Finally, finally, finally. So often I’ve said finally in recent weeks, the word is practically worn out. Finally, the hellebores (Helleborus spp., above) are flowering, only four weeks later than typical. And finally, flowering of both Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) and ‘Okame’ cherry (Prunus x incamp ‘Okame’, below) seems imminent after a considerable delay. Finally, this gets us to where we should have been a month ago.
‘Royal Star'(below) and ‘Dr. Merrill’ magnolias (Magnolia × loebneri ‘Merrill’) typically flower in early March, and occasionally in late February when the distinctive flowers are regularly threatened by cold temperatures. Many gardeners avoid these early bloomers altogether because of the potential for damage, and instead opt for later flowering magnolias that bloom after the threat of regular freezes and frost. Now, the magnolias will flower when there’s still the chance for freeze and frost, but much milder versions that should pose no problem for the blooms.
I value the later spring flowering hybrid magnolias ‘Elizabeth’ (Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’) and ‘Jane’ (Magnolia ‘Jane’), but treasure the earlier flowering types. Rarely do the flowers escape unscathed by cold March nights, but while this is disappointing it seems that most often the blooms are around for a few days to enjoy prior to being turned to mush by the cold. Now, the flowers are unlikely to be damaged, but when so much else is flowering the blooms are not nearly so thrilling.
The varieties of Pieris are flowering, and again the clear choice in the garden is ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ (Pieris japonica ‘Dorothy Wycoff” above). It’s dark foliage and red flower buds stand out through the winter, but the abundance of blooms, tolerance of clay soil, and resistance to lacebugs extends its value. ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ and the dwarf ‘Cavatine’ also have a history in this garden, so both earn high marks. I’m intrigued by two relatively new varieties that I’ve planted in the past year. The variegated leaf ‘Little Heath’ (Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’ below) is not exactly a dwarf, but it is smaller growing than others. It appears to be a slightly scaled down version of ‘Flaming Silver’, and if it proves to have greater lacebug resistance it will be a treasure.
While the new growth on many pieris varieties is flushed with red or pink, none are as distinctive as the wine-red foliage on ‘Katsura’ (Pieris japonica ‘Katsura’, below). It is too early to pass judgment, but there seems no reason to ever consider planting the troubled ‘Mountain Fire’ pieris that has been most popular for years, but is plagued by moist soils and lacebugs so that it rarely performs acceptably.