An occasional weed

The dangling blooms of Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina, below) are of delicate constitution, so with unfortunate timing all flowers were injured in the recent freeze. While disappointing, this should not discourage the gardener from considering this splendid tree for a spot at the edge of his wooded lot. I cannot claim that silverbell is superior to dogwoods, redbuds, and serviceberry planted nearby, but it is equally exceptional, and certainly less common if that matters to the gardener.

Carolina silverbell
Carolina silverbell in better times. While flowers have been ruined by the recent freeze, this was our coldest April night in a decade, so there is no reason to expect damage again for at least another decade.

Perhaps, I have planted silverbell a bit too far into the forest’s understory, so that it grows a bit too tall and has less compact branching than if it had more sun. But, the tree is perfectly content growing here, and unlike dogwoods that hardly flower in shade, the wooded setting does not diminish its abundant flowers. One year out of twenty (or fifty) the flowers will be damaged by freezing temperatures, which is discouraging, but hardly a concern and no reason to exclude it from a garden.

Elizabeth magnolia in late March
Flowers of all magnolias are susceptible to frost and freeze damage, but nine out of ten years the later blooming Elizabeth has no problem. This year’s injury will be quickly forgotten, and I expect all will go splendidly a year from now.

A week earlier, the flowers of the pale yellow ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia (above) were also damaged by cold. A poorly timed frost browned the edges of flowers as they first opened, then the first of two recent freezes turned the blooms to brown mush. For two days the fragrance of the flowers was enjoyed, but a twenty-two degree night quickly put an end to this. Simply, if the gardener is to enjoy early spring flowers, one thing or another will be damaged every year, and the best that can be managed is to plant nothing, or such a variety that while one is ruined, others are superb.

Redbud flowers are densely clustered where branches were pruned from storm damage years ago.
Redbud flowers are densely clustered where branches were pruned from storm damage years ago.

Predictably, I have overreacted in my pessimism over damage from the recent freezes. Certainly, a few Japanese maples and several perennials will require a period to recover, but with cooler temperatures in recent weeks, flowers of redbuds, dogwoods, and serviceberry have persisted longer than usual. These were not been harmed at all by the cold. So, there is a trade off, and yes, there is good reason to be disappointed by the damaged flowers of magnolia and silverbell, but the gardener must expect an occasional weed in his paradise.

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