Hurry along


After a day or two in early February when temperatures rise more than a few degrees above freezing, the gardener becomes particularly anxious for spring to arrive. His patience is not helped at all by witch hazels and hellebores with buds that are ready to burst into bloom, and snowdrops that have flowered sporadically for several weeks. Finally, with the swampy ground at the rear of the garden sufficiently frozen, I’ve managed to visit to see that catkins of the huge, sprawling pussywillow are nearly at their peak.

Catkins of pussywillow in early February
Catkins of pussywillow in early February

Forced stems of pussywillow are a staple to bring indoors through the winter, though if I didn’t have a swamp at the back of the garden I’d be much happier purchasing my handful of stems from the local grocery store. I suspect that every pussywillow is coarse and unwieldy, but the variegated one in this garden spreads twenty feet or more. Other than when it is covered by catkins for several weeks in late winter, there seems little reason to consider having one in the garden.

Witch hazel in late January
Arnold Promise witch hazel ready to bloom

Whatever little planning I do for spring has been accomplished, and already I’ve ordered an unrealistic number of oddities by mail order for treasures that will not be available in the local garden centers. Most will not arrive until mid April, which does no good to salve the anticipation of spring. But, some relief is imminent, at least, with a few handfuls of new hellebores expected within a few days. I haven’t a clue where anything will be planted, but once plants are in hand that will be quickly resolved once the ground is thawed enough to dig a hole.

With a few hours of labor in the garden there has been remarkable progress in accomplishing chores that have been put off for far too long. The dead and nearly dead evergreen magnolias that were damaged by cold a year ago have finally been chopped out, though branches are piled high on the lawn waiting for another day to be moved. A large branch of one of the towering tulip poplars that border the garden that fell in December to block one of the garden paths has finally been cut into smaller pieces, and I’ve gotten a start cutting back perennials and grasses. There’s still much to be done, but at least I’ve started.

Hellebrore ready to flower in late January
Hellebrore ready to flower in late January

Unfortunately, after a short spell of relative warmth, temperatures are headed in the wrong direction. I’m certain to be tortured sitting inside this weekend, but the high on Sunday isn’t expected to get to twenty, so there’s not a prayer I’ll venture out. Still, it won’t be cold enough to be a concern for the health of any plants, and I expect it will slow the flowering of hellebores and witch hazels only slightly. Flowers that have already opened will not be bothered, but I will.

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