Tag Archives: early flowers

Featured Plant: Witch Hazel

It’s noon, and it’s 12 degrees, but it’s sunny with no wind… so I went out to the garden to look for signs of spring….crazy, I know. I stepped in a snowbank over my knees but then was able to walk on top of the two or so feet of frozen snow on the ground. I wanted to look at the ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel over by the gazebo. It has skinny little yellow flowers with a light fragrance, and like all the witch hazels, blooms very early. Today I saw just the tiniest bit of yellow peeking out from between the scales of the flower buds. That’s a good sign! From the sidewalk on Upper College Road I looked closely at the ‘Jelena’ witch hazel , another very early bloomer. It is at the same stage as ‘Arnold Promise’, with about a millimeter of orange petal showing. Our third witch hazel is the native Ozark witch hazel, with slightly smaller flowers but much more fragrance. I did not see any sign that it is waking from it’s long winter’s nap just yet.

arnold promise witch hazel

‘Arnold Promise’, Hamamelis x intermedia, March 25, 2014

Hamamelis , the genus of witch hazels, are hardy, low maintenance plants with few pest problems. Whether you think of them as small trees or large shrubs, they are a manageable size at 10 to 15 feet, with some spreading forms nearly as wide. They have smooth, rather plain brown-to-gray bark and heavily textured oval leaves, which turn mostly yellow in fall. And then there’s the reason we love them: spidery, strappy little flowers with long, crinkly petals, all along the branches, when almost nothing else is blooming.

witch hazel jelena

‘Jelena’, Hamamelis x intermedia, February 28, 2011

Hamamelis virginiana, native to eastern North America, blooms around November, and is the plant used for the witch hazel extract you can buy at your local drugstore.

Hamamelis vernalis is native to stream banks of the south-central US. It is the earliest shrub to flower in spring, and its small, yellow-red blooms open  from late February to early April, depending on the weather. It can form dense, multi-stemmed colonies  by sending out suckers. The medium green leaves turn golden yellow in fall. Our Ozark witch hazel is H. vernalis, and when it blooms it smells like springtime!

Hamamelis x intermedia are vigorous hybrid witch hazels, crosses of the Japanese and Chinese species. Blooming from late February to March, their yellow-red petals unfurl on warm days but curl up tightly during chilly nights. The fall foliage is an attractive yellow-orange. Our ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ are both H. x intermedia. They are sure signs that spring is on it’s way. Take a walk through the Botanical Gardens in the next few weeks (wear your boots) and you’ll find the earliest flowers on the witch hazel, a treat for the winter-weary and anyone ready longer, warmer days.

ozark witch hazel

H. vernalis, February 22, 2012

Springtime, by the Calendar

Today is the Spring Equinox, Happy Spring!  (just a few minutes ago, on March 20 2014 at 12:57 pm for latitude 41.47.)  It IS warmer today, but the advancing signs of Spring are not where we usually find them on March 20th. OK, no more complaining about the long cold winter. Since the usual flowers are not blooming yet, barely poking their noses out of the still frozen soil, I will show you pictures from other years.


Snowdrops, March 13, 2013

Iris, aconite

Dwarf Iris, Winter Aconite, March 15, 2012

Blue Squill

Scilla, March 22 2011


Hellebore, March 17 2010

You can see that we have a lot to look forward to! As soon as there is something besides grey and brown out there, I will let you know. In the meantime, I marked the Spring Equinox this morning by balancing an egg on its end.  What are you doing to celebrate Spring?

My Imaginary Garden

dwarf iris

Today I am daydreaming about an early spring garden. It would be against the south-facing stone wall, for winter protection and early warmth. The sun would embrace it from dawn to dusk. All the earliest bulbs and flowers would be growing there, encouraged to rise and bloom for springtime cheer.


Being so close to the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay,  springtime here is cold. The water temperature warms slowly, leaving a chill in the air as our March and April breezes pass over the water. (Of course, the flip side to that is a long warm autumn, September days at the beach with just us year-round residents, and tomatoes holding on til October…) After last year’s “non-winter” and early spring, this year Old Man Winter seems to be hanging around for an extra long stay.


Back to my early spring garden: It would be full of crocuses and snowdrops, witch hazels and hellebores, tiny dwarf irises, winter aconite, and the earliest daffodils. All these beautiful flowers are here at the Botanical Gardens, but not all together in my imaginary garden. They are scattered about, each creating a tiny spot of color in a  landscape just beginning to awaken from winter. Walk through the garden and welcome them, and welcome spring.

purple crocus

Whether the weather…

royal azalea, rhododendron schlippenbachii

Being a gardener, I can’t help but talk about the weather. Here in Kingston, it has been an unusually warm and dry spring so far, after an unusually warm and dry winter. I worry about the springtime ephemeral plants, which like moisture…after all, we have “mud season” in New England, somewhere in between winter and spring. But not this year. I am happy to see the Fawn Lily  (Erythronium) blooming, and sad to say the Carolina Spring Beauty  (Claytonia) doesn’t look like it will flower this year.

Fawn Lily, erythronium spMother’s Day is the yearly highlight of the Ericaceous Garden, however, the display is already beginning, so I would suggest a visit soon! There is beauty and color at every turn. The Royal Azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) is in full bloom, and Koreanspice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is sweetly fragrant throughout the White Garden.

rhododendrons in ericaceous garden“Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!”


The Months


“March brings breezes loud and shrill, to stir the dancing daffodil”. Sara Coleridge, 1802-1852.

Though it’s now April, that’s a perfect description of the weather we’ve been having. The daffodils and more are in bloom…I turned my back for a minute and spring has begun….

white and yellow daffodilyellow daffodilwhite and orange daffodil“April brings the primrose sweet, scatters daisies at our feet”  Well, not so much here in New England, although it must have been so in the Lake District of  “Old” England where Sara Coleridge was born and raised. Here, the ‘April White’ Rhododendron is blooming in a very timely manner, along with Pieris, Hazels, and an early flowering Cherry, ‘Snow Fountains’.

'April White' Rhododendron

Rhododendron 'April White'

'Victor' Rhododendron

Rhododendron 'Victor'

Pieris japonica 'Purity White'

Pieris japonica 'Purity'


Corylopsis sinensis, Chinese Winterhazel

flowering cherry 'Snow Fountains'

Prunus 'Snow Fountains'

The Memory of Tulips

robinia pseudoacacia

Just as every spring brings forth, again,  the wonder of the emerging plants, every spring also brings a new observation about the gardens and our environment. The strange part is that these things have been there all along, yet somehow I never REALLY noticed them. For example, a few years ago, when the Black Locust  (Robinia pseudoacacia) bloomed, I saw it everywhere, for what felt like the first time. Of course I had  seen them before, these splendid old trees with huge drooping panicles of fragrant white flowers…. but there they were! so beautiful!

species tulip

This year, one of plants that has caught my attention are the little species tulips in the border near the rain garden. Species tulips are the tiny flowers native to the mountains of Central Asia, which are the parents of our familiar modern hybrids. I clearly remember all the large red hybrid tulips, especially for their great contrast with the yellow daffs and the euphorbia. But where did these delicate little pink tulips come from? I honestly don’t remember them, and yet, they must have been there.  Is it just failing memory?  (Oh no!) I prefer to think of it as a gentle nudge, to see things with fresh eyes, and to really see what is around me. Every “new ” plant I become aware of  contributes to  my knowledge and experience of the garden, and the more aware I am, the more I delight in being among the plants.

species tulip

species tulip

Nothing but Blue Skies


ismene longipetala

Ismene longipetala, the "Peruvian daffodil"


1. Incredible days of crystal clear weather this past week, making the plants look their best.

2. A song by Irving Berlin, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Nelson, and everyone in between.

3. The name of a high school senior I know (well, almost; it’s Blue Sky).


4. The title of a book by Tom McGuane (not my usual reading material but he’s Bob’s cousin).

5. Tag for thousands of photos on Flickr.

6. A metaphor for good times ahead…spring is coming!


Cornus officianalis, the Japanese Cornel Dogwood


Don’t be fooled

iris in snow


When it’s 60 degrees in March, don’t be fooled! It’s just a teaser, to make sure we properly appreciate warm weather when it gets here. (That would be May.)

Meanwhile, it makes for a nice contrast with the flowers.


hamamelis in snow


hellebore in snow


walkway with snow