The winter garden

Even while hellebores and snowdrops remain buried beneath an icy blanket of snow, flowers of mahonias and witch hazels offer a daily dose of comfort to soothe the gardener, anxious in a continuing freeze that spring seems so far off. While I occasionally join others who scour nursery and seed catalogs, my relief is found in the garden, with brightly colored blooms, but also by regular monitoring of flower buds that are swelling too slowly in our January chill.

Snowdrops were flowering before being covered by snow, then ice, but cold temperatures have slowed flowering.
Milder temperatures will encourage flowers of hellebores that were flattened in the snow to rise. More flower buds will open each week in February.

As snow in the shaded front garden slowly diminishes, due in large part to increasing ice, snowdrops continue their push (above), though the progression into bloom is stunted by days that do not rise above freezing. A warming weather forecast (though not warm) gives hope that flowering might soon resume, and that flowers of hellebores flattened by the snow will perk up.

Paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha) often begin showing a glimpse of color by late in January, but buds remain tight in our mid-winter spell of cold.

With February around the corner, an increasing number of flowers are expected each week, so the gardener is more encouraged even if the weather does not cooperate with his wish for a balmy late winter. Spells of mild weather often accompany this last month of the gardener’s winter, accelerating flowering and further encouraging the gardener.

Flower buds of ‘Diane’ are not swelling noticeably, but this will change quickly after a few milder days.
‘Jelena’ and other witch hazels will flower through much of February.

This is not a consciously winter garden, but I am increasingly attracted through the year to plant winter bloomers that are mixed through the garden. The collection of witch hazels has grown to a dozen or more, with more scheduled for early spring planting, and I must remain disciplined not to plant every hellebore that catches my eye.

Flowers of seedling stinking hellebores are not as colorful as other hellebores, but the unusual blooms and dissected foliage earns their spot in the garden.
‘Winter Sun’ mahonia begins flowering in November. In recent years, flowers have persisted into February.

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