Friday, February 29, 2008

Winter gardens

One of our first native woodland wildflowers to bloom is Hepatica. Hepatica acutiloba has slightly pointed liver-shaped leaves (the genus name reflects this), while H. americana has more rounded lobes. Spring is definitely on the way when we see the first Hepatica flowers, tucked among the leaves on moist banks, often along stream. Hepatica nobilis is a European species that also flowers early. I remember the excitement that my fellow lab members expressed in a long ago excursion; apparently, it was a German tradition, at least among botanical types, to troop off to see the first Hepatica flowers, even if they were just emerging above the snow!

We have a small patch in our Woodland Wildflower Garden at the botanical garden -- flowering through the cold and warm spells of late February.

Camellias are stalwarts of southern winter gardens. We're lucky to be able to grow them; our northern neighbors are anxiously hoping for hardier cultivars that are reliable. Ours are drought-tolerant when established, live for a long time, are relatively pest-free, and brighten winter days with their diversity of colors and shapes. I haven't ever planted a camellia, but have been the grateful beneficiary of previously planted ones at the two houses that we've lived in here in the South.

There are 4 large camellias around our house in Clemson, two lovely pink ones, a white one that always gets zapped by frost, and a beautiful tree-sized 'Professor Sargent' that illuminates the front entrance with its deep red flowers. The red flowers are a welcome contrast to the grays and browns of the winter landscape, even as crocuses, daffodils, and snowdrops brighten the garden beds.

An excursion to Charlotte, NC in the company of fellow gardening friends today revealed more winter-flowering treasures, including a Frittilaria, Erica, and Ranunculus in Elizabeth Lawence's garden, a lovely black and white Iris (Widow's Iris), a diversity of hellebores, including a striking purple cultivar, a 'weedy' Ranuculus that was lovely, and also in flower, an unusual Clematis in flower, and another striking Ranunculus (I think) with the cultivar name of 'Brazen Hussy.' I'm out of my area of expertise when it comes to cultivars of horticultural gems, being a native plant sort of person by background and 'training', but it's great fun to see them in lovingly tended gardens.

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