Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Meteorological Spring!

Today is March 1st so meteorological spring begins!!! March, April and May are by far my favorite time of year. Though I've heard some talk of wanting a divorce with Mother Nature I say bring on her wildest weather so indicative of this season. From the most benevolent beauty to vicious bouts of winter relapses this season is always a wild ride but I dare you to make it fun like a carnival and not let it get you down. Spring and summer WILL come.

Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is still in bloom and has been off and on for more than a month (photo from last year). The tiny but fragrant spidery flowers are always welcome this time of year and the petals simply roll up if inclement wintry weather returns.

The Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) are also in bloom and the first honeybees are out foraging too (photo from last year). Snowdrops are just getting started though some have been in bloom since December. They are not even close to peak in the Rock & Waterfall Garden which has many thousands to carpet the ground with floral snow.

The Pansies (Viola x witrockiana) are also starting to bloom though they look like they just got out of bed -- newly arisen from a blanket of snow that finally was washed away by Sunday's torrents. If you think they don't look good you'd be wrong, these plants are ready to flower and grow with the warmer days. In just a couple weeks they should be stunning -- a good reminder to plant pansies in the fall get ahead of the spring gardening season.

The Starbor Kale (Brassica oleracea) looks stunning with crinkly foliage that survived the winter unscathed. I will say I have never seen kale weather the winter as well! There was some value in having unprecedented snowfall: as mulch!

Here a sweep of Starbor Kale has some bedraggled plants to the left but those plants that may not look so good are actually in great shape too! They are Snapdragons and you can clearly see the alive green basal foliage at the base of each dead stem. The snapdragons too, have weathered the winter at almost 100% -- the highest percentage ever. In a couple weeks we will cut off the dead tops and either transplant or let the plants grow where they are for a peak spring bloom in May.

Most of the hardy, early-flowering shrubs are not quite in bloom but you can see the swelling purplish buds of this White-Forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) which is (after the witchhazels) one of our first shrubs to bloom with white or blush pink flowers.

Most evergreens weathered the winter well but you can see some background plants that did not like the winter so well here. The foreground is a Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora 'Gyokoshu hime') in great shape but the Citation Yews (Taxus x media) behind it did not like the wet winter.
'King's Gold' Threadleaf Sawara Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera "Filifera") is probably our brightest golden evergreen in the Conifer Garden north of the Visitor Center. It got a little bit of winter burn (brown foliage) but we know it will recover quickly in spring and that this particular plant was newly planted last summer so did not have a complete chance to get established. Always make sure to give plants a chance to establish before condemning them from a bit a winter damage.
The related 'Lemon Thread' cultivar has been in the ground a couple years and is in perfect shape. These golden, thread-leaf Chamaecyparis pisifera (pronounced kam-ee-SIP-ah-ris, peh-SIFF-er-ah) are some of the best conifers for gardens in our region and are considered Plants of Merit

This wonderfully cute, tiny and ferny-leaved evergreen is a new cultivar of Hinoki Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Emelie') named by Larry Stanley of Stanley & Son Nursery after the late Emelie Snyder (wife of Marvin Snyder). This evergreen gem is not as tolerant of our winter winds and does better in a protected location in our region. We put a few cut evergreen boughs over this newly planted one for the winter to make sure it gets established and it did weather the winter in near perfect condition.

This may be our bluest needled evergreen in the Conifer Garden and it was one I was in doubt about how it would weather the winter. It is the 'Silberzwerg' Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) native to the Pacific Northwest. Obviously it weathered the winter in perfect condition and may become a good choice for a blue-needled conifer in sites where blue spruce fails.

This little evergreen groundcover is rarely seen in these parts but is a neat choice for a sheltered spot. It is the Dwarf Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) which will have tiny, but wonderfully vanilla scented flowers soon. This plant is in the same family as boxwoods but makes a nice low, evergreen groundcover.

As almost usual, our Nandinas (Nandina domestica 'Compacta') have been completely winter-burned. This plant is NOT dead and will fully recover with new growth later in spring. I have always thought Nandina is only fully hardy in zone 7 where temperatures do not go below zero. Here they are root and often stem hardy but the leaves almost always are killed by winter.

Our Needle Palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) seedlings also have survived the winter unscathed. This hardiest of shrub palms still requires a sheltered place against a wall or foundation. I have had this palm for many years here and it is actually better to let it be and DO NOT mulch it heavily in winter which seems to just invite rot which is worse than any winter damage. These palms grow slower than "molasses in January" so give them time! Powell Gardens' plants were purchased from Plant Delights mail order catalog, a great source for needle and other "hardy" palms.

The Southern Magnolias also fared better than last year through the winter. When I look at pictures of them from last March, those on the south side of the Visitor Center had leaves completely burned. This is the Victoria Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) on the north side of the Visitor Center and it's leaves didn't burn much at all despite temperatures near -10F. Many Southern Magnolias leaves burned badly again this winter but be patient because no stem or bud damage appears to have happened just like last year. New growth will quickly usurp any damaged leaves later this spring and the cold winter will be forgotten.

Here Daffodils a.k.a. Narcissus are emerging with Sparkler Monkey Grass below and Goldsturm Rudbeckia above. With the rains of Sunday it was just like magic how many spring bulbs burst through the soil surface. Yes, the winter garden may look tired and flattened by all the snow but the new foliage of the 2011 growing season is set to grow! May all you gardeners have weathered the winter well and be ready to "bloom" this coming spring. A visit to Powell Gardens now is a great inspiration to the beauty of the early spring garden. I just got word the first Iris (Iris reticulata) just opened this afternoon on the Island Garden. With each passing mild day the bulbs of early spring will begin to carpet the gardens and usher in the new season at last. Enjoy!
(All the photographs except the first two were taken on February 28, 2011 by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens.)

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