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Scream and Shout

While you would not believe it if you had not lived it, the temperature Tuesday night was 60 degrees warmer than the temperature Thursday night. And while I am as prone as anyone to gasp in horror at that fact, there is no ignoring those sorts of temperature swings are not out of realm of possibility in Indiana, even prior to serious climate change.

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One kinda sorta gets used to it. In a way. In that holy-crap-good-god-almighty-what-the-hell-is-going-on sort of way. Kinda makes me want to scream and shout.

Admittedly it is only the first day of February but many of our early blooming plants are ready to strut their stuff when we get a couple warm days this time of year. Despite single digits not so long ago, as soon as we had that warmer weather at the beginning of the week the somewhat precocious members of our garden displays were bursting forth with the fervor of spring. The early shift in the gardens has had enough of a cooling period to initiate the launch sequence for flowering.

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Flowers in January. Kinda makes me want to scream and shout.

And I know I have said this before in blogs in previous years but each year when these early plants start blooming? I swear. It’s like the very first time I have ever seen them. It’s like it IS the first time I have ever seen them. Despite the fact that I know where to go look for them because some of them I have been visiting for twenty years. It’s just so damn exciting to see them and know winter is going to end (although winters lately are not that much to recover from round here). That’s beside the point. The point is it is so damn wonderful that it kinda makes me want to scream and shout.

The plant that I have searched out as the first bloomer of the year for two decades now is the snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis. We have many of these planted at the top of the Ravine Garden but you can find them in several places throughout the gardens. Only a few inches tall, they truly standout among the dead and decomposing leaf litter in out of the way places.

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These come up and complete their lifecycle more or less before the trees leaf out so you can put them in the shadiest of spots. The bulbs are so small they can be tucked amongst the roots of trees and shrubs or crevices between stones. They also make very charming tiny bouquets.

The other very early spring/winter flowering bulb I go in search of is Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite. This one shines like the sun to brighten a winter day.

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Like the snowdrops, these can be tucked in and amongst other plants and are very shade tolerant with foliage disappearing early. They even happily grow together.

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The winter aconites actually do some self-sowing, taking three years to develop blooming-size bulbs.

For many years, our earliest blooming daffodil was ‘February Gold,’ though in truth it bloomed in February maybe once. The next early cultivar we tried was ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation.’ Indeed it was sensationally early, flowering even earlier than ‘February Gold.’ This year it kind of pushed the envelope of early a bit too much. It was in bloom by mid-December. Now last year that might have been okay. But this year? Not so good of an idea as it turns out. It may be early but Mother Nature was not amused and slapped it down.

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Not that I would quit planting it. If we go back to more normal winters this won’t be such a problem. And quite frankly I like the prospect of having a few daffodil flowers in January or early February. I bet there are still a few undamaged buds in there. I can see at least one unopened easily.

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Hellebores remain one of my favorite early season perennials. The traditional Christmas and Lenten roses (Helleborus niger and hybridus) keep getting improved by breeders all over the world. The flowers have gotten larger and more outfacing so they are more visible. You no longer have to lay on the ground to see inside the flowers, which is very nice considering they are blooming in rather chilly times. I’ve gone on and on in previous blogs about the new H. x ballardiae and H. niger plants. But today I have a couple shots of some rather mundane by today’s standards H. hybridus. These are plants we have had for over a decade. These are long-lived plants, so don’t whimper and moan when you have to pay a little money for one. Tired of hearing that crap. Anyway, we have had a couple of these in full bloom already but these are nice plump buds instead.

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But I don’t want to ignore Helleborus foetidus, or stinking hellebore. Yes, an attempt has been made to make this plant more user-friendly by calling it bear’s claw hellebore but foetidus is kind of like fetid and fetid is kind of like stink. Thus, the name stinking hellebore. Except it really is not stinky unless you break the foliage and stick your nose in the sap. So. Well, I don’t know where I was going with that. I want to tell people to grow up and shut up and just embrace the wondrousness of the plant. Then I think if changing the common name makes it easier for people to seriously consider adding the plant to their garden then it is a small thing to do. Boy. That long chat was not expected.

Helleborus foetidus starts blooming in mid to late fall and continues to be nice all the way into spring. Unlike the other hellebores, these plants are not really long-lived but they self-sow nicely, ensuring the plant remains in your garden. And we all know how cleverly plants move around in the garden and find the perfect spot to appear. And don’t you wish it had been your idea? Here’s a shot from this week here in our gardens. Notice the single digits without snow cover have no real effect on the blossoms.

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I love it when they have this touch of lipstick on the flowers. This can be quite heavy on some and I am certain it could be selected for. I bet in no time you could have them tarted up like a street walker.

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And now a quick look at some Hamamelis, the witchhazel. This is perhaps the one winter flowering shrub for Indiana and the rest of the Midwest. Many of the best are the hybrid H. x intermedia, though H. mollis has wonderful fragrance as well. Flower color ranges from soft yellow to gold to orange to red and rarely burgundy. These large shrubs tend to have excellent fall color, as well. Those with yellow or gold flowers tend toward yellow leaves, and orange and red flowers tend towards orange leaves in fall. Blooming can last for a month or more. While they bloom in shade, the best flowering and fall color will come from sun and part/light shade situations. They make a nice cut flower to bring indoors, as well. You can look lovingly at your witchhazel out in the yard on a cold day as you sip your coffee and enjoy it’s fragrance in the vase on your kitchen counter.

These plants may be grafted so look for suckers that hold their leaves all winter, as they may be rootstock rather than your preferred plant. Breeders have been selecting for good leaf drop so the flowers show up better. This ‘Arnold Promise’ has its roots showing, so to speak.

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It does have lovely flowers.

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H. mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ is supreme in flowering and fragrance.

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One of my favorites is the orange H. x intermedia ‘Jelena.’ This one doesn’t have as strong a fragrance as ‘Wisley Supreme,’ but I love the color. This one has developed a nice form too. These plants can get large.

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A close-up.

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On really cold days the witchhazel petals will curl back up like these opening buds then roll back out to full size when it gets warmer.

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Our native species, H. virginiana, is wonderful as well but with much smaller flowers much earlier in the fall. It does have a good yellow fall foliage color.

Just one more plant to mention then I will let you go. The earliest flowering tree of substance around here is Cornus mas, the cornelian cherry dogwood. These bloom even earlier than Forsythia. If we get a few warm days they are going to burst open. Look at these buds.

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Not a real exciting tree other than when in bloom, I realize how many 20 foot tall trees there are covered with yellow flowers in March. Or, if it is warm, February. It does have mildly interesting bark and produces a tart red fruit in late summer. Cultivars are available for fruit production.

I feel I barely touched the surface on all these plants. And at the same time, I fear I touched the very same surface. Since I always feel like I am seeing these for the first time I tend to forget if I covered all this information before. But I don’t want to think about that. If I have covered them the same way before then I maybe need to write a whole ‘nother blog. And the thought of that makes me kinda want to scream and shout.

Filed under: Audience Engagement, Horticulture

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