Saturday, January 28, 2012

What I wish today...

... is blue skies, and spring.
Soft, new grass under my toes, and the smell of swelling buds of any colour or sort. I'm not too picky, even dandelions would do today. Just a couple of weeks to go...
My Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' in full bloom in March last year; its flowers are amazing true blue, opening from purple buds.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Scented spirit lifters for the chilly season

Winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum - a bit worn down by the ice storm, but still spreading its sunny fragrance in the cold. 

Despite being lucky with not loosing power or having any other accidents due the snow and ice storms last week, I do feel a bit worn down by the weather... so to cheer me up, I decided to write a list of my favorite plants for the dark, chilly season.

I love scented plants, which shows in my list below. If choosing between two otherwise equally suited plants for a situation, I almost always pick the fragrant one of them. With their perfume, scented plants add dimension by offering pleasure for one more of our senses. Often, they conjure memories and feelings from days past. Sometimes, scents can be healing, like the heady, fresh smell of lavenders that has scientifically been proved to be calming (one of my favorites...). I mostly think of flowers when considering scented plants, but of course even whole plants can be aromatic, from the tiny herbs we use for cooking to the huge cedars and firs of the northern hemisphere and towering Eucalyptus trees of the southern.

Luckily, the gardening year of the Pacific Northwest is never without something fragrant in season, even if the leaden skies and slushy snow of mid winter can otherwise be quite oppressing to one's mood. As a remedy, here are some of my favorite, scented "spirit lifters" for the season, all amazing plants to be included in any garden at the colder latitudes. 

Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera standishii from China, has the same kind of fresh honey scent as its summer flowering relatives.
Have I worn down you with my witch-hazels yet? Hamamelis x intermedia 'Winter beauty' is gently lemon scented with deep apricot glow.
Sarcococcas have such modest, little flowers, but their perfume carries far with the winter winds. They flower from December to February, and are excellent near entrances with their fragrance and glossy evergreen leaves.

The delicate scent of snowdrops... do I need to say more?
Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'; I love it in theory, but in practice its pink flowers often become mottled with brown after the slightest touch of snow, which always looks dull. Their heady perfume lingers around from the darkest November to late February.

Many cyclamen are slightly scented, but you need to go down on your knees to detect it. Lovely combination here with the cinnamon bark of a Stewartia monadelpha.
The waxy flowers of Chimonanthus praecox have a strong, spicy scent that reminds me of some of the Actaeas. Describing scents is such an undeveloped area, the only tool available seems to be comparing them to something that is more well-known... 
Daphnes are well-known for their highly scented winter flowers, but they are sensitive to cold and snow. Mine have turned yellow after the ice storm and will probably loose their leaves in the coming weeks. Luckily, they usually recover, but look pretty shaggy until the new leaves develop.


Friday, January 20, 2012

An icy emergency

Everything over here is covered with a layer of ice, including these stunning beautyberries in my neighbour's garden...

Our Pacific Northwest corner of the world has been pretty much paralyzed by a snowstorm that started two days ago and transformed into an ice storm today. The situation is quite serious and the Governor of Washington State has actually declared emergency; hundreds of thousands are without power and the temperatures are freezing. The power line repairs are expected to take at least a couple of days, which makes things hard for many families. Our family has been very lucky, with no other damage than a couple of broken Magnolia branches in our front yard.

Schools have been closed for two days now, and we don't expect them to open tomorrow either, so we have spent our days sledding and building snowmen. Also, we've been shaking off the heavy snow from the branches of our marginally hardy Magnolia gradifloras. They can actually take the cold, but their branches are brittle and the first to break when snow gathers on their generously large, evergreen leaves. I don't think they are suited to this climate, but as there are five large young trees in our front yard, the only thing is to try to prevent this from happening. The snow is still falling, so their leaves become coated soon again after they are shaken free.

I feel guilty admitting that I love snow and that think it is very pretty out there, when I know so many are freezing in their homes that will get only colder and darker as the evening falls. I hope the repair crews get their work done fast so everybody will be warm and safe again soon... 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bewitched, once more...

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Winter beauty' glows in warm, tangerine tones...

I do realize that I use the word "favorite" all too often in connection to plants. I guess I just can't help it. So here I am again, telling you that witch-hazels are one of my absolute favorite shrubs. Not only do I find their delicate blooms that send out their spidery petals in the middle of the darkest winter completely enchanting, but I also love their lemony scent that fills the air and greets one long before the flowers can be seen. Unfortunately there is no way to convey their spicy fragrance to you, but at least I can provide some snapshots from my walk in the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle this morning. Absolutely spellbinding plants, if you ask me. Don't miss them, if you are anywhere nearby.

Hamamelis mollis, a wild witch-hazel species from China.

A scented canopy of starry flowers - Hamamelis mollis.

The lighter tones of Hamamelis mollis 'Pallida'.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange beauty', one of my favorites... oh, did I just say it again?

 Pathways of the Witt Winter Garden.

Hamamelia x intermedia 'Jelena' , with rusty red flowers hiding amidst last year's leaves.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Hiltingbury' can't decide if it should keep to orange or to pink tones...

Petals of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Ruby glow' are delicately edged with creamy white.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' has burgundy buds that get a apricot glow when they open up.

A pathway winding under a canopy of fragrant witch-hazel flowers.

My other posts about witch-hazels:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The season of pure bliss

It is the first week of January and the first snowdrops are coming out. And I'm not embarrassed to tell once more just how much I love these little guys, the first harbingers of spring to peek up from the soil. Kneeling down in the cool, wet soil to get the best angle of their nodding petals might seem an odd delight, but for a plant deprived January gardener, it surely is one of the fastest ways to bliss...

A family of Galanthus elwesii greeting the pale January sun.

Friday, January 6, 2012

About the amazing journey of the monkeypuzzle...

Today, I'm quite proud to tell that my third article here in the US just came out. In it I dove into the history of monkeypuzzles as garden plants. And what a journey it was - from a dinner table in Chile where its seeds were served as a dessert to Captain Vancouver's expedition (they had been up in the Pacific Northwest trying to find the Nortwest Passage), via Victorian England where it fast became a trophy plant for the rich, and then back to North America where gardeners took after most trends popular in England.

Today, these architectural, prickly conifers are seldom planted in gardens. But their delicious, large seeds remind of giant pine nuts, and as "edibles" are today included in all parts of a garden from flowerbeds to meadows, monkeypuzzles might be heading towards a renaissance...

Read the whole article at the Arboretum Foundation website. Also, see some great pictures in my previous post about monkeypuzzles.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On a New Year's Eve...

To live is so startling,
it leaves little time for anything else.

- Emily Dickinson -

I hope 2012 brings you a great gardening year!