A chilly December


With overnight temperatures dipping into the teens the scattered buds of Encore azaleas and Knockout roses that showed a hint of color a week ago have turned to brown, and their foliage has faded so that there is no doubt that they are now dormant. The blooms of ‘Winter’s Joy’ camellia have changed to a deep reddish-brown, and hang limply, but there are more flowering buds that will open if the weather should moderate in the next few weeks.

The extreme temperatures are a bit early, but not  far from the norm, and the cheery yellow blooms of ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia are beginning to fade in the cold. The faded flowers show signs of the small grape-like fruits that will be evident later in the winter. My rambles through the garden are more infrequent in the winter months, and birds will snatch the mahonia’s fruits quickly once they ripen, often before I see them.

The berries of hollies will usually persist into early February before birds strip them bare. The large clusters of berries on the tall nandinas, so heavy that branches arch to block the stone paths, are only consumed in the worst of winters. Nandinas are semi-evergreen, and will drop their foliage in an average winter, and certainly when colder, but today the leaves have turned a mottled mix of deep greens and reds.

The garden is just where it should be for the middle of December, and there is no reason to be concerned by below average temperatures. No caution is required, and certainly there is no need to run about covering plants with burlap, or other measures intended to protect them from the cold.

I expect no blooms in January, though on occasion an odd spell of warm temperatures might bring out a few early daffodils or a stray bloom or two on forsythia and witch hazel. The earliest signs of spring are not expected before the middle of February, and possibly not until late in the month, so the next months are a time for dreaming, planning, and for appreciating evergreens, peeling bark, and early flowering buds as they develop.

At the least I will check weekly the progress of buds on the various witch hazels and edgeworthia. ‘Arnold’s Promise’, the earliest of the witch hazels to bloom in my garden, will often show a hint of yellow early in February, and edgeworthia’s yellow-tipped, tubular flowers begin to swell with a few warm days, teasing that spring is only a few weeks off.

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