Winter flowers worth growing

Winter flowers worth growing

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 8:03 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Astronomy tells us spring began March 20. Our garden told me weeks ago it was spring. March (and February) bloom announced it.
It is almost with apologies that I mention winter flowers, seeing that many of you don’t have any. On the other hand, how will you ever have any if I (or someone of more notable veracity) don’t tell you about them?
How about those Lenten roses? What a plant! Lenten roses aren’t roses at all, of course, but of the genus Helleborus. Their parentage and nomenclature are so muddied at the moment that it would be futile to mention more than the generic name. Suffice it to say the so-called Christmas rose is not as suited to our climate as Lenten roses.
Lenten roses often beat Christmas roses into flower anyway, and in mild years buds will emerge before Christmas. Most of the time, however, it is January or even early February. At any rate, the flowers will precede the Lenten season nine years our of 10. This year was no exception. Ours, in colors from white and chartreuse through pink, purple and puce, have been showing since January and are yet in glorious full blow.
Lenten roses are the first really blowsy perennials to bloom. It would seem that such early flowers would be petite, benign even, but not so. But for their rather soft coloring, they would be 45-mile-per-hour plants.
From herbaceous to woody: I have talked this season already of witch hazels, so will give them short shrift. But I should point out again that if you only have one witch hazel, make it Arnold Promise. Ours flowered for a good month, from early February until well into March, in bright lemon yellow. It is fully 20 feet tall and shows up like a beacon in our woodland, flowering heavily even in dense (summer) shade.
On its heels, and carrying forth as we speak, is its kin, winter hazel, of the genus Corylopsis. Ours is Corylopsis spicata, the spike winterhazel. It is sited near the street and its fetching cream-chartreuse spangles of flowers presented on drooping panicles have almost caused wrecks when passing motorists slow down to take it in. I get a lot of calls about the plant. Our specimen is one of the largest, after “only” about 15 years, that I know, now fully 20 feet across.
Witch hazels and winter hazels are drought tolerant (that’s not drought-proof) when well established, and  otherwise are of easy culture.
I needn’t use much ink on daffodils and narcissus. You all have them. Most beat astronomical spring by a mile. The old-fashioned “buttercups” are as good as any, and better than many, for naturalizing. For some reason they are quite expensive from bulb houses, but free for the taking from roadsides (you pay your road taxes) or (with permission) from old homesites.
Other bulbs, though, do deserve more ink. Crocuses I dwelt on before to your exhaustion, perhaps, but they are worth it. Among other minor bulbs that come to mind, because they are blooming now, are chionodoxas. No more expensive than crocuses, there are blue, white and pink (no crocus is pink) varieties of Chionodoxa forbesii. They flower later than most crocuses, but stand taller at six to 10 inches. Several flowers adorn each stem.
The variety Pink Giant is in our rock garden. A grouping of a dozen or so shows from quite a distance. I plan to introduce more of them this fall into that area and other places, including our mixed borders and woodland. The straight species, which is wan blue, sells for about $20 per 100 bulbs.
Winter, or January, jasmine holds forth in January, February and early March, providing severe cold holds off. Even if it doesn’t, and some of the flowers are caught out, others will usually take their place.
Many people mistake winter jasmine for forsythia, but it precedes the latter by a good month. Also, the flowers are a lemon yellow with no trace of mustard in them as is the case with forsythia. Just about the oldest bushes in town are at the street at the George Moore residence on Chickasaw Road. Those have been in situ for more than 50 years, I believe.
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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Winter flowers are a miracle.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 3.29.11

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