Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Promise of Spring

The grey days of January can be a discouraging time for the gardener.  The once bright and crisp leaves of fall have faded to brown and lie crushed and torn on the ground, belittled by winter rains, freezing temperatures, and time itself.  Deciduous tree limbs are bare, and perennial flower stalks rattle in the wind, their seeds mostly gone now.  Native plants need this time to develop their roots and resources.  But in Georgia, if we look hard enough, we can still spot the promise of spring.

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa

Last weekend I spied my first Hepatica americana bloom (now Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) – right on schedule.  I was sorry to note that this was the second bloom, the first had already faded and was forming a seed capsule.  I went walking to see what else I could find.
Antennaria plantaginifolia

As my feet moved along the path, the decomposing leaves fluttered to the side, revealing the grey-green foliage of Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia).  These and other semi-evergreen plants like fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) and green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) patiently tolerate the loose leaf cover; if you look closely, you can see the buds of new leaves already formed, waiting for the longer days and warmth of spring.

Evergreen gingers like Heartleaf (Hexastylis arifolia) and Shuttleworth (H. shuttleworthii) are getting the last bit of use out of their leaves. New leaves will replace these fading ones which are a bit tattered and droopy now.  As spring gets closer, sometimes I pull away the leaf duff to see if the flowers are visible yet. It’s a demonstration of my impatience – I love the hidden flowers of our native gingers. Perhaps I should keep a journal to remember which day they will bloom.

Hexastylis arifolia

As I make my way around the back of the house I notice that elderberry leaves (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) are emerging already along the pale stems.  One of my St. John’s wort species also has tiny new leaves already. The blue-green foliage of the columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) soaks up the sun; it never really disappears either.  Above it, the flower buds on the blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) are plump in expectation of flowering in the next month or so; their flowers are some of the earliest, timed to nourish the bumblebees emerging from hibernation.

Blueberry, Vaccinium sp.

I see the berries are ripening on the wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) – turning a beautiful shade of blue-grey. Juniper berries (Juniperus virginiana) are ready for the birds that love them - birds like cedar waxwings, bluebirds, and robins.  And while I was looking at the berries, I saw that the new cones are forming on the juniper, no different than the flower buds already waiting on the tips of the dogwood (Cornus florida) branches.

Berries on Morella cerifera

New cones on Juniperus virginiana

And on the deck, stashed in rows of 1 gallon pots, is one of my favorite promises: the tender foliage emerging from the seed of a red buckeye, Aesculus pavia.  Yes, spring is on the way, but it does need every moment of winter to get ready for it -- I'll wait right here.

Seedling Aesculus pavia


  1. How do you get your buckeyes to wait so long? Mine were already up by the middle of November!
    Congrats on your hepatica! I think that the one I observed fell to that scurge of the garden... round-up... I'm powerless over other people, especially on their property...

  2. Well, I can't explain that - except I did throw them all in a bag and put them in the fridge for a couple of weeks until I had time to set up the pots. But in other years I have planted them right away. I hope yours are still doing well!

  3. I've been keeping an eye on my newly found patch of Hepatica, not knowing when they'll bloom, haven't seen any flowers yet though. Nice post, it looks like Spring arrives a lot earlier down there in GA.

  4. Are all these plants on your property?

  5. Lucky girl! I was also wondering if you have any "critter" issues, diggers grazers and the like. Seems you are able to grow what you like with few limits or concerns.

    1. I have a huge deer issue. I spray and I fence in certain plants but they still nibble and chomp. In the early spring they sometimes eat trillium and bloodroot; in the fall, they rub small trees. It's a real problem for me. We have a herd of over 11 that roam the neighborhood with little recourse. Some neighbors encourage them by putting out corn!

  6. That's a relief! I was afraid you had it too easy:)

  7. What we need to get you, Ellen, is a mountain lion. That would keep those ornery deer at bay...

  8. I can't believe you have Hepatica flowering, how nice. I have to wait until at least April. Thanks for sharing these signs of spring.