Lonicera fragrantissima: Winter honeysuckle

At long last, I can see spring on the way.

lonicera fragrantissima winter honeysuckle blossom The buds on my winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, are beginning to open. The flowers smell bright and lemony, and give a lift on a dreary winter day.

First daffodils

My first daffodils of the season bloomed Monday.

first daffs

I love my hellebores, but I have been ready for a bit of variety for a few weeks now. I do not know what variety these are. If anyone out there can tell me, I’d love to know.

I must have hundreds of daffodils. They came with the house ten years ago and have naturalized well. I have divided them, intentionally and accidentally, and I still have some bulbs sitting around awaiting a new home. Alas, I don’t know which of the bulbs are which.

As they bloom, I am trying to make note of where similar ones are sited, so that after they finish blooming I can dig them up and group them together for a more effective display. Life may well get in the way of this goal, but there’s always next year. What fun would life be if we didn’t have projects to keep us going?

daff closeup

Perhaps I am peculiar, but I like the way this one hangs its head a bit. I imagine it trying to summon the strength to face our appalling swings in weather with grace.

In other news, I sent off four more soil samples, for the blue-and-yellow garden (soon to be a rain garden, I hope; more on that later), the Lonicera fragrantissima bed, the blue slope, and the scree garden. The lab says they are delivering reports five weeks from when they receive the samples. Perhaps my first batch will be ready soon.

Still waiting to see if the aconites show up late to the party.

And my witch hazel is finally beginning to blossom. The buds have been hanging around for ages, but they’re finally opening up. I think this plant would be better sited elsewhere, perhaps closer to the house. I have some ideas cooking. I always have ideas cooking.

A few of my favorite things

Latest plants sown include:

My gardening philosophy, if I have one, is of the pasta-pot variety: Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. (This is not to be confused with seed bombing, which in my opinion is much more charming and probably more effective than what I do.) But in my bit of Arcadia, with its heavy, sticky clay, absurd summer heat and humidity, unpredictable water, and nutrient-sucking oak trees, I have been reduced to nine years of trial and error.

What’s worked for me? Here are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

white hellebore flowering

Flowers of Helleborus orientalis bloom in winter and early spring, and are deer-proof.

Helleborus orientalis: Passed along by my neighbor, these lovelies bloom when little else does (right now!), persevere under impossible conditions, require virtually nothing in theway of attention from me, and have bold evergreen foliage. They reseed generously but are not at all difficult to manage. I have successfully transplanted tiny seedlings by sticking my finger into the dirt, shoving the plant in, and walking away. I don’t even water them in. I will never willingly be without these plants again.

Gardenia jasminoides. I have a hedge of these that I planted in 2004 as quart-sized shrublets. Today, they’re well over 5′ tall and flower gorgeously in May and June, when they perfume the entire garden. Their foliage is glossy, their flowers voluptuous, and so far, I’ve not had any problems with insects or disease. Sometimes, if I’ve pruned intelligently, I can get a second flush of bloom in late August.

Iris tectorum 3

The bloom of Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris.

Iris tectorum. Why did I wait so long to buy this plant? It’s 2 feet tall and bulletproof. It seems to be easy to propagate by seed. The clear, blue-purple flowers are charming and it blooms well in dry shade. Now that I think of it, it might make a nice combination with another favorite,

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum.‘ Delicate-looking, but absolutely tough as nails (perhaps you are detecting a pattern in my affections by now).

epimedium in winter

Epimedium in winter

Its heart-shaped leaves are evergreen here, though they turn a rusty bronze in winter. It blooms for me for several weeks in spring, with dainty yellow flowers dangling on a wiry stem. I have a clump about 3′ in diameter sitting smack on top of the roots of an oak, and it never complains or looks puny.

winter honeysuckle flower

The blossoms of winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, are lemon-scented.

Lonicera fragrantissima. Fragrant winter honeysuckle grows as a large shrub or small tree. Mine copes happily with hot afternoon sun between (you guessed it) two large oaks, and smells heavenly when it blooms in late February or March (though with all the warm weather we’ve had lately, mine started blooming last week). I admit it looks a bit worn at the moment, but it’s suffered a bit of neglect this fall. In the spring after a light dressing of compost, it will fill out marvelously with abundant, rich green leaves. It would probably be even more glorious if I gave it a more sympathetic home, but it does what I ask of it, and earns my admiration in return.