The Garden Guy: Spring sun and blooming flowers are within reach


It’s hard to believe it’s the end of March already. Yet, you can almost taste springtime in the air. Certainly, my garden tells me the sun and flowers are within reach. 

I can smell it.  You can too if I can introduce you to a few of my garden friends.  If you would like to have an early-blooming, fragrant shrub in your yards which will attract the neighborhood hummingbirds, do investigate these deciduous and evergreen additions to a northwest landscape:

The first to bloom is not for the faint of heart and not to be placed too close to your walkways.  It is a Mahonia; just not the common, native Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) you are used to seeing. 

Mahonia x intermedia ‘Charity’ and ‘Arthur Menzies’ are hybrid shrubs which will grow to an average of 10 feet x 5 feet.  Spectacular sprays of fragrant, soft yellow flowers appear atop the plant beginning in January and are magnets for our region’s Anna’s hummingbirds. They are best used as specimen shrubs or planted toward the back of the yard. 

Once established, they are very low care. If your property is plagued by deer, Arthur and Charity can hold their own against the beasties as the shrubs’ leaves have wicked points along the edges of their leaves. Hence, my caveat against planting them near a walkway. OUCH!!!

Next on my list of great looks and scents is the Winter Daphne (Daphne odora, Aureomarginata). To those of you who never took Latin in high school (yes, I am that old), Aureomarginata means ‘with a gold margin', which this shrub does have in plenty.  This 4 feet x 6 feet evergreen shrub prefers protection from the afternoon summer sun.  As we tend to have an abundance of shade and part-shade in our part of the world, sun-sensitivity shouldn’t be a problem. 

Now, some daphne’s do have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but this one has been in my yard for 15 years and the less I do to and for it, the happier it seems. This winter daphne usually starts blooming at the end of February and has a gorgeous vanilla scent.  You will notice the scent before you ever see the less-than-impressive pink and white flowers. 

If you find yourself really enjoying winter daphne’s scent, add some Sweetbox (Sarcococcoa confusa) to the mix. The glossy green leaves of this 4 feet x 3 feet evergreen make a nice foil for the variegated leaves of the daphne and enjoys the same shady conditions.

My last choice for winter color and fragrance is a deciduous small tree or large shrub, depending on your definition of such things. Witch hazels (not the one you remember your fathers and grandfathers using after their morning shave) can provide 12 feet  x 12 feet mass of colors, ranging from yellows to oranges to dark reds that can brighten a corner of the yard during our all-too-familiar dull, gray winters.   

There are four species of witch hazel; two from the east coast and two from Asia. Arguably, the most fragrant amongst them is the Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis Mollis). I have the cultivar ‘Arnold Promise’ growing outside my office window and enjoy watching the morning feeding and antics of my yard’s hummingbird residents. 

While the species varieties are good and have their supporters, I tend to have a greater appreciation for the hybrids due to the enhanced fragrance and range of colors. They are the ones with ‘intermedia’ in their botanical names. 

Take a look at Hamamelis × intermedia’ Diane,’ ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold Promise’ during your visits to the garden centers or during your Google plant searches.  These small trees are sure to please.

If you have questions concerning these plants or have questions about your own gardens, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I’m happy to answer them. See you next month!

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