Early February

I fear that the end is near for the variegated Winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below). Leaves wilt, then this moves to the next branch and the next, and though I prune each as soon as wilting is seen, it seems that the problem has probably started in the roots. And, it’s one I can’t solve.

Winter daphne is marginally cold hardy, so there’s at least minor damage to it in most winters. Now, leaves are wilting, not as a result of freezing temperatures, but some other problem that seems likely to kill this daphne.

I’m not too brokenhearted over the loss, and maybe I’ll get flowering out of it one more time, but that’s pretty iffy at the start of February. About half the shrub remains from a year ago, and at this point I don’t see flower buds swelling that look like they’ll be ready to bloom in the next several weeks.

Summer Ice daphne grows quickly in well drained soil in part sun, and it often flowers from mid March until November. Flower buds of Summer Ice, Eternal Fragrance, and Jim’s Pride always look like they’re ready to flower in mild spells in winter, and if our recent mildness keeps up it’s possible there will be a few blooms before March.

Fortunately, several much sturdier hybrid daphnes (Daphne x transatlantica) are doing well, though they’re not typically winter bloomers. It seems that I’ve mostly figured out the formula for success for the hybrids. Daphnes can be finicky, so I don’t state this with certainty, but they’ve been growing like weeds and flowering from March to November, so at least for now I’m doing okay. I’ll miss the Winter daphne, and possibly I’ll plant another some day, but in a different spot, though I can’t see a thing wrong with where it is.

An old Carol Mackie daphne perished in competition from a wide spreading sweetbox (Sarcococca), but a newer planting is thriving.

With mild temperatures through this winter, there’s a lot happening that typically goes on several weeks from now. Snowdrops have been flowering since the new year, with a few of the early ones fading already, and the witch hazels are all flowering except for ‘Arnold Promise’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), which looks like it will break out any day. Many of the hellebores are beginning to flower, but I’ll hold off on these until next week.

‘Arnold Promise’ is the prize of the witch hazels in this garden. In another part of the garden one grew taller than ten feet, until soil in the area turned wet, and then it faded and perished over a few years. Two others grow and flower dependably in drier ground, and the bright yellow blooms of ‘Arnold’ are by far the most visible for my color deficient vision.

A Diane witch hazel has become overly shaded, so it must be moved to a more open area if it is to be saved.

Two years later, I realize that the red flowered ‘Diane’ (above) was planted in too much shade. So, I moved the seven foot tall shrub a few days ago to a mostly sunny spot along the driveway. ‘Jelena’ (below) enjoys a similar location twenty feet away, and if I run into another witch hazel that I can’t live without there’s space for another as long as I’m not too worried about things growing too close in another five years. If I had a do over from the beginnings of the garden thirty one years ago, I’d include a few more witch hazels, and while I don’t mind jamming things in a bit, I’m reluctant to chop out any long established shrub to make room.

Winter Sun and Charity mahonias have flowered from late November into early February.

The late autumn, early winter flowering mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, ‘Charity’, and ‘Underway’) are blooming longer than I can ever recall, though ones in more sun are beginning to fade. While I’ve had the late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) flowering in late January in an unusually warm winter, this will be one of the rare years when flowering of autumn and late winter flowering mahonias overlap.

In early February, leatherleaf mahonia is showing color.

I’m delighted at this point of the winter that without severe cold, and with none in the forecast, the non cold hardy New Zealand native wire netting cotoneaster (Corokia) and marginally cold hardy ‘Spider’s Web’ fatsia are faring well without winter protection. The plan has been to surround them with leaf filled baskets if the temperatures dropped to ten degrees or colder, but that hasn’t happened, and might not if the long term forecast holds true. I won’t be disappointed if the coldest we get is what’s behind us already.

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