Still flowers

Recent weeks have been occupied documenting autumn foliage colors, and after somewhat of a slow start (caused by a September drought?), colors became more remarkable into late October and early November. Also, berries of hollies have ripened to deep red (below), and despite mounds of fallen leaves there are abundant interests to entertain on a chilly evening stroll through the garden as the sun is sinking low.Berries on Koehneana holly in November

The reblooming Encore azaleas have been a disappointment this year. Only a few varieties flowered in September and October, and though many have fat buds waiting for a stretch of warm days before bursting into bloom, it seems unlikely there will be much bursting and no more than a few scattered blooms. In recent years one Encore azalea or another (below) has flowered from late August into November, but drought in September or cold, or some combination of weather events resulted in this less than stellar performance. The reblooming hydrangeas suffered a similar fate, with fewer flowers than usual in late summer and early autumn, but there will be better days. Maybe, next year.Autumn Twist Encore azalea in late April

Still, there are flowers in the garden, not only holdovers such as feeble, blackened roses that have barely survived the recent frosts and freezes, but flowers that open in November. The autumn flowering hybrid camellias are just getting started for me, though ‘Winter’s Snowman’ and ‘Winter’s Joy’ (below) were ahead of the curve and they’ve been flowering for weeks.Winter's Joy camellia in early December

‘Winter’s Interlude’ and ‘Winter’s Star’ camellias have just begun to flower, and these will bloom on and off in any period of a few warm days. Emerging flowers will be damaged in the worst freezes, but they are not bothered at all when temperatures dip only a few degrees below freezing. ‘Winter’s Interlude’ rarely flowers at all in my garden until late in December, and sometimes there are no flowers at all until there are a few warm days in January. Then, the blooms are at the mercy of severe temperatures, and often they have barely broken open when they are damaged by cold.

There seems no obvious answer why ‘Winter’s Interlude’ is reluctant to flower in November, or even December . Two well established shrubs are planted only a few feet from two ‘Winter’s Star’ camellias that flower dependably, though they are slightly further into the shade of a wide spreading ‘Jane’ magnolia. In any case, there are numerous buds on ‘Winter’s Interlude’ and many buds and a few flowers on ‘Winter’s Star’, so there should be flowers on and off for weeks.Soft Caress mahonia in October

While the autumn flowering camellias vary in the timing of their flowers, the mahonias are more dependable. ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’, above). with fern like foliage, is only marginally cold hardy for my garden, so while it survives, it does not grow or flower with vigor. More than once I’ve been discouraged and promised to dig it out, but here it remains, and perhaps one day it will gain a foothold to perk up and find a permanent home.Winter's Sun mahonia in November

Being spoiled by the showy, panicled blooms of leatherleaf (Mahonia bealei) and ‘Winter Sun’ mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above), the stubby flowers of ‘Soft Caress’ are unremarkable to me, and if not for the low spreading growth and unique foliage it would hardly be worth the bother. ‘Winter Sun’ has just come into nearly full bloom, and there’s little doubt that it will remain in flower long into December, and most probably into January.

If the start of the new year is warm (for winter) leatherleaf mahonia’s blooms can begin early, joining ‘Winter Sun’, a few flowers from ‘Winter’s Star’ and ‘Winter’s Interlude’ camellias, then the Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) by mid January. It’s almost like spring (except for the snow and ice, and windchill).

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3 thoughts on “Still flowers

    • ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia is cold hardy through the mid Atlantic region, and there is no problem planting it at anytime the ground isn’t frozen. ‘Soft Caress’ is more marginally cold hardy for the area, so it would benefit from spring planting so it is more established by winter. Both are best planted in full sun, but they will tolerate moderate shade. I’ve planted both leatherleaf mahonia and ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia in a shaded area, and both grow well, but their flowering is tardier and diminished from the ones in full sun.

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