Someone I worked with used to declare, as we all returned to the office after the Christmas break, “Okay, now it’s spring!” The rest of us would beg to differ, because rain, cold, and even snow are possible until March or even April.
But my coworker had a point. If you know where to look, even early in January, you can see plants budding or even blooming.
Best of all, as far as I’m concerned, the Chinese witch hazel, which hardly ever blooms, has managed a respectable show, due to extra watering last summer. OK, this is a pretty substandard photo, but if you look carefully, you can see the threadlike yellow flowers in the upper third of the picture. If you look even more carefully, you might spot a dark-eyed junco (bird) perched on a branch. These juncos are frequent visitors to the bird feeder all winter.
All photos taken January 9, 2021, except the last one, which is from January 2015
Winter jasmine seemed like the right plant to feature for my first post of 2021. The bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers that appear as the days grow shorter are a fanfare for the new year and an early promise of spring.
All right, I’ll admit that ironically enough, winter jasmine isn’t exceptionally tough in terms of winter hardiness. It’s hardy only in the USDA’s climate zone 6 or milder. That means low temperatures of no more than -23C or -10F. Given that its claim to fame is winter bloom, winter jasmine will not be found in places that have snow and frigid temperatures all winter.
But in relatively temperate places, winter jasmine is a treasure. Its long, whippy stems are bright green, and from November onward it produces bright yellow flowers. Unfortunately, they are scentless, which seems to contradict the name “jasmine,” but they are cheerful in a season when flowers of any kind are welcome.
Winter jasmine tolerates both drought and shade to a certain extent, which makes it a good choice for my garden, with its sandy soil and Norway maples.
The plant is a flexible shrub. It may be grown tied to a trellis or fence, or cascading down a retaining wall. I have also seen it trimmed into a bun shape, which destroys the plant’s natural graceful shape, but even so it was blooming well.
Stems that touch the ground will root and form new plants. This makes winter jasmine a good pass-along plant, but it’s worth keeping this habit in mind if you don’t want it taking up more than its share of garden space. Cut those stems back when pruning in spring.
I heard something recently about the two words used for this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s the only season with two words to describe it. “Fall” is most commonly used in North America and “autumn” in Britain.
“Fall” is a one-syllable word that does the job of indicating the time of year when a lot of leaves hit the ground. Okay, there’s the additonal implication of failure and downgoing, as in the Fall of the Roman Empire. But think of “fall fair”–prize vegetables, flowers, and livestock. Deep-fried things to eat. Bales of hay. Fiddle music. Fall is fine.
“Autumn” sounds poetic and nostalgic. It actually works better in written form, at least in North America. People from the Old World, with suitable accents, can get away with using it in conversation, but for most of us it sounds hoity-toity and uber-refined. And of course it has that silent “n,” which adds a certain mystique.
I generally say “fall,” but sometimes I write “autumn.”
However you describe it, October is THE month. It’s not really cold, days have not yet been cut brutally short by the return to Standard Time (for which the mnemonic is “Fall back”), and the leaves are in a state of glory before they (yes, sadly) fall.
I hope everyone is having a fabulous fall. Or an amazing autumn.
And a splendid spring to those in the southern hemisphere!
Tough plants often have common names that suggest they are weeds. Globe Thistle is no exception. Real thistles are prickly, deep-rooted weeds (although some are quite attractive). Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro) shares some of their qualities, but escapes true weediness.
This is a plant I can recommend without reservation to anyone with a dry garden. In moist soil it would grow weak and floppy and need staking. It prefers full sun but blooms well enough in my garden with only four hours of direct sun. Deer don’t eat it. Sometimes aphids appear on the developing flower buds, but can be washed off easily by spraying with water. The flowers look good for several weeks and may be dried if cut at their peak. To prevent uncontrolled self-seeding, it’s best to deadhead carefully before the flower heads shatter.
More information about Echinops ritro can be found here.
The flowers are indeed globe-shaped, about the size of golf balls, and a metallic blue in colour. I’ve seen them described as similar in appearance to the medieval mace, but in 2020, a different comparison is inevitable. A fellow blogger alerted me to it in the comments to this recent post.
Globe thistle mingles well with other plants in the garden, especially with grey-leaved, drought-tolerant ones such as Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum). In the dry, warm days of late summer, the foliage starts to morph into shades of yellow and rusty brown, which is somehow appropriate.
Here are a couple of other plants that look good right now
The photos in this post were taken on August 21st and 29th, 2020.