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"First Week of January," by the Whistling Gardener

It may feel like the dead of winter, but the garden is wide-awake. What with all the rain and holiday activities, I haven’t taken much time to walk around my garden. From a distance it looks like it is in a deep sleep and nothing of any significance is going on, but with closer inspection it is anything but snoozing.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

It may feel like the dead of winter, but the garden is wide-awake.

I have been rather neglectful lately. What with all the rain and holiday activities, I haven’t taken much time to walk around my garden. From a distance it looks like it is in a deep sleep and nothing of any significance is going on, but with closer inspection it is anything but snoozing.

I took a little tour this week and much to my surprise I found lots of activity. You should do the same, for it will surely lift your spirits. Here are some of my discoveries…

The bulbs are emerging. Signs of life are coming out of the ground in the form of daffodils, crocus, and Scillas - to name just a few. Granted it will be four to six weeks before they actually bloom, but it is thrilling to see them returning and breaking the surface of the cold wet ground.

If you still have bulbs sitting on the back porch, that you intended to plant last fall (as I do), then get out and plunge them into the ground. They should still bloom this year, although they will be a little late and on the short side.

Hellebores are pushing up buds. My oriental hellebores are starting to send up flowers, which is always a sign that spring is not far off. For me it is also a reminder that I need to remove the rest of the leaf litter that is smothering their crowns before they get any taller and I accidentally break them off. And once those flower stalks get a little taller I always remove all of last year’s growth, which helps to minimize foliar diseases and shows off the flowers better. This is true for both Lenten and Christmas Hellebores.

Viburnum ‘Dawn’ is in full bloom. This shrub is wide awake and blooming its little head, off as we speak. Actually, “Dawn” starts blooming in November and continues well into February with its fragrant clusters of pink flowers. Every gardener should have one of these tucked somewhere into their garden where it can be enjoyed all winter long.

Witch Hazel is starting to bloom. This plant is blooming back in our cold frames right now, but it may be a few more weeks before we see it blooming in gardens. The spidery blooms come in yellow, orange, or red and are all mildly fragrant - I think the yellow forms show off the best against the gray skies of winter. Witch Hazel needs some space as it will grow up to 15 feet tall and almost as wide, so put it in the back of the bed.

Buds are swelling on many shrubs. If you are consistent on visiting your garden, you will learn to recognize the subtle changes that take place this time of year. Once the sap starts rising, the stems and buds of shrubs just seem to be plumper and more “alive.” My winter daphne is pushing out its winter flowers and the winter hazel (not to be confused with witch hazel) is also starting to show signs of life. Both of these will be in full bloom by late January, especially if the weather continues to stay mild.

Now that we are past the shortest days of the year, our gardens are going to continue to wake up. It is a metamorphosis that takes place every year and for me is a huge pick-me-up. Our gardens are indeed waking up and you don’t want to miss it.

Sunnyside will be holding free classes again and will be hosting “Houseplants = Healthy Air” on Saturday, January 12, 2019, at 10:00 am.  More information can be found at www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and you can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

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