs and the flowers of herbaceous-perennial. The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) blooms on the shortest days of the year! This year, on December 25th it was blooming with clusters of single white flowers centered with a bright yellow boss of stamens. The flower are set off above glossy, evergreen foliage. Helleborus foetidus also starts blooming very early with greenish-white flowers above beautifully incised evergreen leaves. Combine hellebores with evergreen, perennial ferns. The long, pinnate leaves of Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) form an evergreen carpet. Add the upright, fronds of autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) to create a luxuriant planting under trees with colorful, exfoliating and mottled bark, such as the Dwarf River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Little King’) and Stewartia koreana. The glossy, cinnamon-colored, exfoliating bark of paper-bark maple (Acer griseum) is a distinctive beauty year-round. The bark echoes the bronze colored flower buds of the hybrid andromeda (Pieris x ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’).
Winter gardens are painted with bold and colorful brush strokes. Vibrant yellow stems of the dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’) are rivaled by the fiery and incendiary, red-orange twigs of (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’). Winterberry hollies, such as the brilliant (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’), dazzle us with vivid-red, persistent fruits, a warm reminder of spring flowers and prosperous pollination. Combine winterberry holly with the evergreen, holly-like leaves and early blooms of Mahonia bealei. This year, Mahonia bealei is blooming in January with upright cluster of fragrant yellow, bell-shaped flowers. These early blooms offer sustenance for honey bees venturing out on warm winter days.
Winter-blooming witch hazels are perhaps the most supernatural of plants in the winter landscape. They unfurl spidery petals on warm winter days and curl back up on cold nights. Subsequently, they bloom for months from December through March. The first to bloom at Tranquil Lake Nursery, in late December, is the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), a native to the Ozarks. The cultivar ‘Amethyst’ is especially alluring. After its red fall foliage has dropped, fragrant amethyst flowers open and last for months. The Asian species of witch hazel, (Hamamelis mollis and Hamamelis japonica) and their hybrids, are prolific winter bloomers. Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ is the most fragrant, with large yellow flowers. Hamamelis japonica ‘Shibamichi Red’ is also fragrant and an extraordinary magenta color. An interspecific hybrid, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ blooms with bright orange flowers that cast off any winter gloom. Witch hazels are also hardy when grown in permanent containers, offering a year-round solution to gardeners with limited cultivated space.
The best way to create and enjoy your winter garden is to plan and plant with winter vistas in mind. Choose spaces regularly viewed from inside your house and outside spaces that are frequently accessed such as driveways, walks and the front door. Plant a rich composition of evergreens, shrubs with colorful twigs and winter bloomers. Even the coldest winter days will seem fleeting when you are greeted by the unfurling petals of a witch hazel, closely followed by snowdrops flourishing in melting snow.
by Warren Leach, Landscape Horticulturist and owner of Tranquil Lake Nursery, Rehoboth, MA.
|lex verticillata ‘Winter Red’||Malus 'Sugar Tyme'|
|Mahonia bealei||Helleborus niger|
|Hamamelis vernalis 'Amethyst'||Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’|
|Hamamelis japonica ‘Shibamichi Red’||Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’|
|Cornus siberica ‘Westonbirt’||Betula nigra ‘Little King’|
For more than thirty years, Tranquil Lake Nursery has been offering unique Garden Design and Installation Services designed by Warren Leach. Review of our design services with a link to a gallery of some of our landscapes and gardens. Warren is also available for consultation at your home. Read details.