East Coast update

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Wed, 24 Mar 2004 16:01:35 PST
East Coast Update

Here's where we are in piedmont Maryland, USA, zone 7, just north of
Washington, D.C.

There have been years when by March 24 there have been tulips for a month
and winter aconites, snowdrops and crocus were but a memory. Not this year.
Not only are things late, they are just sitting there going nowhere. The
combination of cold, wind and low rainfall has produced a spring garden
which still has an offputtingly sterile, bare wintery quality. But today
was, in a sense (or rather, according to the senses) the first day of
spring. The very air had that soft quality that so often is a harbinger of
the surge of vegetative growth. I was out in the garden watering and was
caught utterly and delightedly off guard by the scent of Viola odorata:
spring really is here! And so are the deer: a group of five watched me
nervously from perhaps thirty feet away as I watered. Sure hope my
impromptu deer fence works!

We still have winter aconites (Eranthis cilicica and E. x tubergenii
‘Guinea Gold'), snowdrops (Galanthus ‘Augustus' is still handsome) and
crocus in variety. In fact, the crocus season this year is very compressed:
last week Crocus imperati hortorum (i.e. the deliciously fragrant one sold
as imperati but which is probably a form or hybrid of suaveolens) and
Crocus korolkowii were still in bloom, and the vernus garden cultivars were
beginning to open. I've never known that to happen. All the crocus are
blooming at once this year. Leucojum vernum is in bloom.  Lonicera
fragrantissima did not begin to bloom until early March;  Magnolia stellata
is blooming, as are Mahonia bealei and Sarcococca humilis. Stachyurus
praecox is almost in bloom. Flower buds of Camellia japonica - the ones the
deer did not get - are showing color. 
Garden hellebores were mostly held back until early March, but then they
surged and are now at their height. There are lots of them here: I counted
over two hundred open flowers the other day. Helleborus niger has buds up,
but they have not yet opened. H. torquatus is blooming. H. isturicus
emerged with a bud, but the bud disappeared. H. foetidus has been blooming
for months -it started before the long cold spell, sat there frozen for
weeks and then picked up where it left off. 
Cardiocrinum cordatum and C. giganteum are up and beginning to unfurl
leaves; Lilium hansonii is up as are some martagon hybrids. And we've had
over night temperatures well below freezing two nights this week.
Reticulate irises are at their peak, Bulbocodium (Colchicum) vernum is
blooming, sessile Trillium of several species are up but not yet open,
Hepatica nobilis is just about over, Cardamine trifolia is blooming as is
Hacquetia epipactis. Paeonia mascula, P. wittmanniana and P. emodi are far
enough advanced to allow me to count the flower buds - the same is true of
some Paeonia suffruticosa cultivars. 
Scilla mischtschenkoana, S. bifolia, and Chionodoxa of several sorts are
all blooming. I can see the inflorescence of some musk hyacinths.
Dracunculus is up above ground: the dragon has emerged from its lair!
Garden daffodils have finally started to bloom, but very grudgingly so far:
only Tete a tete, Rijnveld's Early Sensaton and NeoPeeping Tom are actually
open. (NeoPeeping Tom is my name for the Peeping Tom look-alike which
ursurped the place of the genuine item in commerce years ago). 
Even the very earliest tulips have only bud color to show so far. 
Big news in the cold frames: Scoliopus hallii has not only flower buds but
it's surrounded by babies. Last year's plants evidently matured seed which
fell around the mother plant and is now germinating. And here's the really
interesting part: the seed is showing epigeal germination, hardly what I
would have expected from a vaunted Trillium relative. Neither Scoliopus
hallii nor Bigelow's Scoliopus has bloomed yet, but both have buds. Is the
Bigelow here Jacob Bigelow, the author of American Medical Botany? 
Some Asarum are already putting up new foliage - I have not seen flower
buds yet. 
I deliberately flooded Iris cycloglossa the other day and it seems to look
bigger today. 
The big frits are mostly just emerging, some have yet to appear (they were
covered with a coldframe light most of the winter and were thus very dry).
Fritillaria ariana popped out of the ground at least two weeks ago but then
stalled and has not moved. It emerged from the ground inflorescence first:
there's a bright white knobby cluster about the size of a small grape at
the top of the stem. Other frits are in varying stages: some have been up
(but not in bloom) for weeks, others are just emerging. F. thunbergii as
usual is well up and devoid of flower buds. 
Garden hyacinths are in bud; there is no sign yet of my Hyacinthus
"romannus" - which I'm pretty sure is a Roman hyacinth. 
Several Paris in the cold frames have already unfolded leaves; those in the
open ground have yet to appear. 
Eremurus are up: some look fat and happy!
Some very brightly and fetchingly mottled Arum italicum received from Ellen
Hornig a few years ago are putting up more fresh foliage.
Ramonda and Haberlea have uncurled and seem to be looking around to size
things up, and Dodecatheon meadia has wide flat leaf rosettes already. 
Seed of Lilium candidum is germinating freely in a cold frame. 
Not sure, but I think Helonias bullata is putting up an inflorescence. 
There has been no sign of toads or wood frogs yet at the pool, although
spring peepers in local vernal ponds are going to town in mild weather. 
Our screech owl continues to call softly every evening just outside the
And the local raccoons (which we feed, name and in general spoil) are
conducting their amours very raucously all night. They have a varied
repertoire of chirps and trills which are very bird like - until they break
out into a shriek which sounds as if they are being skinned alive.
Hmm...sounds like some people I've known. Make friends with these little
devils: you'll get your reward later in the year when they show up with a
clutch of the cutest fluff-ball babies in tow. 
We've had robins, but I'm never sure if these early robins are our local
robins or are the ones headed for Canada. We've had robins, but we have not
had wake robins. The pedunculate Trillium are still sleeping. 
Little white butterflies (I call them cabbage butterflies, but I'm not sure
they're the genuine article) are visiting my weed garden of Cardamine,
Lamium amplexicaule and Veronica persica. 
Warm weather is predicted for the weekend, so if I report next week the
list may be very different. 

The ground is prickly with sprouts. Pretty soon I'll be able to face west
and shout "OK you Californians and Oregonians, match this!" Or so I hope!

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland ,zone 7, where the first big wave is just
around the corner.

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