Probably, most gardeners are anxious for spring soon after the first hard freeze of autumn, and each day of winter that follows is counted down until the first warm afternoon of March. The Virginia winter is rarely severe, and short by comparison to many other parts of this country. Still, too long and dark, but with a progression of blooms in the garden, the wait for spring is more tolerable, and a glimpse of color from swelling buds promises flowers in the weeks ahead.
With mild temperatures through the first half of winter, the autumn flowering mahonias, ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) remain in bloom. In prior years, ill timed spells of warmth or cold pushed flowers past their peak, and rarely do blooms persist past the second week of January. A time or two, the late winter flowering Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei, below) has overlapped by a week or two with autumn flowering mahonias, but leatherleaf will not be so early this year.
Andromeda cultivars (Pieris japonica ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’, above) flower dependably in early March, regardless of fluctuations in winter temperatures, it seems. In early February, flower buds show only the slightest signs of swelling.
The flowering time for variegated Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, above) varies with the weather, and with recent mild temperatures color has been showing for a few weeks. Without a return to cold, flowers should open fully in the next two weeks, though it will not be surprising if cooler weather delays flowering until early March.
Stems of a sprawling pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla, above) have been harvested to display in the kitchen. This huge pussy willow has spread in the swampy area at the rear of the garden to thirty feet across, and unfortunately, it is time for severe pruning to cut away substantial dead wood. It’s likely this project will be delayed until summer, when the ground will be dry enough not to sink up to my knees. The stems that have been brought indoors will root in several weeks, and rather than discarding them, I’ll plant a few in the swamp in case the large, old shrub doesn’t recover.
The weeping pussy willow (Salix caprea ‘Pendula’, above) is much less wild, and more appropriate for a prominent spot in the garden. Still, it’s planted in slightly damp ground that has proved to be too wet for other shrubs, which should be ideal.