Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Paperwhites and other blooms on Christmas Day



Ta da! Ladies and gentleman, I present the first paperwhite blooms in my garden in over 10 years. Ever, actually. This story could be a garden oops (goops). I forced the bulbs indoors one year over a decade ago, and then, following Elizabeth Lawrence's advice, I planted them out in the garden. They sat wimpy and bloomless in the lean soil by the driveway at the old house site for 5 years. When we moved the house I moved them into the big perennial bed hoping the richer medium would give them a boost.
 
The bulbs' numbers had trebled but they were small bulbs. The narcissus continued to look wimpy, not helped by the fact that every. single. year. I mistook the foliage for weeds and yanked the leaves off. In my defense, the weak foliage strongly resembles grass that grows in the garden in winter. I figured the fact they never bloomed was a combination of my gardening ineptitude and the fact that according to Scott Ogden many modern paperwhite bulbs will increase and increase and not size up. Last year I managed to refrain from weeding them and this year, viola! Flowers! I've never forced any more paperwhites because DH is a hater and they hadn't done anything in the garden before now. I actually like the fragrance, even with the mothball undertones. Hopefully this year's flowers were not a fluke and they will bloom again.
 
Elizabeth Lawrence wrote that in her Raleigh garden the first flower of winter was the paperwhite narcissus. In winter her presence as a garden muse is closest to me. Her A Southern Garden was written about her garden in Raleigh, just 30 miles from where I live. Both she and Billy Hunt (who deeded the land where the NC Botanical Garden is now over to UNC) were champions of flowers in the garden year round, and writes "ever since I first shared Billy Hunt's enthusiasm for winter bloom, I have been collecting January and December flowering plants for my garden. I still have that buttery list that I made as we talked and lunched, and I pictured myself as living henceforth in a sort of Hesperides of perpetual spring, perfrumed with sweet olive and gay with camellias ~ both Sasanqua and japonica ~ winter heath, winter heliotrope, and in particular the white cowslip, Saxifraga ciliata." Sounds nice doesn't it? ;)

In the section on "Winter-Flowering Trees and Shrubs" she writes of wintersweet and the Asiatic witch hazels and states that "loveliest of all is the Japanese apricot, Prunus mume, so called because the delicately colored and delicately scented almond-like blossoms are prized by the Japanese for winter flower arrangements".

Our Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) is about half open. Sometimes it flowers in December, sometimes in January, sometimes in February, sometimes in waves, and sometimes all at once, depending on the weather. The tree is covered in buds and flowers in varying shades of pink and the perfume is so sweet. Yesterday bees were buzzing all over it. The 25th of December felt more like the 1st of April, with temps in the mid 60's.
 
 
 
 

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is also blooming. It's the other winter stalwart in our garden, often blooming from late December until April. I noticed the first flowers on Christmas. Fragrantissima is a good descriptor of this plant, as the flowers are hugely fragrant, up close and far away, sweet and sharp with a strong lemony tang.

The witch hazel has been blooming for at least 2 weeks. Ugly as sin covered as it is with rough brown leaves but also sweetly fragrant, kind of like Fruit Loops but with a little bit of a clean antiseptic edge.
 

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and the native winter-flowering witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) are lacking from my winter garden repertoire. Yulan magnolia has been a great winter performer at the JC Raulston Arboretum but I'm not sure I want to add another tree.

I think violets bloom almost every month of the year here. I always loved blue violets and wanted them in my garden. Now they are practically a weed in the garden next to the house but I am happy they are there. They make a fine ground cover and the ground is paved with purple flowers in the spring. My grandfather used them the same way in his Indiana garden.
 

So those are our Christmas flowers. I hope you had a merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year!





32 comments:

  1. Gorgeous flowers! I've never grown paper whites.
    The Japanese flowering apricot is really pretty and spring-like.

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  2. Oh Sweetbay ~ What another lovely post. I have had paper whites bloom down here in my humble gardens. It usually has to have turned cold for them to bloom for me. They might not at all this year, time will tell. I like their scent, and didn't notice the mothball overtones. Hmmm. I love your Japanese flowering apricot blooms. I bet they are beautiful in person. The witch hazel blooms are interesting and the violet oh so sweet.

    Love and hugs to you and may 2013 be filled with many blessings.

    FlowerLady Lorraine

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  3. Oh to have such beautiful blooms this time of the year. The apricot blooms are just beautiful! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and blessing for the New Year ahead.

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  4. I planted lonicera fragrantissima a few years ago and am waiting for what you describe -- "hugely fragrant" blooms. So far it is still a small whippy shrub and no blooms yet. And my witch hazels all disappoint -- they are ugly as you say, but mine have no Fruit Loop and antiseptic smell, which I think would be so delightful!

    You certainly have some beautiful winter flowers going on! Happy winter and Happy New Year.

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  5. So beautiful ... My paperwhites are blooming too :)

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  6. Congratulations on your paperwhites. I'm not sure where I put my bulbs last year, so I may not even have any indoor blooms:) Your apricot blooms are gorgeous--how wonderful to have blooms outdoors in December and January! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

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  7. I can't believe you have so many flowers right now! Love the apricot blooms.

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  8. Wszystkie kwiaty są piękne. Życzę wspaniałego Nowego Roku i pozdrawiam.
    All flowers are beautiful. Have a great New Year and best regards.

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  9. Sweetbay, We have bird planted black-eyed susans blooming right now too.

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  10. Every time I see your photos of P mume I wonder why I haven't broken down and gotten it! Gorgeous and against that sky....doubly gorgeous. I count Elizabeth Lawrence as my first garden mentor. gail

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  11. Put me in the "like" column on paperwhites, and anything else that smells good in the winter. They are all tonics to get me through 'til spring.

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  12. I can't believe you have so much blooming! Dang! I think this is one of my favorite posts. I felt like I was in your garden as you described everything. I've never had a plant that smelled like Fruit Loops. :o)

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  13. What a lucky gal you are to have so many bright bloomers so late in the year. I have filled my home with paperwhites and paper yellows this holiday season. Some are a little stinky but I don't care. I'm just happy to have something blooming!

    Happy New Year!

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  14. I'm so jealous. It looks like spring in your garden!

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  15. How beautiful winter flowers...

    Wish you & your family a very Happy New Year 2013 !

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  16. Lovely flower photos !
    Your place must be very warm...

    BONNE ANNEE 2013 !

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  17. This is a beautiful tour through your winter garden. Your writing and your images are so clear. I need to head over to JC Raulston Arboretum soon to see for myself. Happy New Year.

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  18. Happy New Year! Your flowering apricot does remind me of spring! You have some lovely winter blooms, and with temps in the 60s it is warm enough to be outside to enjoy them. I put some paperwhites out last year. You have reminded me to look for them!

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  19. Amazing to have so many blooms at this time of year! All we have is snow covering the ground. Fortunately, I like snow, but I always look forward to spring blooms.
    Happy 2013!

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  20. your garden looks as it would be in march! paperwhites are absolutely lovely, but forcing them puts them under considerable stress so they might need some time to recover...
    Happy 2013!

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  21. That's true but mine took over 10 years to recover! LOL

    Elizabeth Lawrence did say that the bulbs she forced (she wrote about hyacinth and paperwhites in A Southern Garden) would take a season to recover. I figured mine didn't bloom again because of poor soil in the original planting location, inaccurate timing of pulling foliage, and bulbs increasing without sizing up (Scott Ogden mentions that tendency in his book Garden Bulbs for the South).

    But now that the paperwhites have finally bloomed I'd like to plant more! Ogden describes several very early-flowering narcissus in his book.

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  22. I was working in the garden today and saw my paperwhites were blooming. It takes a couple years to bloom. I had a bunch in VA that I put in the garden. It was always a treat to have them bloom (when and if)
    Does your Winter Honeysuckle spread much? Some say it is invasive, but others say not so much.
    We had the Prunus mume in the Learning Garden in VA. Great winter bloomer.

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    1. I've had a Winter Honeysuckle for 15 years and haven't seen any evidence of spreading. Just that they get BIG. lol

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  23. Happy new year to you!
    Thank you for shearing so beautiful photos :)
    I am really looking forward til springtime here in Norway.

    Hugs
    Catharina

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  24. Hello. How exciting to have so many flowers blooming this time of year! They look beautiful. I'm definitely going to plant some Paperwhites and I'm also going to check out the Winter Honeysuckle...I really like that one too. I'm going to follow your blog and I hope you check mine out too!

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  25. Beautiful beautiful blooms. I had one clump of paper whites this year.

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  26. Happy New Year Sweetbay! It is relatively mild here, but we are months away from flowers. My paperwhites are indoors. I like the fragrance too, but my hubby is not keen on it. He would be quite happy if mine were outdoors are well. I am glad that patience (and careful weeding) paid off and you have flowers this year. I remember your Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) from last year. What a gorgeous shrub it is!!

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  27. Amazing what a difference a region makes; your witch hazel was blooming in December, while here in Connecticut mine is not even clearing its throat backstage. Seeing your beautiful range of blooms is a grand preview for what's coming my way.

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  28. Happy New Year Sweetbay! I cannot believe all the blooms you have in the winter! You have waited a long time for the paperwhite to bloom again. I love the fragrance and how exciting to have the blooms in the garden. I have always been told the bulbs would not bloom again after forcing . . . well you have proved that theory wrong. I hope Prince is better by now . . . sorry to read of his injury. Best wishes for 2013. Carol

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    1. Thank you everyone for your comments!

      Carol Elizabeth Lawrence wrote that bulbs usually just take a year to recover, although mine took a lot longer than that. LOL! Prince is doing better. He still has a lot of healing to do though.

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  29. Amazing how many flowers you have. The apricot is especially beautiful.

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