Saturday, February 4, 2012

A 60 Degree Winter

Today it was 60 degrees in Seattle.  February 3, but a spring day:  warm, sunny, buds on branches.  My daughter and nephew and I spent the day in a boldly yellow Handy Andy rental truck driving around, getting ready for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.  Tomorrow I'll start writing about the Show; today I want to write about our winter.

Yesterday I visited a client's garden.  I had been there the week before, on a miserably wet and gray day.  Yesterday it looked as if more than seven days had passed.  GALANTHUS (snowbells) were blooming; last week they were tiny green tips sticking out of the muddy dirt.  Now they are full size, all of five or six inches tall, white flowers touched by green hanging over black soil.  I like them with the white hellebore above; the larger hellebore plays up the delicacy of the bulb and the white flowers of each plant draw them together.  Snowdrops, usually the first bulb to appear here, often begin blooming in January, a sign winter will end and spring will come. 

Another early bloomer is this small IRIS reticulata.  The one above grows around the base of a cherry tree and usually starts blooming about a week after the snowdrops.  Planted three years ago the IRIS has multiplied considerably.  Some of them are scented;  in the first garden I designed for a client we planted IRIS on either side of the steps leading from the sidewalk up to her yard,  so in early February one walked through their sweet scent.

The picture above was taken not in the winter but fall.  However, SCHIZOSTYLIS coccinea, my favorite winter interest plant, begin blooming in September and continue through January.  I think the pink flowers--for this garden they were supposed to be coral--look more like spring, than winter;  they are small with pointed petals and fresh looking, the evergreen foliage is grass-like.  Unfortunately the plant is invasive; I recommend cutting it back severely at the end of January.  Some clients divide them and give them as gifts to friends who have asked about this delightful plant.
SCHIZOSTYLIS need sun, and the ones seen above had to be taken out of this garden.  They were growing beneath a maple--the trunk can be seen--and the tree has spread and grown dense in the five years of the garden.  Almost all the plants above have died or been removed because of the increasing shade created by the tree.
Gardens are mutable, which is part of their charm and why the work in them never ends.  In the garden where I took these pictures the growth of three mature trees in the front yard has altered its content and shape.  Ferns and solomon's seal have replaced the SCHIZOSTLYIS, and beds have been expanded to overtake dying lawn.  
In the winter changes in the garden are obvious.  Bare branches suddenly sprout diminutive buds, flowers appear, bulb foliage pushes through the soil into the light.  In the top picture the frothy white and green flowers of a HELLEBORUS 'mardi gras' bloom beside the strands of a coppery CAREX.  I like the juxtaposition of the two, one like a little girl's party dress and the other austere.  This look will last through winter, and then the hellebore will stop blooming and the ornamental grass foliage will dull slightly and winter will have ended.   



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