It is still winter in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. February always brings a day here and there of spring-like weather and we let down our collective guard, only to be splashed with icy rain and buffeted with howling wind the next day. It is amazing to me that while still in the throws of this filthy weather, we have so many plants in bloom in the garden. For all those who believe that Forsythia is the first sign of spring, read on!
Snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii and G. nivalis, are earliest. For the Galanthus enthusiast, the flower variation is endlessly fascinating, but even as a snowdrop neophyte, I have to say that it is a pleasure to notice the varied green splotches when the garden is in a moment of winter calm.
Leucojum vernum, Snowflake rather than Snowdrop, is another early bulb in the Amaryllidaceae family that is perhaps less well known, but just as lovely.
The spring-blooming Witch Hazels are having a spectacular season and I think perhaps it was the over abundance of rainfall last year. For a bright note in winter, position Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ outside a kitchen window. It’s especially effective against an evergreen backdrop.
Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’ is great for a small garden, only 4′ x 4′ and wonderfully fragrant. This is a selection of our native Vernal Witch Hazel.
The Chinese Witch Hazel is the most fragrant of all the species. Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ adds color and fabulous fragrance to the early garden.
Blooming in Mignon’s garden, another Chinese / Japanese cross, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is a wide-spreading shrub with coppery flowers and a light scent.
Lonicera fragrantissima, Winter Honeysuckle, is now in bloom and has an intense lemony scent. Amanda snapped a great picture of the flowers against the Carolina blue sky that we had last Saturday (before the wicked weather returned).
Paperbush, Edgeworthia, offers a delightful honey fragrance. It is hardy to zone 7, which is what Asheville is labeled, but it must be placed in a protected site to be successful. Mine has been moved twice because the buds did not open. Now positioned by the pond, it seems happy and has bloomed consistently for several years.
And we must not leave out Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry Dogwood. Delightful, delicate, but not diminutive. This is another large shrub to 20′ high and wide.
Hellebore fans can be as enthusiastic as Snowdrop lovers. Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, blooms earliest, but they all seem to be blooming right now (H. argutifolious, H. foetidus, H. orientalis, and hybrids). I came across a Helleborus niger, variety unknown, in Sieglinde’s garden who got a piece of this from a friend and it is now seeding true in her garden. I almost swooned! I must say that this is the most lovely hellebore I’ve ever seen and I am promised a piece.
H. orientalis, or Lenten Rose, generously seeds around my garden, but I do have one or two gems such as H. ‘Herronswood Red’ and H. nigercors ‘Honeyhill Joy’.
The strait Species of H. niger is lovely with it’s upward facing ruffled bloom.
Whoever named H. foetidus the Stinking Hellebore should be out of the naming business. It doesn’t smell bad and is really beautiful. This is a seedling in Elizabeth’s garden and I love the contrast of the dark foliage and bright green flowers.
Crocus of course are blooming when the sun is shining. I have a few C. tommasinianus that the voles have missed. They are always a welcome sight. Sieglinde has a nice little clump of C. ‘Cream Beauty’ and Amanda has a pretty C. vernus ‘Jeanne D’Arc’
Subtle but welcome are the many diminutive flowers now in bloom. The rare and expensive Adonis amurensis ‘Hanazono’ in Sieglinde’s garden (which the rabbits have nibbled – ouch).
A native, Hepatica nobilis, and Winter Aconite in Sieglinde’s garden.
And if you’re really low to the ground you can find the Asarums in bloom. Asarum splendens in Amanda’s garden and Asarum arifolium in my garden. I forgot I even planted this little oddling.
OK, let’s get up off the ground. So many evergreens are in bloom and the showiest are the Camelias. A favorite of Elizabeth, she has three in bloom now.
For more February fragrance we have Pieris, which my sister says smells like good French soap – I love that,
and Dwarf Sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, which Elizabeth has by her front door,
and of course Daphne odora, Winter Daphne (the only Daphne that’s not turned up its toes in my garden).
When you think about February flowers, you may conjure the usual suspects … Snowdrops and Crocus. But you can literally be awash with fragrance and flowers in this not-so-gloomy-after-all month. As always, a warm winter thank you to my gardening friends – Amanda, Elizabeth, Mignon, and Sieglinde – who share their knowledge, experience and their gardens with me. You make my gardening life so rich.
Pussy Willow, Salix (maybe chanomeloides)
great for pollen and nectar!