Ruts are everywhere, especially after a wet winter featuring a lot of freeze-thaw events, with a half-foot of snow or so thrown in for good measure. 

Here we are on the cusp of probably the busiest planting month of the whole year, and some of you (us) haven’t gotten away from the hearthside to get into harness in our gardens. 

When we (you) get out there and start gardening, there is the ever-present danger of staying in whatever rut you find yourselves. It is up to you (us) to dig ourselves out of said rut. 

Say you have a nice landscape, but it seems woefully like those next door or on the other side of town and has been woefully the same for years on end. How to get some welcome relief? Well, it has never been easier than now, what with the ever-changing menu of quality plants reaching retailers like never before. If Gertrude Jekyll could bring off changes in her English landscape in the early 20th century, you surely can do it here and now. So let’s get started. 

A shrub that should be in every landscape this side of lower zone 6 is the edgeworthia, the Chinese paper bush. We have two specimens, one about six years old and the other half that. The oldest is some eight or 10 feet across. 

The shrub is not much to look at most of the year, but about December the bare branches begin to sport large white buds that show up from a long distance. By February they enlarge further to reveal yellow centers at the bottom of the bloom. At the same time, an extremely sweet fragrance begins to waft over a large area. Just a few stems brought into a warm room will fill a house with the sweetness. Winter visitors to our garden literally swoon over the fragrance. 

The fly in the ointment here in our climate is the occasional winter when the shrub, or its buds, are damaged by cold. That has been the case only once in our time with them.  

There are only a few edgeworthias here in Henry County, ours and another one at Pat and Rachel Terrell’s home on Walnut Street for two. Fortunately, theirs is at the front of their abode and can be easily seen from the street. It blooms even in deep shade and is good in a woodland. If you can’t find them locally, Google them up for mail order sources. 

Another shrub or small tree too seldom seen is witch hazel. The roots of this plant were once used to make a fragrant emollient but their best use is as an ornamental, and this time it is another winter bloomer. The most spectacular variety is ‘Arnold Promise.’ It has bright yellow blooms on a medium size tree, to 15 or 20 feet. 

Other varieties (i.e. ‘Jelena’) have burnished dark orange or red flowers which don’t carry with the brown and dark gray of the woodland background, where they do best. They will also make fine ornamentals in full sun, if you are conscientious about watering in early years. ‘Arnold Promise’ flowers in February and March, with ‘Jelena’ coming out earlier and others later. Very easy to grow. 

These two were on my mind because they have just finished bloom in their unusual winter season. We will look anon at some other plants that “nobody” else has.

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Santa Claus, after returning to his home at the North Pole some three months ago, suddenly made a return visit to these environs and left me a gift of some magnitude. I wrote here some time back of a great gardening book by the late Henry Mitchell and told of valuing  my “back broken and worn” copy I have had since the mid-1980s. 

Lo and behold, just last week I found on my porch a spanking new copy of said book, no back broken spine and no weatherbeaten pages. Don’t tell me there is no Santa Claus. Thanks, Santa. 

 

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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