In my quest to extend the gardening season by growing very early and very late blooming plants, I have begun growing “spring”-blooming* witch hazels. In 2017 I planted ‘Ripe Corn,’ ‘Orange Encore,’ and ‘Birgit’–all Hamamelis x intermedia (hybrids of H. japonica crossed with H. mollis). Only ‘Birgit’ is alive; the other two were eaten during the winter. Last year I planted ‘Pallida,’ ‘Diane,’ and H. vernalis. The vernal witch hazel, as H. vernalis is called, is native to southeastern United States and hardy to USDA Zone 4b. It opened a few blossoms in the most recent thaw.I concede the shrub didn’t open more than two or three flowers before the next cold wave barreled through. It was a small but potent victory, nonetheless. The vernal witch hazel was in a substantial #3 pot, but ‘Diane’ and ‘Pallida’ were both mere one year old cuttings, so I’m surprised to see ‘Diane’ has flower buds, all five of them. (I’ll post pictures on Instagram and Facebook as soon as it blooms!) You may recall that the Herb Garden is the warmest microclimate in my garden. And there is a spot in the Secret Garden that perpetually seeps water. As a result the soil thaws there sooner and that’s why those snowdrops are emerging earlier than their neighbors. Consulting my image archives, I know that I’ve had snowdrops blooming by the end of February in a few years. But they have also often been buried in snow again in March. Looking at the current ten-day weather forecast, I don’t expect to see February snowdrop blossoms this year. This past autumn I followed my own advice and planted a combination of two mixtures from Colorblends: Woodland Blend and Aladdin’s Carpet on the downhill side of this septic tank access. The soil is poor here and the grass grows slowly, so I don’t think it will need to be mowed before the foliage has died down. And yes, sooner or later something will go wrong with the septic system and it will need to be dug up, quite possibly where the bulbs are planted. I’m just betting it will be later, and I will have many years to enjoy these early spring bloomers.
Meanwhile, inside the house . . .Taking cuttings was one of the challenges I gave myself going into this winter. I really was not expecting the cuttings to bloom. I’m probably supposed to pinch the flowers out, but I didn’t. All the above bulbs were started at the same time, and look at the difference in root growth! I’m hoping the bulbs without roots are just a different, more pokey variety and not dead in the water. I still have a few more bulbs in the fridge. It seems like forcing them in soil might work better, but then you miss the fun of seeing the roots develop. However, when the roots don’t develop and the bulbs rot it’s no fun at all. All of these hyacinths were from the Etouffee mix from Colorblends so I don’t know the variety names of the (hopefully) four colors. That worked well! Maybe next I will try forcing some flowering quince. My friend Christine Froelich published an excellent how-to post on forcing branches for winter bloom. It reminded me of some of the little tips and tricks (like cutting the branches down to size outside) that make the whole process go more smoothly.
Challenging myself to learn more about plants by trying new techniques and by researching and growing unfamiliar plants helps me grow as a gardener–and as a person. I try not to get discouraged about the failures because even they teach me something. For example, the ‘Diane’ and ‘Pallida’ witch hazels are caged so they don’t meet the same fate as ‘Ripe Corn’ and ‘Orange Encore.’ It’s all about being a hardy soul and not letting winter get the best of me. What cabin-fever-fighting tricks do you have in your arsenal?
*About those “spring”-blooming witch hazels: They are spring-blooming only to distinguish them from the fall-blooming Hamamelis virginiana. Most people would call them winter-blooming, but that would confuse us cold climate gardeners. Mud-season-blooming is closer to the mark.
Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.