Posts Tagged Witch hazel ‘Amethyst’

Spring Fever?

I ordered my seeds — well, most of them anyway — before Christmas. I sowed the first of them in the germination container in my greenhouse on January 21, because some plants require a longish period of growth before they are ready to bloom, or in the case of herbs, to reach a transplantable size. I blame pandemic isolation for the relatively large number of seeds I ordered this year. Also, Seeds ‘n Such, from which I ordered most of my seeds, charges a lower price per packet when you order more packets — a deal too tempting to ignore for this plant-lover. This company also provides fewer seeds per packet for most of their seeds, which allows them to reduce their per-packet cost, and limits the number of seeds that don’t get planted for lack of space.

The feeder for summer-visiting hummingbirds is just a few feet from where I hope to have a hanging basket of red petunias they will also enjoy.

Most years, I try a few new annual flower varieties. These non-native, showy summer blooms line a front walkway to my house, fill a hanging basket by the front door, and mingle with the vegetables to attract pollinators and provide fresh flowers for bouquets. For the hanging basket, I decided to try a petunia from the Hybrid Wave Series. You’ve probably seen these prolific bloomers in nursery centers. I could not resist trying a variety called Carmine Velour, which is described as being “stunning, non-fading, intense and bright, even when cloudy.” I’m hoping that the Ruby-throated hummingbirds that visit a feeder just across from the flower basket will approve of these deep red beauties. My packet only contained five pelleted petunia seeds, because this fancy hybrid is quite particular about its germination requirements. The instructions told me to allow a lot of time for germination and for the plants to grow to transplantable size. Finally today, 8 days after planting, one tiny seedling has emerged. Eight days isn’t really that long for a number of species to germinate, but because I’ve never tried this variety before, I confess I was getting a tad nervous. I’m hopeful that the other four seedlings will pop up any minute, especially because the next few days are supposed to be sunny, and these seeds require bright light to germinate well. I’ve got my fingers crossed that these prima donnas fulfill my expectations.

First to germinate for me was another new flower — a Gazania hybrid mix called New Day. These bright annuals should add some nice color to my front walk. They are purported to bloom well through summer heat and drought. Time will tell. Fourteen of the fifteen seeds in the packet germinated in 3-4 days. I approve of their enthusiasm!

I’m hoping creeping herbs like thymes and oregano will appreciate the heat of the rock wall that contains this flower bed.

I also decided to try growing some perennial herbs from seed. North Carolina summer humidity and heat are very hard on thymes and other Mediterranean herbs. I don’t usually manage to keep most of them alive for more than a couple of years. I rationalized that seeds are cheaper than plants, so I could try again. Plus, I’ve got a nice, hot, well-drained spot where the thyme, oregano, and marjoram can dangle over the rock border of the Furlough Wall of the bed Wonder Spouse built a few years ago. Tiny Sweet Marjoram and German Winter Thyme seedlings began popping up 5 days after planting. The flat-leaf parsley — a notoriously slow germinator — is still meditating on germination. The Cleopatra oregano is also still a no-show. Both could easily take another week or more before germinating, especially with the rounds of cold, wintry weather visiting my area every few days.

The almost-full moon last night before clouds obscured its rise above the trees.

Maybe it is tonight’s full moon. Perhaps it is the fact that the sun has begun to set later in the afternoon again, or that I heard the familiar shriek of a female Wood Duck earlier this week for the first time this year. Maybe it’s because my witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ is beginning to push out magenta petals and the Prunus mume trees are opening their first fragrant flowers, providing aroma therapy of the highest quality, but I have the distinct feeling that spring will arrive early this year. Just this week, the Northern Cardinals have begun singing. And for about a half hour on the one day this week that afternoon temperatures reached the upper 50s, a few Southern Chorus Frogs celebrated the break in the cold weather.

This morning’s “snow.”

OK, technically speaking, it snowed overnight last night, but it was such a pitiful effort that all evidence of it had disappeared by noon. And yes, the weather seers are threatening my area with freezing rain in a few days, but they are promising it will turn over to mere rain before the ice can create problems. It’s as if Winter’s heart just isn’t in the game anymore — at least not in central North Carolina where I live. I’ve lived in this state for all but the first year and a half of my life, and I’m old enough to remember March snows and springs that didn’t really begin until April. But climate change has erased those days for the foreseeable future. I have mixed feelings about Winter’s shortened duration, but I know the native wildlife that share our five acres would appreciate an early spring.


A hungry Red-shouldered hawk has taken to parking itself atop my bird feeders, no doubt hoping a songbird will walk into its talons. The white-tailed deer linger under the feeders at dusk vacuuming up any seeds dropped by the birds. The wildlife cameras are routinely capturing videos of a thin coyote patrolling deer trails along the creek. All would welcome Spring’s abundance I am sure.

For now, I must quell my spring fever, content myself with cheerleading new seedlings in my greenhouse, and appreciating winter sunrises on recently rare clear-skied mornings. Soon enough, the deep quiet of Winter will give way to Spring symphonies.

January 19 sunrise

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Opening Acts

Glamor close-up of Witch Hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’

Tomorrow, we’ll be done with January. For me, this has been simultaneously a very long and a very short month. I have been doing more writing for other venues this month, which has diverted me from efforts here. Despite the schedule uptick, I have found time to wander my yard long enough to photograph the new growing season’s opening acts. Natives like the witch hazel cultivar above are among the early bloomers, but the showier acts are mostly non-native ornamental trees and shrubs that I added precisely because of their early-flowering proclivities. More than ever, I am merciless in eradicating any non-natives that show signs of potential invasiveness, but the plants in this post have been with me for over a decade, and so far, so good.

January Jasmine flower buds

January Jasmine flower buds

I first met January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) on the campus of Duke University, where its arching evergreen branches cascaded down a rock wall, its winter flowers a welcome surprise on a dull gray day. I never forgot it, and when we moved to our five-acre paradise, I found a spot for it in the first few years.


New flowers after an unseasonably warm rain.

From a distance, the botanically unsophisticated mistake this beauty for forsythia. But forsythia is a much coarser, larger plant, and it usually blooms at least a month later than January Jasmine.

The individual flowers are much more delicate-looking than those of forsythia -- at least in this gardener's opinion.

The individual flowers are much more delicate-looking than those of forsythia — at least in this gardener’s opinion.

Before the January Jasmine got started, my pale pink-flowering Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) opened for business. During a recent warm spell, it was covered in ecstatic honeybees from my neighbor’s hive.

A week later, my other two Flowering Apricots opened. Theoretically, both are the cultivar Peggy Clarke, but as I wrote here, the flowers are not the same, regardless of the name tags that came with them. As I wrote then, I think of them as Peggy Senior and Peggy Junior, because I acquired Junior later, after falling madly in love with the fragrance of Peggy Senior. I know my enthusiasm sounds extravagant, but trust me, on a cold — or warm — winter’s day no matter how blue you might be feeling, a few deep inhalations of Peggy Senior’s cinnamon-sweet perfume will lift your heart and hopes.

Peggy Senior branches

Peggy Senior branches

This syrphid fly was quite a surprise. I've never seen them out so early.

This syrphid fly was quite a surprise. I’ve never seen them out so early.

I didn't realize it wasn't a honeybee until I looked at it through the camera lens.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t a honeybee until I looked at it through the camera lens.

Most of Peggy Senior's pollinator visitors have been my neighbor's honeybees.

Most of Peggy Senior’s pollinator visitors have been my neighbor’s honeybees.

Peggy Senior is sited behind the south-facing wall of our garage, so she always begins to bloom about a week before Peggy Junior.  For comparison, here are a couple of shots of Junior. The differences in their perfume are profound; although pleasantly sweet, Junior’s fragrance entirely lacks the cinnamon undertone that makes Senior so heavenly. Junior’s flowers are also a paler pink.

The Green World is my source of solace these days more than ever before. When faced with national and international events over which I have little control — at least until the next election cycle — I have chosen to devote my efforts to where I feel I can be most effective. That’s why I’m stepping up my writing efforts.

I’m writing a bi-monthly gardening column for a small paper in Virginia in the hopes that I can persuade new readers to more deeply appreciate their native environments. I also recently finished an article for the next edition of Conservation Gardener, the magazine of the NC Botanical Garden that I’m hoping will motivate folks to get serious about eradicating invasive non-native species from urban natural areas in their neighborhoods.

Expanding male catkins of native American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).

Expanding male catkins of native American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).

I’m also deeply involved in helping a local church create a wildlife sanctuary on their property by enhancing it with diverse, abundant native plants. My dream is that all such public places — now mostly “landscaped” with resource-hogging, environmentally sterile lawns and a few struggling, mostly non-native trees and shrubs — can become healthy native havens for struggling wildlife, including vital pollinators. I’m hoping this project will inspire other churches to start their own native sanctuaries, and that as adults and children become familiar with these plants, they will want to plant them in their home landscapes. It’s a big dream, I know, but with so much darkness in our world right now, I feel obliged to think big — and very green.

Moon, Jupiter, and Spica

Moon, Jupiter, and Spica

A couple of weeks ago before dawn, we got quite a show just as the moon began to make her descent. The bright light below and to the moon’s right is the planet Jupiter, shining brighter than most stars. If you look carefully toward the bottom of the shot, you can see a blurry bit of gray light. That’s Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

This conformation of heavenly lights was a lovely opening act for the sunrise that followed shortly thereafter, and reminded me that there’s more than one meaning to that term. Opening acts can be preludes to main shows, but they can also be behaviors. In this time when political darkness threatens to overwhelm us, I am looking to my early flowers and spectacular sunrises as reminders to keep my heart open despite the palpable fear in the air.

Love wins.

Love wins.

The only way to fight darkness is with light, and light comes from loving, open hearts. So I resolve to do my best to keep my heart open through the dark days ahead, drawing strength from the Green World, and praying that sharing it as widely as I can will inspire others to do the same.

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“I’m so confused!”

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' -- blooming today!

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ — blooming today!

I’m a fan of the 1987 romantic comedy Moonstruck. It is full of fine actors having a wonderful time. Many great lines from this movie are permanently implanted in my brain, including the one in this title, stated tearfully by the actor playing Cher’s grandfather, who is deeply befuddled by the goings-on in his household at that moment. Deeply befuddled is exactly how I feel these days as I wander around my little corner of southeastern piedmont.

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) in the background

January Jasmine in foreground with Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) in the background

Multiple species of frogs chorus lustily. Wonder Spouse had to gently relocate an enormous toad from the middle of our driveway this morning. The green anoles are scampering around the front garden chasing insects and each other. Robins and Carolina Wrens are beginning to trill mating calls. And the plants — I am so confused — and so are they!

How I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior.

I wish you could smell the sweet cinnamon-tinged perfume of Peggy Clarke Senior — pure heaven!

I have recently written about most of the blooming plants in this post, but I was shocked — shocked, I say — by the opening flowers of the Royal Star magnolia. Granted, this is an early bloomer, but the earliest I’ve ever seen it open in my yard is the third week in February.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

Just a few flowers of this magnolia are fully open, but many of the buds are breaking, revealing hints of white petals within.

We haven’t seen an actual sunny day in my yard in at least two weeks. It may have been three. Frankly, it’s gone on so long, I’ve lost track (I would not survive Seattle weather for long.) The humid, warm air holds the perfume of the blooming Prunus mume trees close to the ground. When we step out any door of our house, we are greeted by their wondrous fragrances.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

The great down side, of course, is that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (senior) has very few unopened buds left.

But the mood lift I get from these bouts of aroma therapy are tempered by the knowledge that this is most of what I’ll see and smell from these plants for the rest of the winter. In past years, the flowering apricots doled out their flowers judiciously during the brief warm spells that usually punctuate our winter season. But this December’s insanely mild weather has caused them to abandon caution and open all their flowers simultaneously. It is gloriously reckless, breathtakingly lovely, and deeply confusing.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

The pink-flowering P. mume that always opens first has no buds left to open.

Of my three flowering apricot trees, only one has not opened the majority of its buds yet. I think it is sited in a slightly cooler spot, which slowed its enthusiasm just a bit. It is my hope that P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior) will be able to protect a fair number of flower buds for later blooming spells as winter progresses.

P. mume 'Peggy Clarke' (junior)

P. mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ (junior)

Peggy Junior’s flowers are much pinker than the rose-colored blooms of Peggy Senior, and they lack the cinnamon undertone to their perfume, but they are still very lovely.

Raindrops don't dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

Raindrops don’t dry in the perpetual humidity, but they only enhance this close-up of the flowers of Peggy Clarke Junior.

As you might expect, mushrooms/toadstools/lichens are all flourishing in this un-wintry landscape. I like the serrated edges on this grouping of fungi.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

Fungi abound in this soggy landscape.

My witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ hasn’t opened much more, probably because we’ve had no sunlight to encourage it. Still, it was pretty enough this morning for another shot.

Witch hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch hazel ‘Amethyst’

The biggest surprise of the day was a blooming stalk of native columbine. The flowers are pale — either the result of a genetic mutation or perhaps the near-total absence of sunlight, but the flower at the top of the stalk was open. The earliest columbines normally bloom in my yard is March.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

This precocious columbine was sheltering a slender spider. The arachnid clan has been much in evidence during this confusing bout of weather.

It has rained every day for at least a short while for most of December — or at least that’s how it feels to me. Yesterday, a line of showers came through just before sunset. As they headed east, the tall canopy trees on the eastern side of our yard were illuminated beautifully by the rays of the setting sun, which appeared just in time to disappear.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

At least these trees towering over my home look as if they belong in a winter landscape.

The moral of this confusing tale — if there is one — is to appreciate the precocious bloomers now, for their moment is nearly past. Seasonable winter temperatures — with actual sunshine — are predicted to return for a prolonged stay beginning New Year’s Day. I’m hoping that’s a sign that 2016 will be a more orderly, predictable year — hey, I can dream, can’t I?

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