It’s this time of year when I am going absolutely mad with the desire to see fresh green growth and clear colors again. I’ve had enough of the grays and browns of late winter. Then the hellebores and the Lonicera rise to the occasion splendidly. I must remember to be more grateful, and not think “Why couldn’t you have done this a month ago?”
I owe a debt of thanks to my hellebores, and to my Lonicera fragrantissima, winter honeysuckle, which are both absolutely lovely in late February and early March. The hellebores were introduced to me about four years ago by my neighbor Martha, who had a surplus. I never had much interest in them before, but was glad to take anything free to fill up the expanse of barren earth I had cleared but couldn’t afford to plant up, so I dug up about four cat-litter tubs’ worth and planted them around the yard.
They bloom in shades of white and rose from February until May, and their palmate foliage stays evergreen for me. The foliage does tend to get a bit ratty looking in late fall and early winter (December around here), so it benefits from a gentle cleaning up. And it reseeds splendidly. The seedlings are easy to spot and pick out if they land in a spot you don’t want them, but I’ve tried to take advantage of their habit by planting them in desolate spots and letting them do their thing. They do take three years to bloom from seed, but as long as you have some going it’s easy to be patient with the young ones. And they are super-tough; they grow at the bases of large oak trees, competing fairly with the oaks’ thirsty roots, coping well with the high-90s temperatures that have become the norm in summertime. They’ve become one of my most beloved plants.
The Lonicera has small, white flowers that look like nothing special from up close, but from a distance they give the sense of impending spring. The scent is fresh and clean, slightly honey-scented, and it carries well. I have one beneath a large oak that has sprung up in a bizarre habit, probably aided by my unskillful pruning. But I love it dearly and planted an additional two last fall to keep it company and fill in an awkward spot between two oaks just off my back deck. I have searched for advice on pruning it and most things tend to say “leave it alone,” but what do you do when you’ve already mangled it a bit and want to make it look pretty again? There’s another thing to investigate sometime.