Horticultural maniacs such as myself greet this newfound warmth — a paradise shift? — with ambivalence.
To see the carnival of pansies, lenten roses and Japanese apricots is a delight, but there are technical worries: Will there be more ticks or stink bugs this year? Will this week’s freeze, or a deeper one in February, wreck the camellias now in full flush? How can you dormant-prune roses that aren’t dormant? Fruit trees need the cold for flower buds to form and then to open late, after frost season. As Robert Frost wrote: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.”
Well, it has gotten warm, and the darker shadow, of course, is that this is all tied up with climate change of our making. You will remember last summer, a steamy stinker, and the recent news that in the continental United States, 2012 was the warmest year on record.
I have a friend in Arlington who has the pain and pleasure of helping a hummingbird through the winter. She has put out hummingbird feeders to supplement the poor creature’s reliance on mahonia blooms, themselves a month or two early.
But back to the parade: not down Pennsylvania Avenue, but the one in our back yards. Pansies and their prettier kid sisters, the violas, have been full, perky and a delight since I planted them in October. I wish I had put them in garden beds rather than just in pots, and chosen more of the pastel bicolors.
In a warm winter such as this one, the garden-variety lenten rose or hellebore keeps its old leaves aloft in a nice leafy mound (they flatten in a freeze) and from beneath this protective canopy grows this year’s show, stems with baby leaves and the first of many white, cream, lime and purple nodding blooms.
In cutting back this perennial, a job I’d leave for another month, you have to be careful to remove last year’s leaves without cutting the new growth. The warmth has also coaxed some lovely hellebore hybrids into flower, including a delightful variety named Pink Frost. I bought a glazed frost-proof pot for it, though this year, so far, a clay pot would have survived intact. I’ve had two small bearded irises bloom since December, a new experience.
It’s worth repeating that the forsythia you see flowering isn’t a forsythia but a winter jasmine and that the cherry blossoms that have now erupted and will surely ruin the annual spring visit by Aunt Edie and Uncle Fred aren’t the cherry blossoms after all. They belong, probably, to the Japanese apricot, or the autumn-flowering cherry, which blooms sporadically from November to March depending on weather.