Barrie Bain: Precocious daffodils open brilliant blossoms after warm spell

January 27, 2013 

Precocious daffodils popped up and began to bloom; the maple trees sent forth their colorful flowers; and the earliest blooming shrubs such as winter jasmine and winter honeysuckle began to open their buds.

The camellias, which don't seem to be affected by the vagaries of weather, are keeping to their annual schedule, with the early bloomers reaching their peak right now. I have several varieties blooming their hearts out and others that have dozens of buds. One of the great things about camellias is that if you plant some varieties that bloom early, some that bloom mid-season, and some late bloomers, you can have blossoms for months on end.

Can we grow peonies?

The latest newsletter from Hills and Dales Estate, the beautiful home and garden of the Fuller Callaways in LaGrange, Ga.,, arrived last week, and the feature article focused on "Growing Peonies in the South." The writer pointed out that some of their peonies, called "Queens of the Garden," have been thriving at Hills and Dales for over a century.

Most of us have very little luck with them in our climate. My mother used to grow them and I can remember watching her take all of the ice trays from the refrigerator out to the garden and dumping them on her peonies in an attempt to give them a cooling period. Her success was marginal, but she considered it worth her while if she could cut a few of the beauties for an arrangement in the house.

Peonies really want cold winters, and if you are going to give them a try in our area, the writer says the first consideration should be providing them with the right location. They must have four to six hours of full sun each day and would like to have some afternoon shade. Another important point has to do with choosing the varieties that bloom the earliest because they don't need as much chilling as the later bloomers.

I had great luck with peonies when I lived in Spartanburg, S.C.., because the winters are a bit colder, but even then I chose the early bloomers. My favorites were "Festiva Maxima," a double white with flecks of red, "Mon. Jules Elie," a double medium pink and "Sarah Bernhardt," a double pale pink.

I must say that peonies make the list of my favorite flowers, especially the ones that produce heavenly fragrance. I plan to try adding a few this fall, which is the recommended time for planting them. Peony blossoms don't last very long, but even when the plants have finished blooming, their medium green, shapely foliage makes a nice addition to the summer garden. So, the answer to the question of whether or not we can grow peonies here in Columbus and its environs is "yes," as long as we pay careful attention to the siting and care of them and choose the earliest bloomers.

Divinely fragrant daphnes

The recent warm weather has caused my winter daphnes to go from tight, deep rosy pink buds to fully-open whitish blossoms tipped with rosy pink. This plant's botanical name, Daphne odora, alludes to the fact that its fragrance ranks right up there with gardenias, Southern magnolias, honeysuckle, and the sweetest of roses. A small vase of the blooms can perfume an entire room.

I have both "Aureo-marginata," which has pale yellow margins to its glossy, deep green leaves and the pink flowers mentioned above, and "Alba," which has the same margined leaves and creamy white flowers. Daphnes prefer filtered light and because of their delightful fragrance, should be planted near a walkway or doorway where their scent can be enjoyed. The only drawback to these stellar plants is a trait called "the daphne death-dance." Your daphne may perform beautifully for five years, or maybe even more, but one day you may look out and see that it has turned up its toes and died. I have had this happen more than once and have never found any horticulturist who could explain the cause.

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