Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Weather Advisory

Winter Weather Advisory.  Those are words we've only heard once or twice here in the Nashville area this winter.  In fact, our winter has been closer to a Zone 8b winter than our typical Zone 6b (or 7a if you choose to believe the new USDA Hardiness Zones Map that was just published ).  Yes, we've gotten warmer.  Imagine that.  The new Hardiness Zones Map is based on 30 years worth of data, rather than the typical 10 years, so at least we're headed in the right direction and looking at long-term weather data rather than potentially anomalous short-term trends.

Narcissus pseudonarcissus

While I have personally enjoyed not having those frigid winds whipping across the ridge and the treacherous road conditions that go along with living in a region that is notoriously unprepared to deal with winter weather, the garden has been confused.  Not all of the plants are confused, mind you, but some that have a predisposed notion for popping up early in the season were waaaay ahead of schedule.  Narcissus pseudonarcissus the early daffodil that is naturalized all over the southeastern U.S. usually begins flowering about now--sometime between Valentine's Day and the end of February.  This year, it was in full bloom in my garden on January 20.

Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'

Hellebores, also called Christmas or Lenten Rose depending on the species, are staples of the Southern shade garden.  Their evergreen foliage provides year round interest, but it's their flowers that are most welcome during the short, gray days of winter.  I have several and can honestly say I don't think I've ever met a hellebore I didn't love.  Some of the most impressive that I have trialed over the past three years include Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper', which began flowering the week of Thanksgiving (2011) and continues to produce new flowers even as I'm writing this, the third week of February, three months later.

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy'

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy' as it ages.

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy' is a fairly recent introduction from Japan and has pristine white flowers which, once the plant is well-established, will be fully double in form.  Younger plants will produce what are often called "anemone-flowered" blooms with a ruff of central petals like the photos above.  I also love the way the flower ages, with the outer petals often turning green while the inner petals remain white.

Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'

Another outstanding performer in the garden during the past three years or so has been Helleborus x 'Winter Moonbeam'.  I love its foliage in the summer--a dark, almost black-green with creamy silver marbling in the veins.  It's right by the front door where I can appreciate it every day.  And in winter, it greets me from around New Years Day until late March with creamy white flowers that age pink and eventually to almost maroon.  They remain on the plant for several months and I remove them only when the new foliage begins to push up in mid-spring.

I also love the opportunity to visit other gardens around Nashville and wherever I may be traveling for business or pleasure.  Some recent trips to Cheekwood, our local public garden and Glen Leven, a property owned by The Land Trust for Tennessee, offered up these spectacular winter and early spring garden gems.

Edgeworthia chrysantha--Chinese Paperbush

Chimonanthus praecox--Wintersweet (flowering at Christmas!)

Arum italicum--Italian Arum (Leaves appear in autumn and remain throughout the winter.)

And a very special little narcissus, known throughout the South as a "Sweetie" because of its intoxicating fragrance, Narcissus jonquilla (flowering about a month early).

So if, like me, you live in USDA Zone 6b or warmer, you too can enjoy many of these winter-flowering beauties.  Many are hardier than Zone 6, growing even into Zone 5 (and in the case of the Narcissus, Zone 4).  They'll just flower at the end of winter instead of throughout the winter months like they do for me.


Dwoodard said...

Where do you get the plants you just mentioned. I don't remember seeing them at the nursery here in M'boro.

scottweberpdx said...

So good to see your garden is faring well...this weird winter has definitely made for some confused plants here as well!