True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

It is seldom that these words concern, to much degree, the weather. However, if the first week of March, with its ides coming up soon, is not a good time to do so, there never will be one. 

The last time I remember weather phenomena coming to the fore in this column was a couple of years ago when the infamous straight-line winds tore through our woodland, taking down century old oaks and poplars, some of which yet lie askew with daffodils trying to push them up. To no surprise, it is an exercise in futility for the poor buttercups. 

Left as a monument to the event is an oak, fully 3 feet thick, that was twisted off about 25 feet above ground. Its shards stand out from the otherwise sedate woods.

About two weeks ago, a blue norther, straight off the Arctic Circle, came through with somewhat less wreaking of havoc, but plunging the mercury to 1 lonesome degree on the coldest night. We will see the bad effect, if any, when some things, particularly big-leaf hydrangeas, crank up, or try to. Two snows, a few days apart, left some 1 inch of sleety snow, topped by 6 inches of the more fluffy type. The combination made for impossible driving conditions on even the smallest of hills, and little better on level ground. Our car and truck were both grounded for a full week before they would budge. 

The big-leaf hydrangeas, which flower on old wood, are particularly affected by cold. Their buds are formed almost a year in advance, and are susceptible to freezing, while the shrubs themselves are rated for colder than we had. Sometimes, however, even the above-ground stems are damaged to the degree they must be cut back. A year, or even two, of bloom is adversely affected and bloom is lost. The paniculata hydrangeas, on the other hand, flower on old wood and are less affected. 

In between, the descendants of our native Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’ for instance, flower on new wood of the year and can be cut back at any time during winter or early spring, and still produce their white flowers. 

Those of us who are fortunate to have edgeworthia shrubs are holding our breath, hoping against hope that their white buds, which have been out since late fall, will produce the fragrant yellow flowers to come soon. Edgeworthias are marginal here, with their buds often frozen out. 

They failed to bloom last winter, as a result of the freak 8 degrees on Nov. 13 of 2019. It was the only time mine have failed since they were planted perhaps 10 years ago. They are worth growing, even with sporadic flowering. 

Another persnickety shrub (or tree) is the loropetalum. I said shrub or tree, because some of them can reach small tree proportions. Most have pink, or nearly red, fuzzy flowers quite early in spring. 

I purchased a shrub type, ‘Jazz Hands,’ with highly variegated leaves, last fall, and was loath to plant it that late in the season. I left it in its three-gallon pot in my “potting shed,” aka “voodoo room,” until the bad cold hit, then moved it and two azaleas that were still in their pots into our garage, which never gets down to freezing.  In addition to their exciting flowers, most loropetalums have deep red or maroon evergreen leaves.

Loropetalums range from 2-foot dwarfs to small trees. I have two of the latter in our woods, where they get some protection but, alas, produce fewer buds than one sited in sun. The new, variegated one has attractive foliage as well as — I hope — pink flowers. We’ll soon see.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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