"One that presages or foreshadows what is to come."
We’re lucky in this region. With foresight and a little discipline, we can have blooms throughout the winter. But we make up for this with our lack of sunlight and snow – we can find both if we drive a couple hours, but day to day life is dark and dreary. Up before daylight, leave work in the dark. Even as the days lengthen, the plants that begin to perform even in the smallest way are powerful tonic.
Witch Hazel is my favorite. Hamamelis mollis and other varieties begin blooming in January or February here – mine is in full bloom now, on February 8 – making it one of the earliest bloomers of the new year. Its blooms are like miniature pom-poms, so unusual and festive, like a party on the otherwise bare branches. Colors range from a clear cool yellow to golden, orange and auburn. In my (always humble) opinion, the yellow bloomers are most effective, a brilliant contrast to the branches and somehow the color of archetypal spring blooms – think forsythia, daffodil. And speaking of forsythia, Witch Hazel is a great alternative. Both plants will be large, but forsythia always seems to look unkempt, like the neglected neighbor who you wish would move or tidy up. Witch Hazel, on the other hand, is elegant, with its open V form and neatly arranged blooms. A few selections are narrower. Many, but not all have a wonderful delicate scent. This is most reliable in mollis and its selections in my experience. These will reach 10’-12’ and nearly as wide in normal conditions, and occasionally reach 20’. They are hardy to zone 5.
While it’s early for bulbs, a few are beginning to bloom, including snowdrops and the very earliest crocuses. But I find myself inspecting the garden with each free daylight moment for even the tiniest nibs of bulbs poking through the mulch. Just the pattern of the green probes showing the promise of masses of bloom to come makes me unaccountably happy. They are a reminder that I did indeed begin the process during random moments last spring and summer of populating my new garden with donations and purchases of bulbs that were blooming or finished, in addition to the mass planting of new Narcissus planted a bit late and not yet showing. For me the hardest part of starting a new garden has been the impatience to have the desired effect of sweeping masses and large clumps of bulbs. I think bulb plantings should be generous, abundant. Except in cases where an individual bulb can create a focal point in the garden, like a large lily, they are most effective lushly planted. I cringe at thin rows of tulips, and individual daffodils. Who in their right mind wants these guys to be soldiers or loners? Sweeps, hundreds, naturalized carpets – that’s what I love. Not always possible to create a huge mass in a residential garden, I know, but we can ensure they have the clumps and numbers that give make them a show.
My favorite crocuses are those tiny ones - especially Crocus tommasinianus, Tommy Crocus, http://www.oldhousegardens.com/display.aspx?prod=CR12, and Crocus chrysanthus, http://www.theplantexpert.com/springbulbs/Crocus2.html. I am fond of their small flowers, subtlety, and lovely colors - periwinkle, soft cream, yellow-orange. Their stature and reliable nature for naturalizing make them a great choice for carpets of crocus.