It may be the dead of winter, but the garden is wide awake

Go on — take a stroll in your garden, for the metamorphosis you see will surely lift your spirits.

I have been a rather neglectful gardener lately. What with all the rain and holiday activities, I haven’t taken much time to check out my garden.

From a distance, it looks like the garden is in a deep sleep and nothing of any significance is going on. But with closer inspection, you’ll see that it is anything but snoozing. I took a short tour this week and, much to my surprise, I found lots of activity. Here are some of my discoveries.

The bulbs are emerging. Signs of life are coming out of the ground in the form of daffodils, crocus and Scillas, to name just a few. Granted it will be four to six weeks before they actually bloom, but it is thrilling to see them breaking the surface of the cold wet ground.

If you still have bulbs sitting on the back porch, that you intended to plant last fall (as I do), then get out and plunge them into the ground. They should still bloom this year, although they will be a little late and on the short side.

Hellebores are pushing up buds. My oriental hellebores are starting to send up flowers, which is always a sign that spring is not far off. It’s also a reminder that I need to remove the rest of the leaf litter that is smothering their crowns before they get any taller — and I accidentally break them off.

Once those flower stalks get a little taller, I always remove all of last year’s growth. It helps to minimize foliar diseases and shows off the flowers better. This is true for both “Lenten” and “Christmas” hellebores.

Viburnum “Dawn” is in full bloom. This shrub is wide awake and blooming its little head off as I write. In fact, “Dawn” starts blooming in November and continues well into February with its fragrant clusters of pink flowers. Every gardener should have one of these tucked somewhere into their garden, where it can be enjoyed all winter long.

Witch hazel is starting to bloom. This plant is blooming back in our cold frames right now, but it may be a few more weeks before we see it blooming in gardens. The spidery blooms come in yellow, orange or red and are all mildly fragrant — I think the yellow forms show off the best against the gray skies of winter. Witch hazel needs some space, as it will grow up to 15 feet tall and almost as wide, so put it in the back of the bed.

Buds are swelling on many shrubs. If you are consistent on visiting your garden, you will learn to recognize the subtle changes that take place this time of year. Once the sap starts rising, the stems and buds of shrubs seem to be plumper; more alive.

My winter daphne is pushing out its winter flowers and the winter hazel (not to be confused with witch hazel) is also starting to show signs of life. Both of these will be in full bloom by late January, especially if the weather continues to stay mild.

Now that we are past the shortest days of the year, our gardens are going to continue to wake up. The metamorphosis is a huge pick-me-up this time of year.

Go on — take a stroll in your garden, for it will surely lift your spirits.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

Healthy air & houseplants

Attend a free class on how houseplants lead to healthier air in the home at 10 a.m. Jan. 12 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit

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