Suddenly, it’s spring

The first half of this winter was extraordinarily warm, while the second six weeks were more typical. Certainly, the late winter was not exceptionally cold, but after a pleasant beginning the season dragged on with several weeks under the cover of deep snow. Thankfully, this is behind us, though the gardener should expect scattered frosts and freezes that will surely wreck one treasure or another just as it reaches its full glory. Rarely is this a concern beyond losing flowers that are frost damaged as long as tender plants are not set outdoors too early.

Leaves of the red Horsechestnut begin to open in mid March.

Leaves of the red Horsechestnut begin to open in mid March.

Despite current forecasts that predict mild temperatures through the month, the gardener expects the worst. Experience tells him that when the early magnolias (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) and cherry (Prunus x incamp ‘Okame’, below) are blooming, frost is on the way, not because these are cursed, but that over the ten days when these are flowering in early March, a freeze is likely. Perhaps not this year, but most.

Okame cherry flowers several weeks earlier than other, more common, cherries. The flowers tolerate freezing temperatures better than early heat.

Okame cherry flowers several weeks earlier than other, more common, cherries. The flowers tolerate freezing temperatures better than early heat.

While the experienced gardener is confident that the native dogwoods in his garden will flower on April 15, and rarely vary by more than a few days, March flowers are more unpredictable. The exceptional white Delaware azalea will flower on the 25th of April, but the sweetly fragrant winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below) might begin showing color the second week of February, or of March.

Variegated winter daphne has suffered dame in recent winters, but still managed to flower. This year, foliage has come through the winter intact, and the daphne is in full bloom in mid March.

Variegated winter daphne has suffered in recent winters, but still managed to flower. This year, foliage has come through the winter intact, and the daphne is in full bloom in mid March.

The low growing evergreen Sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, below) has suffered from the cold of recent winters, but three feet of snow did no damage. Sweetbox creeps to spread slowly, but dependably, and after ten years stems must be pruned as they pop up each spring through the stone path. This is a minor chore, and otherwise sweetbox requires no attention at all, except to admire the small, fragrant flowers that are mostly hidden beneath its foliage.

Sweetbox is a slow growing evergreen with small, fragrant early spring flowers.

Sweetbox is a slow growing evergreen with small, fragrant early spring flowers.

The variegated Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, below) might flower in early February, or with six weeks of cold, mid March. The tiny yellow flowers are not typical of our more common dogwoods, and despite its rugged constitution, its flowers and variegated foliage are exceptional.

Cornelian cherry is a dogwood, not a cherry. It is a tough shrub or small tree with early spring flowers.

Cornelian cherry is a dogwood, not a cherry. It is a sturdy shrub or small tree with early spring flowers.

With recent warm temperatures, the garden shows clear evidence of the transition from winter to spring. There are many more flowers that could not fit into this short update, and the challenge for the gardener is not to be distracted for too long from his spring clean up.

As usual, February Gold daffodil flowers in March in this garden.

As usual, February Gold daffodil flowers in March in this garden.

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