In early October, the flower buds of paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha, below) are evident at the tips of branches that are cloaked by thick, blue-green foliage. The leaves will persist long into autumn, then will turn yellow and drop abruptly. Many plants protect buds from winter’s chill so that they are not so obvious, but on paperbush the buds dangle from the branch tips, expanding through January’s cold until opening fully in February.
The wide spreading paperbush will display hundreds of white buds that hang like bells to ornament the shrub through the winter, and I’ll find numerous occasions to visit to catch a glimpse of the first streak of yellow as the buds begin to expand. No doubt I’m easily entertained, but this is cause for rejoice on a cold January afternoon.
Today, much of the front garden is covered in leaves fallen from the huge purple beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’). The stone path that winds under the beech and past autumn flowering Encore azaleas (above) and toad lilies (Tricyrtis) has been littered for weeks, but now the brown leaves are inches deep. Many of the azaleas are late in flowering, but they are heavily budded, and I suspect with imminent rain and cooler temperatures it will be only days before all are blooming.
The remontant (reblooming) hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, above) are also slow in setting new flower buds. Typically, the hydrangeas flower in mid spring, then reset a few buds, but mostly they rest through the heat of summer. Without extreme heat this year I expected more late summer flowers, but there are very few. I don’t pretend to understand the reasons why, and it is best not to be bothered when these things don’t work out how you expect they should.
I’ve seen a few blooms on ‘Winter’s Star’ camellias (above) in the neighborhood, but there are none yet in my garden. This is several weeks early for the hybrid camellias to be flowering, though typical for Sasanqua varieties. The autumn flowering, but less cold hardy Sasanqua camellias are rarely planted in this area (despite ever warmer winters), but hybrids easily tolerate the cold of my northwestern Virginia garden. The fat buds of ‘Winter’s Star’ and other hybrids in the garden look ready to open at any time, and this will be a welcome diversion to the seasonal decline as the garden moves into winter dormancy.