Late March flowering shrubs

With warm winter temperatures several varieties of Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica, below) in the garden began to show a bit of color late in February. As the mid month heat wave of March has turned to cooler temperatures at the start of April, the blooms have persisted, though I expect they will begin to fade in the next week.

I’ve planted a handful or two of Pieris varieties (‘Flaming Silver’, below) with varying success. They differ in leaf, flower, and bud color, as well as in size and tolerance for adverse sun, soil, and moisture conditions. All have been ignored by deer that frequently browse the garden, but lacebugs are an annual source of annoyance for a gardener who refuses to spray to prevent pests. Pieris prefers a bit of shade, and definitely soils that are on the dry side, though they struggle (like most plants) in dry shade.

Until recent years, Kerria (Kerria japonica, below) thrived in the rocky, dry soil just above the small creek that runs beside the garden. But, it has declined in the increasingly dense shade, so I cut it back severely and hope that it rejuvenates.  Kerria’s flowers are a more attractive shade of yellow than the ubiquitous forsythia, and for a number of years it grew as a tidy and dependable shrub.

I have mixed feelings about ‘Ogon’ spirea (Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below). The leafless shrub is covered in marvelous small white blooms in mid March, which are closely followed by narrow, bright yellow leaves. ‘Ogon’ grows vigorously, and though I prefer not to prune shrubs annually, it must be hacked back to a tight little ball after flowering or it will become hopelessly wild.

I suppose that my resistance to Ogon’s charms is that I have misplaced it in too prominent a position. With its almost needle-like foliage and bright yellow color it belongs as a complement to more substantial shrubs, and with a backdrop of a mid or dark green it is probably quite pleasing. If I can find such a spot I’ll consider moving the spireas, but it’s more likely that some day I’ll grow weary of them and jerk them out.

A forest of swamp maples and tulip poplars borders the southeast edge of the property, and along this border I’ve planted a few evergreens, but mostly shrubs to transition from the towering trees to the lower plane of the garden. ‘Burkwood’ (Viburnum x ‘Burkwoodii’, above) and Korean Spice viburnums (Viburnum carlesii, below) have grown tall in this half shaded location, but there is enough afternoon sun that they flower abundantly in early spring.

I often find that I’m totally unaware of the scent of plants until I read that they are fragrant, and then I have to thrust my nose to within inches to smell anything at all. This is not a problem with the sweetly fragrant viburnums, or the spring flowering daphne (Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, below) that is planted closeby. If I had properly planned the three fragrant plants would be scattered about that garden, but they are in such close proximity that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

‘Carol Mackie’ is said to be somewhat difficult, but it has been transplanted, abused, and neglected. It was initially quite content in a partially shaded, slightly moist spot, but it was in the path where a pond and stream were to be built, so it had to go. It is now just beside the stream so that its roots are kept cool, but it was the unfortunate victim when my son and I dropped a huge, low hanging branch of one the swamp maples directly onto it in early spring a few years ago.

We intended to guide the branch (as big as some trees) between two Japanese maples, and if all had gone well the daphne would have been missed by inches. Well, we missed it by that much! The Japanese maples were avoided, but the daphne was a direct hit, and I was certain that it would be crushed. As it turned out, it was only mostly crushed, which is better than totally crushed. Several branches were severed, and I figured that with its finicky nature it would be lost. Fortunately, the daphne leafed out a few weeks later, and flowered as if nothing had happened. It now leans a bit to one side, but you wouldn’t notice if I hadn’t told you.

A few year ago I planted Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora, above) in the spring fed damp ground that runs along the back half of the forest’s edge. There is no standing water, but the ground is moist or wet year around, and happily the winter hazel has adapted well to this spot. The shrub is still small by comparison to nearly mature neighbors, but it won’t be long before it is up to size with enough fragrant blooms to attract my attention away from the viburnums and daphnes.


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