Honeybees in January!

What a glorious day to be alive here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic (I’m borrowing this phrase from my magical friend, H/D).  On my daily walk through the garden this morning, I stopped in front of the biggest Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei, and lo and behold, the half-open blossoms are covered with honeybees.  Very active and happy honeybees–in JANUARY.  This may not be the earliest they’ve emerged to feast on the Mahonia’s nectar, yet it is the earliest certainly in my memory.  And the fragrance of the Mahonia is intoxicating when I get up close to the flowers.  What a treat and delight!

Look closely and you’ll see the bees:

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Coming in for a landing on the left...

Coming in for a landing on the left...

Posted under Fragrance in the garden, Insects in the Garden, The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 6, 2012

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Ice on the Pond

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s been a mild Winter.  Before I left for the New Year in Wilmington, I turned off my waterfall here at Woodland Cottage since I heard a freeze was on the way.  When I got home yesterday, there was a thin coating of ice on the pond–first of the season.

What a difference a year (or two) makes!  Here’s the pond and waterfall after the just-before-Christmas snow of 2009:

And here’s how the waterfall looks, normally, in January:

Today, it’s warming up again, so I’ll probably turn the waterfall back on.  The night temperatures over the next few days are supposed to be just below freezing, if that.  I like to keep the water moving, if at all possible…keeps it from getting stagnant and stinky.  It was warm enough late last Fall that I could give the pond a good cleaning.  Some years, like the last two, it gets cold suddenly, and the fallen leaves and brush get frozen before I can get them out of the water.  Makes for a very unpleasant clean-up when I return North in March!!

Elsewhere in my garden, the usually late-Winter bloomers are showing up much earlier this year (maybe the earliest I’ve ever seen them appear, in my garden).  One of my favorite shrubs, Mahonia bealei, the Leatherleaf Mahonia, is showing its lemon-yellow buds.  The bumblebees love these…I hope the flowers hang in suspended animation until late Winter, when the bumblebees are active again and can enjoy the flowers.  To me, this is just another example of how climate change has things out-of-whack in the natural world.  Gardeners know how interconnected it all is, and if you know your own piece of land, you notice details like this.

Mahonia bealei

Mahonia bealei

Late last Winter, while in Wilmington, NC, where I spend a good part of my Winter with my partner, we were driving home from visiting friends in Carolina Beach and spotted loads of tropical plants for sale at a small nursery.  Turns out they had been used as props for filming a movie–not sure which one.  (Did you know Wilmington has the largest film studio East of Los Angeles?)  We stopped and I picked up a Bird of Paradise and a few other items.  I planted the Bird of Paradise in a large pot in front of my house here in Arlington.  It got so big (and was so inexpensive) that I decided not to bring it into the utility room for the Winter, like I do with so many of the smaller tropicals I use in pots in the Summer.  Believe it or not, it looked great until we had our first hard freeze this weekend.  Leaving it out to see how long it would last has been an interesting experiment.  Here it is today:

Notice the Sprengeri Asparagus Ferns?  They’ve withstood the freeze so far.  Here are some more of them today in windowboxes on the front of my house:

Hellebores are starting up:

Helleborus foetidus, the Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus, the Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus argustifolius, the Corsican Hellebore

Helleborus argustifolius, the Corsican Hellebore

The Lenten Roses, Helleborus x orientalis, haven’t really started to push their buds yet, but I do see some activity when I look at their crowns.

Snapdragons have become good Winter annuals in the South in the last several years, as Pansies have been for years.  I have some pretty red ones in pots by my front door.  They are looking good right now, if a little wilted–from the cold or lack of water?  Not sure, so I gave them a drink this morning.

And, of course, Snowdrops, and yes, these are blooming earlier than normal, too.  My neighbor, Mr. Jimmy, has them blooming in a sunny spot in his front yard.

Thank goodness the Winter Daphne has not yet burst into bloom.  It would be a major bummer if I lost that glorious harbinger of Spring–absolutely the most heady, powerful scent in my garden.  I’ve got lots of fragrant flowers, yet this one tops them all here, in my opinion.

What’s blooming in your garden this early January of 2012?

Wishing you and yours a joyful, healthy, creative, and prosperous 2012.  I’m optimistic (like most gardeners–it runs in our DNA).  Are you?

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Climate Change, The Winter Garden, Tropical Plants, Water in the Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 5, 2012

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The Sweet Scents of Spring

It never fails: every year, I am happily surprised by the powerful scents of early spring here in my garden. I have scented flowers all over my garden throughout the growing season, of course, yet these early ones get my blood pumping. Walking through, I encounter sweetness at every turn.

Entering the front walk, I have a big Variegated Winter Daphne, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’. The pink buds open to pale pink, almost white, and have such a powerful scent you can smell them a couple of houses away. The entire front garden is smothered in fragrance. To my nose, they have a slight citrusy smell. Most people stop and try to figure out where it’s coming from. Daphne are notoriously finicky–they like some shade from the hot sun and do not like to be moved once established. Know that they can turn up their toes and die in a heartbeat…it’s just the way they are. But so very worth the risk, in my opinion. And by the way, yes–I have lost several. And yet I keep planting them.

Variegated Winter Daphne

Variegated Winter Daphne

Walking across the front of my house, hanging a left and heading down the steps past the waterfalls, a different sweetness hits my nose. This one is not so obvious because the flowers are largely hidden. Tiny, white flowers are covered by the evergreen leaves of the little Sweetbox, (it’s a tongue-twister) Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis. It doesn’t grow much higher than one or two feet, and makes a terrific groundcover, even for dry shade. I don’t know why, but I always think of dryer sheets (think Bounce) when I smell the Sweetbox…I happen to like the smell of dryer sheets, so it doesn’t smell weird to me.

Next to my lower pond is an odd-looking plant, Edgeworthia, or Paperbush, Edgeworthia papyrifera. It is a curious thing…deciduous in the winter, with stems that always remind me of long fingers like those of the movie character ET. The flowers, clusters of pale yellow with the look and smell of Daphne, come out on the tips. The leaves emerge soon after the blooms fade and have a tropical appearance to my eye.

Edgeworthia flower (with Daffodil below)

Edgeworthia flower (with Daffodil below)

Going left as I enter the woodland part of my garden, I see a Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei. It’s a coarse thing, with big, evergreen, holly-like leaves and clusters of bright, yellow flowers on the stem tips. The bees love them so there’s lots of movement and activity. The scent reminds me of Jonquils/Daffodils. Today’s rain is knocking off the flowers, so I don’t have much longer to enjoy them this year. The fruit ripens in about June and looks like clusters of blue-purple grapes. The bluejays and catbirds love the fruit and practically fight over it–they strip the fruit in not time.

Leatherleaf Mahonia

Leatherleaf Mahonia

And speaking of Daffodils, the garden is filling with their blooms (and fragrance). I think my favorite is ‘Tête à Tête’, a dwarf that blooms in tight little clusters. Looking at it just makes me happy that it’s spring!

\'Tête à Tête\' Daffodils

'Tête à Tête' Daffodils

I have a Winter Hazel, Corylopsis glabrescens, growing in front of the shed. I’d call this a large shrub or small tree. The hanging blooms are pale yellow and fragrant. It’s graceful and very elegant.

Winter Hazel

Winter Hazel

Finally, wafts of sweet Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) hit my nose as I get further into the lower garden. They’ve naturalized in the surrounding woods. As plants, they are not the prettiest things…just sticks in the winter and small-leafed shrubs during the growing season…but I do wait–and look forward to–their sweet scents in late winter and early spring.

It just occurred to me that most of the late winter/early spring flowers I have are yellows…to remind me of the sunlight I’ve missed so much over the winter?

Posted under Fragrance in the garden

Baby Steps

After the glorious spring-thaw weather last week, we have stepped back slowly into winter.  February can be either brutal or a one-step-forward, one-step-back type of month.  I think February is the worst month…you can finally feel the sun again, yet the air just will not let go of winter.  And it is often the snowiest time, too.

Yet the garden is taking its baby steps toward spring.  We are so lucky here in the upper South–we really do have the opportunity to have a four-season garden.  There is always something of interest going on.  Here in my garden, the Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, have just started blooming.  The Hellebores (Lenten Roses, Helleborus x orientalis, Stinking Hellebore, H. foetidus, and Christmas Rose, H. niger) are all pushing up their flower buds.  Before we know it, they will be in bloom.  I’ve seen Daffodils and Crocus pushing up.  The Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei, is just about to break into bloom.  I love its fragrant, cheerful, long-lasting flowers.

Actually, almost all of the early bloomers have a powerful fragrance.  Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima; Winter Daphne, Daphne odora; Sweetbox, Sarcoccocca hookeriana…you can smell all of these half a block away.  And they will all be in bloom very soon here in growing zone 7.

Once the Forsythia and Camellias start to bloom in a few weeks, it’s all over but the cryin’ (or should I say laughin’ since it will be SPRING!) :-)   It’s time to start getting outside, walking around your own garden, and seeing what is beginning to stir.  I think you will be surprised.

Winter Daphne

Winter Daphne

Posted under The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 23, 2010

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