With the mildest winter in memory a year ago, hellebores, snowdrops, and witch hazels reached peak bloom early in a glorious February. Winter aconites, crocus, sweetbox, and several pieris were colorful long before winter’s end. But not this year, despite a mild start with first blooms of hellebores and snowdrops before the new year.
Despite the tardiness of blooms, the gardener must not be distressed, though a bit of whining is permitted. While the garden must provide joy, it should also be considered one large science project, and the gardener must participate to try to figure why flowers don’t appear when expected, or why this part of the garden has become swampy when nothing seems to have caused the change. Perhaps there are no absolutes, but the gardener must be curious.
The gardener should notice that the small flowers of Vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis, above) curl tightly when temperatures fall into the mid-twenties, and that leaves of Anise shrubs (Illicium) hang limply until the thermometer rises to thirty degrees. I am hardly observant, only taking note of warm microclimates in the garden after three decades have passed, but when my patience is tested by witch hazels that are not flowering in the last week of February, I want to understand why.
Again this winter, temperatures will not drop below ten degrees (Fahrenheit). As best as I recall, several nights have dipped to seventeen degrees, and while daytime highs have continually fallen below averages, there have been no extreme periods of cold. Still I figure, it is not extreme cold that delays flowering, but consistent cold, and until this week temperatures have been chilly since sometime back in January. So, I’m not happy about it, but this explains the delayed flowering.
Today is fifty some degrees, and tomorrow sixty, so what happens now? I don’t have the answer, but I expect that buds will expand quickly. A witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, above) showing the slightest glimpse of color will be at peak bloom in a few days. Next week, the paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha) that remains tight in bud will show the color expected in early February. And, while delayed flowers are gracing the garden, magnolias will bloom right on schedule, the complaining will be forgotten, and the gardener will be delighted.