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The Art of Gardening
Trees and Shrubs

Harbingers of Spring

Harbingers of Spring

In the chilly depths of winter I’m torn between my desire to stay warm and my need to get out into the garden. It may seem like a fairly easy choice with the flower beds seemingly slumbering and little activity beyond the robins picking off the last fermenting berries from otherwise bare branches. However, here in the Puget Sound area, February is actually already bustling with floral activity. Many plants are putting on a dazzling display of color and sweet fragrance to entice hardy pollinators and gardeners alike out of their homes and hollows.

The warm orange and yellow hues of witch hazel immediately draw my attention when I step outside. These large shrubs are often the first in the landscape to bloom each year and fill the air with a distinctive clean scent. Witch hazels thrive in our climate, growing happily in sun or filtered shade. Similar in appearance but on a smaller scale are their relatives the winter hazels. Winter hazels produce pendant chains of lightly scented butter-yellow blooms along the lengths of their branches. The golden spike winter hazel, Coreopsis spicataAurea’, extends the show into summer and beyond with glowing chartreuse foliage that shifts to pastel shades of peach at the onset of autumn. Winter hazel benefits from some protection from the afternoon sun. For more exposed sites, forsythia with its stiff arching branches packed with deep yellow blossoms provides an easy care alternative!

Some winter-blooming shrubs don’t rely on bright colors but instead beckon with heady scents of citrus or vanilla. Winter daphne is unmatched for the intensity of its fragrance. Smelling of orange blossoms, daphne’s clusters of purplish-pink flowers seem out of place in the winter garden but are quite suited to our maritime climate provided they are given adequate drainage and some protection from severe cold. Variegated winter daphne also features glossy evergreen leaves edged in creamy white which are attractive long after its blooms have faded. Vanilla bush or Sarcococca is also clothed in deep green, glossy leaves and is very attractive year round. It is perfect for shady beds and borders and requires very minimal maintenance. In February and March Sarcococca is loaded with little white flowers which would draw little notice if it weren’t for their sweet aroma. Reminiscent of vanilla cookies baking in the oven, the scent encourages you to linger in the garden.

I cannot forget to mention a shrub which for me is the harbinger of spring. Flowering quince is a tough, often tangled, mass of thorny branches that bursts with big, crowded apple-blossom- like flowers in shades of red, pink, or white, sometimes all on the same branch. The boughs can be cut in winter and brought indoors where the buds will bloom and brighten your table (you won’t have to endure the rain to enjoy them).

These are just a few of the many plants waiting for you to bundle up, brave the drizzle, and appreciate what winter-blooming plants have to offer. Come to Sky Nursery to see (and smell) more!

By Brian Mumm
Skylights Spring 2011, Vol 26, No. 1

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18528 Aurora Avenue North
Shoreline, WA 98133
(206) 546-4851

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