At the start of February I fear that nothing will flower in the garden again until April. There is no sign of the snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis, above), which remain under several inches of snow along the front walk. I don’t recall a time when these did not flower by mid February, but even when the snow melts, I suspect there will not be any green poking through the frozen soil. I doubt there will be flowers until late in the month, or even until early March if the cold stays around more than another week.
In recent years there was more concern that abundant blooms in January would be injured by the few scattered deep freezes, but now, days that are only chilly seem unusual. Every day or two from the start of the new year I slogged through mud, and then ankle deep snow to the lower garden to check on the witch hazels. The vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) remains in flower despite the cold, but the hybrids (Hamamelis x intermedia) that should be beginning to break bud, are not. In mild or cold winters ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Diane’ (with only a bare glimpse of red, below) typically bloom within a few days of mid February, but this seems implausible today.
By the second and third weeks of February there should be a number of hellebores (Helleborus, below) flowering, and often there will be a few blooming early in the month, or even in January with a stretch of warm temperatures. While a few display fat buds, there has been no obvious change in recent weeks, and many are not likely to flower until March.
I have no doubt that snowdrops, witch hazels, and hellebores will flower, for they will tolerate temperatures much colder than we’ve experienced this winter, but my outlook deteriorates as winter progresses without tangible signs of spring. The winter blooms brighten my disposition, and only a new bird feeder regularly visited by blue jays and cardinals has made these recent weeks tolerable.
In the years since zone 6 cold hardy Gardenias (Gardenia augusta ‘PIIGA-I’ PPAF, ‘Pinwheel’, below) were introduced and planted there has not been adequate cold to test the claims of cold tolerance. After one night below, and a handful approaching zero, browning foliage makes the hardiness rating seem dubious, though a few green leaves remain. Unfortunately, it does not surprise me that plant breeders would overstate the cold hardiness of newly introduced plants, and I expect the gardenias will be significantly damaged or killed, which does little to improve my mood.