Ready the garden for springtime

As we complete the last leg of a rather nasty late winter, the best antidote is a garden filled with plants we can pick and bring inside to enjoy some early blooms of spring.

As we complete the last leg of a rather nasty late winter, the best antidote is a garden filled with plants we can pick and bring inside to enjoy some early blooms of spring.

Although delayed by the late cold, many outdoor flowering shrubs have flower buds ready to burst. We just need to know where to look.

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Yellow winter jasmine started to colour up in December and even now, the delayed buds are showing signs of yellow. By clipping off a few long stems and placing them in warm water, they’ll open in four to five days and fill our homes with their mild perfume. These vines look sensational in a tall vase.

If you love fresh spring fragrance, you’ll never find a match for gorgeous Chinese witch hazel. The yellow ‘Mollis’ variety is already unveiling its spidery blossoms outdoors. Once cut and brought inside, the perfume is almost overwhelming. Many ‘Hammemalis’ varieties sound intriguing but I have found only the yellow or orange-yellow varieties really stand out and provide that magnificent fragrance.

When you prune them back, be selective with your branches and leave a well-balanced shape because they bloom far more heavily on old wood.

If you examine the buds of Viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’, without a doubt the longest winter-flowering shrub in the Pacific Southwest, you’ll now see lots of clusters already open but frozen. Fortunately, the buds open sequentially into tiny pink flowers that have a delicate, enticing perfume. Once picked and brought inside, they quickly open and provide both colour and perfume for weeks. Very few people know this variety but it is quite a conversation piece, especially in late March.

The flowering cherry ‘Autumnalis’ is the only winter-flowering variety that blooms repeatedly from December into April. This stunning Japanese tree is just loaded with hundreds of semi-double, soft pink blossoms. Their somewhat pendulous branches lend themselves nicely to fancy vases and look super with fresh yellow daffodils.

Forsythia is a bit slow this year because of the cold, however, the blooms on older, hardwood branches will open in about a week if they are brought indoors and have lots of light and warm water.

It is harder to find than hen’s teeth but I’m intrigued with the beautiful white forsythia found throughout VanDusen Gardens each spring. Its proper name is Abeliophyllum distichum and it truly is a valued garden plant, not only for its elegant white spring blossoms but also as cut branches that you can force into bloom.

For a rather exotic-looking spray of flowers, I suggest you cut a few flowering quince branches. I’m always amazed how plump their buds are at this time of year and indoors, they pop open in a short time. The red varieties are my favourites but some of the oranges, whites and soft pinks are still very attractive.

I’ll never forget the wonderful bouquet of Corylopsis pauciflora, (buttercup winterhazel), I saw at the entrance to UBC Botanical Gardens a few years back. The yellow bell-shaped flowers droop from semi-pendulous branches in early March but in mild winters they often start flowering earlier. With a little coaxing, they quickly come into bloom indoors and look sensational in a low bowl.

A well-planned garden can provide an almost limitless supply of colour, free for the picking at this time of year. If you are unfamiliar with these shrubs, visit VanDusen Gardens or UBC Botanical Gardens in Vancouver this month and see what’s flowering.

Jot down the names and find a spot for them in your garden this spring.

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