Posts Tagged Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’

Farewell, February!

Damaged Stewartia

Damaged Stewartia

Is is just me, or has February been a strange month? Folks in the Midwest are still covered in ice and snow. Here in the southeast, it was mostly rain — rain we really needed. But weather always seems to have pros and cons, doesn’t it? The Stewartia above — a lovely little non-native ornamental I adore — grows beneath giant, aging River Birches. River Birches usually only last about 100 years, and my enormous, gorgeous specimen trees are most decidedly declining. They drop small branches routinely. After the last rain, however, the giant nearest my Stewartia decided to blow its top.

Broken top of River Birch

Broken top of River Birch

Here’s a closer view of the topless branch.

We think the darker areas were rotten.

We think the darker areas were rotten.

And here’s more of the River Birch to provide a sense of scale.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

Fortuitously for those growing beneath this forest giant, its top fragmented as it fell to the ground.

Clean-up will be fun -- not!

Clean-up will be fun — not!

The large piece in back partially crushed part of our deer fence, but Ace Wonder Spouse was able to roll away the large chunk enough to free the fence, which he then tacked back into position — at least well enough to thwart hungry deer, we hope.

The green shrub in front is a Titi -- a native that would be eaten to the ground if not for the fence inside which it grows.

The green shrub in front is a Titi — a native that would be eaten to the ground if not for the fence inside which it grows.

The poor Stewartia really got the worst of it. A number of branches were ripped from its trunk. Wonder Spouse will prune the damaged areas as much as possible soon.

A chunk of River Birch sits smugly in the crotch of the Stewartia -- just out of my reach.

A chunk of River Birch sits smugly in the crotch of the Stewartia — just out of my reach.

All in all, it could have been much worse, and I wouldn’t trade a drop of the rain that fell for the damage done. The rain had an immediate impact on plants and animals. Buds are swelling, birds and frogs sing more loudly every day. Despite below-normal temperatures and snow flurries promised for this weekend, Spring will have its way with us soon enough. I offer abundant proof:

Cornus mas in full bloom.

Cornus mas in full bloom.

Witch Hazel 'Aurora' smells even lovelier than it looks.

Witch Hazel ‘Aurora’ smells even lovelier than it looks.

More sunny daffodils open every day.

More sunny daffodils open every day.

Coming attractions: Abundant flowers on many deciduous azaleas.

Coming attractions: Abundant flowers on many deciduous azaleas.

Cardinals already battle for territory. The Purple Finch female with them must be very hungry to brave their grouchy company.

Cardinals already battle for territory. The Purple Finch female with them must be very hungry to brave their grouchy company.

The rain brought down many branches, but the creek never quite flooded. That’s how dry we’ve been. Today’s drought monitor update from the weather seers has FINALLY moved us from the Moderate Drought category to Abnormally Dry. Not great, but better.

Personally, I’m hoping March lives up to its advertised lion-like entrance, keeping us chilly and wet until I have time to clean up the yard, finish the pruning, weed and mulch the front beds, prepare the vegetable garden …  The list of chores grows exponentially with every passing hour.

So, February, bon voyage. It’s been — interesting. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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Blooming Today

Nothing screams "Spring!" like sunny crocuses.

Nothing screams “Spring!” like sunny crocuses.

After returning home from errands today, I noticed quite a few flowers blooming among my five acres of green chaos. I thought of all the folks buried under feet of snow, and decided to offer them some hopeful signs of spring. It was approaching noon when I shot these, so apologies in advance for the less-than-stellar quality of some these pictures.

Long ago — over 20 years — I planted a number of traditional spring-flowering bulbs here and there in the yard. I haven’t done anything right by them since. I haven’t divided them, fed them, mulched them (on purpose — some get leaf mulch because they’re under trees), or given them any supplemental water. Despite total neglect, they brighten our late winter/early spring landscape every year.

The daffodils have mostly spread in place, making ever-larger clumps. However, the crocuses travel. I don’t know if birds, insects, or rodents are moving the seeds or corms, but somehow, I now find blooming crocuses in unexpected places. Take, for example, those bright yellow beauties in the top photo. They just appeared beside my pink flowering apricot a few years back, as if to keep it company. That tree has finished blooming, but the location continues its spring show, thanks to these sunny crocuses.

Another volunteer crocus is blooming in deep shade beneath the loropetalums. Every year, I mean to relocate it, but, of course, I forget it when the leaves disappear.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

Some crocuses are still blooming where I planted them — more or less. I love the subtle striping on these paler lilac beauties.

Subtle and lovely.

Subtle and lovely.

I almost overlooked the blooming dwarf crested iris I planted some years back. These diminutive specimens are native to Piedmont floodplains, but horticulturalists have created a number of cultivars. I have long forgotten the name of this variety that continues to thrive among overgrown Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

I wrote some time ago about all the volunteer wildflowers — many non-native originally — that have naturalized and taken over much of my “lawn.” Blooming vigorously right now is this little Speedwell. I think it’s Veronica persica, but don’t hold me to that. This clump is growing in my gravel driveway with the rest of the weeds.

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

Both of my Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ specimens are still blooming. Peggy Junior is nearly done; she was more severely impacted by a recent bout of sub-freezing weather. Peggy Senior is protected from north winds by our garage. Her branch tops are still filled with fragrant rosy flowers; abundant honeybees enjoy this resource every sunny day now.

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

As I mentioned previously, this is the first year that my non-native Parrotia persica has bloomed abundantly. It’s still doing so, but most of the flowers in this picture are spent. The brighter pops of magenta here and there are the currently blooming flowers.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

The daffodils on the floodplain open first, because the area is a tad warmer than the hilltops. Ice Follies is always the first daffodil to defiantly declare spring’s arrival — sometimes in snow!

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

The snow drops I showed you in the previous post are now fully open.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

About 8, maybe 10 years ago, I planted a hybrid Hellebore. This clump of Lenten Roses grows more enormous every year, and, no, I haven’t gotten around to dividing it. As is usually the case, its flowers begin opening well before the onset of Lent most years.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Inside the deer fence on the north side of my yard, two recently planted specimens are showing their late winter flowers right on schedule. The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) from last year is completely covered in bright yellow flowers. The new plant we added this year is blooming some, so I’m hoping we’ll get at least a couple of fruits, now that I’ve provided a source for cross pollination.

The small flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow' are difficult to capture with my little camera.

The small flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ are difficult to capture with my little camera.

My hybrid witchhazel, Aurora, is just starting to show off its strappy yellow-and-orange petals. It should be more impressive after a few more years of growth.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

Up front beneath the shelter of mature loblolly pines, Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ is about to explode into snow-white star bursts of potently fragrant glory — assuming no freezes brown petals prematurely.

Fingers crossed that cold won't damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star.'

Fingers crossed that cold won’t damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’

I can’t close before showing you a couple of native trees now in glorious full bloom throughout my yard. The Red Maples are heating up the forest canopy with their usual crimson display.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring's imminent return.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring’s imminent return.

Some feet below in the subcanopy, American Hazelnut trees are ornamented by numerous dangling male catkins. Every breeze makes them dance, releasing pollen onto the tiny female flowers scattered among them. These native shrubs/small trees disappear into the landscape when everything leafs out. But right now, they are quite conspicuous. As I wandered around my yard today, I discovered a large specimen growing in my backyard that I had never noticed before.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Then as I walked the creek line, I realized that at least a half dozen more specimens were blooming on my neighbor’s land across the creek. I spotted a very large tree over there so covered in catkins that I wondered how I’d never seen it before.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

One final enthusiastic bloomer will close today’s post. This rosemary has been growing against my house for a number of years. I always intend to prune the branches away from the siding when the plant stops blooming, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t really ever stop blooming. I certainly can’t bear to cut it now, when every branch is covered in delicate blue flowers beloved by hungry foraging honeybees. I’ll try to remember to do this in summer, when bloom enthusiasm decreases, and the pollinators have myriad other options.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

All of these early flowers are signaling me that it’s time to start some spring vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. When the weather moderates a bit, that will be my next task. Happy February, ya’ll.

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Bewitched by Witch Hazels

New arrivals ready for transplanting

Up until last year, my yard lacked Witch Hazels (Hamamelis spp.). They weren’t here when we moved onto our five acres 23+ years ago, and somehow I just hadn’t gotten around to filling that void.

Adding this genus finally rose to the top of my garden must-plant list when I was wandering around the Meadowbrook Nursery Web site. I’ve purchased lovely, healthy native perennials from them before, but I had not noticed that they offer an entire plant category devoted to a gorgeous array of Witch Hazels.

I’ve known about the native Witch Hazels of my region since I was a teenager. Late autumn strolls through nearby woodlands often included a surprise find of a so-called Common Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in fragrant bloom. In its native habitat, H. virginiana can be easy to overlook. Its leaves tend to cling to the plant through early winter, masking the strappy yellow crumpled petals of this understory species.  Most of the ones I stumbled on were a bit misshapen from bending to find sunlight through the canopy trees.

But horticulturalists have long appreciated the aesthetic potential of this genus, and have created a diverse array of colorful forms with varying blooming times that can adorn Piedmont gardens from October through February. Yes, that’s right, you can have blooming shrubs and trees in your Piedmont garden through our winter months if you pick the right plant and put it in the right place.

Last year, we planted a hybrid between a Chinese and a Japanese species of Witch Hazel. These hybrids are called Hamamelis x intermedia. The cultivar we chose is Aurora. Our little shrub arrived loaded with fat flower buds that opened to reveal vivid yellow-orange flowers in late winter. It is loaded again this year, and its fall leaf color includes a dazzling array of warm reds, oranges, and yellows.  We have every expectation that this thriving specimen will eventually be a breathtaking shrub at least eight feet tall. Imagine a stark February morning woodland landscape warmed by sunny blooms on such a big specimen. It will be magnificent.

But that will be a few years. In the meantime, we still get a surprising number of flowers from our small plant. Here’s a recent photo of it that gives you an idea of its flower bud abundance.

H. x intermedia ‘Aurora’ flower buds

I’ve been so pleased with Aurora that it was easy to talk myself into another Witch Hazel when I needed to add a second plant to my order to meet the minimum cost required for shipping from Meadowbrook Nursery. I had ordered a second Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas), because the one I planted last year is thriving and I needed a second one to get fruit production via cross pollination.

When I realized I needed a second plant, I instantly turned to the Witch Hazel options. The myriad choices made it tough to decide, but I finally settled on a cultivar of the other North American native species, H. vernalis. This species is native to the Ozark Plateau in central North America, but it happily grows elsewhere when provided good growing conditions. I decided to go with H. vernalis ‘Amethyst,” a beauty with mildly fragrant purple strap-petaled flowers.

The plant I received was already in bloom and is still holding on to green leaves, and I can tell I’m going to very much like this more subtle addition to our landscape. Here it is just after planting.

Newly planted Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’

In this photo, the flowers look more maroon than purple, but in life they do look more purple. Note the abundant healthy green leaves. Theoretically, this plant will bloom a bit later in future years when it is settled, which will make it more likely that the leaves will be gone, thereby allowing the flowers to stand out more. Even now, though, I think the contrast between flower and leaf color is enough to draw attention to the blooms.

Here’s a final shot of the new arrival with a nice layer of mulch surrounding it.

Never add a new plant without immediately mulching it afterward.

See the plant label? I confess our five acres looks a bit like an arboretum, because many of the plants are labeled. About Year Two into our time here, Wonder Spouse noticed that I was losing track of the names of the cultivars we were adding. And since I’m not a great record keeper (at least not until I started this blog), he insisted that a permanent marker accompany every new plant. This has turned out to be very helpful.

On the front of the metal marker, I write the species and cultivar of the plant. On the back side, I write where I got the plant and when I planted it. The permanent marking pens we use keep the labels legible for at least ten years, depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. If the plant comes with a plastic label looped around it, I usually attach it to the permanent marker. It helps me avoid running over the little newbies when I’m riding around on the lawn tractor.

Coincidentally, the latest edition (November/December) of The American Gardener magazine features a great piece on Witch Hazels. The photographs that accompany the article wonderfully illustrate the visual impact a mature blooming specimen can have in a winter-bare landscape. I highly recommend that you find this article; it’s worth it just for the pictures.

Witch Hazels grow best where soils remain relatively moist. I planted mine at the base of the hill on the north-facing side of my yard. Judging by the health of Aurora, I think I’ve sited my Witch Hazels well. As they grow into mature specimens, I’m expecting that they will light up my winter landscape with color and gentle fragrance. What better way to lead us into the abundance of spring?


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Love’s Labors Lost … and Won

The price of excess enthusiasm

On this day that has come to serve as an acknowledgement of love, I thought I’d share a few pictures that illustrate how the amorous intentions of flora and fauna in my Piedmont, NC yard are faring this year. You may recall the precocious flowers of my Royal Star Magnolia that I documented here.

As you can see from the photo at the top of this entry, the groundhogs got their revenge yesterday just before sunrise, when the temperature on my hill registered 15.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s plenty cold enough to zap delicate white petals floating twenty feet in the air. I count that as a love labor lost; those flowers won’t be getting pollinated. However, fat fuzz-covered buds still abound on this tree, so perhaps love — in the form of new blooms — will win, as warm air returns to my area today.

The blooms of plants close to the ground, such as daffodils and crocuses, were unimpressed by Nature’s latest little cold joke. My Lenten Roses, though completely neglected by me so far this year, are cranking out flowers in profusion:

Hellebore love laughs at cold weather

The Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ that I planted last November is showing off just a few lovely orange-and-yellow strappy petals. I can testify that they are as deliciously fragrant as advertised, and quite impervious to cold snaps.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’

Many of the birds that live in and around my yard are talking about love these days. The Barred Owls proclaimed their territory and ardor a month ago. I suspect they are nesting now, because I don’t hear them much these days; birds tend to be much quieter when they are nesting.

Likewise, two weeks ago, a female Wood Duck paddling on the creek adjacent to my yard was shrieking in annoyance every time I accidentally got too close. Now she has gone silent. Did our absurd winter warmth coax her into early nesting?

Also two weeks ago, I watched a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks build a nest in a tall pine near the end of my floodplain. Two years ago, a pair successfully raised four chicks to adulthood, nesting in a Sweet Gum that we could see from our window. Wonder Spouse took some excellent photos of this family, including this shot of Mother Hawk with her brood:

Mother Hawk and brood

Last year, a pair of hawks refurbished the same nest, but we are fairly certain they did not succeed in bringing new life into adulthood. We watched the pair take turns sitting on eggs for about three weeks, then all activity stopped — love’s labors lost.

This year, we are hoping that the pair nesting in the pine will have better luck. I’ve read that Red-Shouldered Hawks mate for life, but they don’t live long, averaging only a little over two years most of the time. I don’t know if we’ve been watching the same hawks every year, or if perhaps the hawks on the pine nest are new to our yard. They may be offspring of the successful nest of 2010, because I watched the female borrow sticks from the old Sweet Gum nest, relocating them to the Loblolly Pine nest. Would offspring be more likely to notice and use their birth nest than an unrelated hawk? I don’t know.

Shortly after nest-building in the pine stopped, I tiptoed down there and tried to photograph the nest. It’s about 35 feet up, securely lodged between sturdy branches, with plenty of needle-covered branches above it to shelter the nest from weather and sun. It’s not a great shot, but this is the best I could do:

New Red-Shouldered Hawk nest

Woodpecker drumming started up a few weeks ago too, and I’ve spotted several newly excavated holes near the tops of dead trees on the other side of my creek. At least one hole is the rectangular shape characteristic of Pileated Woodpeckers, which we hear and see regularly. The woodpeckers and nuthatches have been devouring huge quantities of suet from our feeders lately. If they aren’t yet actively nesting, I’m thinking they are just about to.

The male goldfinches have not yet started to brighten their plumage to summer sunshine standards, and mixed winter flocks of chickadees, titmice, and warblers still actively forage in our yard. We’re in moderate drought here, so the bird baths that I keep stocked with clean, fresh water are very popular.

A Tufted Titmouse stops by its favorite watering hole

At least once a day, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that has been noisily inspecting nest box options for several weeks stop by to bathe, splashing out two-thirds of the water in the process. The pair that nests in the Purple Martin house every year always raises two broods — love’s labors won twiceover!

If a love lesson can be drawn from observing the plants and animals in my Piedmont yard, I’d say it is that persistence pays. Love is hard work, but successful labors of love yield lasting beauty in the comfort of family. That’s a Valentine’s Day sentiment I think we can all endorse. Happy Valentine’s Day, Wonder Spouse — and to everyone else out there laboring for love.

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New Additions

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora'

First, apologies to my handful of loyal readers who have been looking for a new post from me. My excuse is the fantastic mild fall weather my part of the southeastern Piedmont has been enjoying. Any self-respecting, self-professed obsessive gardener who does not get herself working outside on days like my region has been experiencing does not merit the aforementioned description.

I haven’t even started leaf redistribution yet, because the oaks in my yard are only just now starting to discard their recently yellowed leaves. No sense in raking twice, if you ask me. But that doesn’t stop other garden clean-up chores, and when you tend five acres of green chaos, there’s always something to do.

I intended to post updates at night. But after a hard day of yard work, my middle-aged body lacks enthusiasm for any effort beyond softly moaning on the couch with a heating pad. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

As you know, fall is for planting in my region. Dormant plants focus on root growth, and our cooling temperatures allow new transplants to avoid heat stress. Water consumption drops, so even if rains don’t come, the water manually added doesn’t instantly disappear, allowing the roots of new plants to settle in and expand, thereby creating plants better able to withstand next summer’s heat and dry spells.

The plant in the photo above is one of my new additions. All my new arrivals were planted inside my deer-fenced north slope. After seeing the enthusiasm of plants not enclosed by wire cages, I’m having a hard time bringing myself to plant anything new outside on of our protected zones. Until I was able to remove the wire cages from the deciduous azaleas I had planted on our north slope, I didn’t realize that the presence of the cages was inhibiting the vegetative growth of the shrubs.

Although some plants will grow right through a wire cage (and get nibbled by deer), the azaleas just stopped growing  when their branches touched the edges of their wire enclosures. I know this to be true, because the first year after we enclosed them within deer fencing and freed them from their cages, every single azalea at least doubled in size.

Because I can’t predict which plants will be inhibited by wire enclosures, it seems prudent to plant all new additions within deer-fence-protected sections of my yard. So this summer, I wandered around my enclosed north slope and pondered possible spots for additions. Then I narrowed down my choices. I knew I wanted a Witchazel. I’ve always loved their late fall/early winter strappy flowers. The hard part was deciding on which cultivar to choose.

I settled on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ because its flowers are supposed to be extra large, showy, and fragrant — yellow with a red tinge at the bases of the flowers. The hybrid vigor of this beauty was evident as soon as I opened the box. Stocky, strong stems are well-branched, and the fall color on the still-attached leaves promised future spectacular autumn shows as the shrub nears its predicted maximum size of ten feet tall and wide. I planted it at the bottom of the hill, where it will receive the extra water it needs to flourish. I even saw a few flower buds, so I’ll be able to see the flowers for myself in a few months.

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I love exfoliating (peeling) bark on trees, and I’m always looking for new specimens with that trait to add to my collection. Cinnamon Bark Clethra (Clethra acuminata) has been on my list to acquire for some time. In fact, I tried it once about 15 years ago, but the deer got it when I foolishly removed its protective cage too soon. I gave it an ideal location on my shaded, moist slope, so I hope it will soon reach its predicted size of 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Its long white clusters of flowers (called racemes) will appear in July, and should add a touch of light to its shady site. I didn’t get a great shot of this new addition, but you can at least appreciate the soft yellow fall color of the leaves:

Clethra acuminata

The last new woody addition is a species of dogwood that I’ve been coveting for many years. Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) is native to more northern regions of the eastern US, which is why I haven’t tried it before now.  But I’ve always been intrigued by it, because it produces small bright yellow flowers in late winter, and its ripe red olive-shaped fruits are reputed to be highly desirable to birds and other wildlife.  My research led me to a cultivar developed at the JC Raulston Arboretum in my home state of North Carolina. This cultivar — Spring Glow — reputedly can generate blooms without the prolonged cold period required by the species. That’s key in my part of the Piedmont, where winter temperatures rarely stay below 45 degrees for more than a few days at a time.

It took me a while to locate this cultivar at a mail-order nursery I trusted, but I succeeded, and I look forward to pops of bright yellow flowers during the winter months. This small tree should also produce striped barked that will enhance its winter appeal even further. If I can keep it happy, Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ should grow to a height of 25 feet, and a width of 12 feet. Here’s a shot of my newly transplanted specimen:

Corneliancherry Dogwood 'Spring Glow'

See the label to the right of the plant? For new arrivals, I add a permanent metal marker on which I write the name and cultivar on the front, and the source and planting date on the back. If the label from the nursery allows, I usually attach it to the metal label, just to make it easier to see the metal label, which can get buried during heavy leaf falls from surrounding canopy trees.

I tried keeping notebooks about plants in my yard, but I never kept them current. To avoid forgetting the names of the zillions of plants we’ve added to our five acres over the last 21 years, the permanent marker system has been the best solution for us.

Since I planted these beauties in late October, my yard has received a total of about 3.5 inches of wonderful rain. This unexpected blessing  could not have been better timed for the new arrivals. My area is still in a moderate drought, but the rains have provided a temporary respite from what could have been a very dry autumn.

Here’s hoping the rains keep finding my yard. But until they do, I’ve got plenty more work out there!

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