I will not be alarmed unless dogwoods and redbuds begin to flower in January (Azalea ‘Autumn Amethyst’, above) . In recent weeks I’ve cautiously described this early winter weather as only mild, but who am I fooling, temperatures into the sixties in northwestern Virginia in late December are more aptly defined as warm.
More than a few times, a warm spell has coaxed a daffodil or two into bloom in January, and prolonged warmth several years ago hurried along many flowers. But, nothing like this. Today, the garden looks closer to March than December (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, above). For the moment, I’m delighted by the prospect of more flowers through early winter than only the remnants of mahonias and a few stray camellias that linger into January, but I’m a bit uncertain this will be completely a good thing.
In the odd year with mild December temperatures, there could be a flower or two from hellebore hybrids (Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘HGC Champion’, above, and ‘HGC Shooting Star’, below) that are crossed with the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised by several flowers and other swelling buds, but in late December just about every hellebore is flowering, or ready to flower except for the few late blooming stinking hellebores (Helleborus foetidus).
Certainly, this will be enough to spark the gardener’s interest, to see what becomes of blooms as cold inevitably returns at some point in the winter. I suspect that little or no harm will come, and that instead of fading in the first warmth of March, flowers of hellebores will last weeks longer in cooler temperatures.
In recent years, flowering of hellebores has been delayed by cold and deep mounds of snow, with only the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis, above) flowering through January into early February. Today, the witch hazels are early by only a few weeks, and no amount of cold will bother the small, ribbon-like flowers that curl for protection in severe temperatures.I will not be surprised if hybrid witch hazels (‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Diane’, and ‘Jelena’) begin flowering in the next few weeks, joining other late winter bloomers that are beginning to show color. Bees, rarely observed in the garden in December, have been busy harvesting nectar from the late autumn flowering mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Underway’, above), and now they have moved on to the early flowers of leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei, below). I suspect I will also be out and about more to enjoy the early flowers.