What a glorious weekend in southern New England! Temperatures climbed into the 60’s on Saturday and although Sunday was a tad cooler, it was quite a boon to us gardeners who lost previous weekend days to snow, rain, work, and other commitments. Much of the storm damage has been taken care of including splitting the old apple tree logs. The debate has started about what to plant in its place. I’m thinking along the lines of an American elm – something to provide high shade and a future nesting site for orioles.

Butterfly garden after the snowstorm

The butterfly garden needed a severe cut back as that foot of snow Mother Nature so kindly provided us with late last month really trounced the butterfly bushes since they still had all their leaves. They, in turn, crushed the coneflowers, echinops and grasses. I have heard that butterfly bushes (Buddleia Davidii) can be invasive on some sites but so far have not found any seedlings in my beds. All plants in this garden, except the Buddleia, were cut back to a few inches and I even removed a few lingering weeds. Normally, the coneflower seed heads are left for winter interest and the birds but since they were all flattened, I figured it was just as well to pick them up.

Back to my pitiful white garden. All that remains of my beautiful 25 foot high and wide star magnolia is a bunch of stumps! Looks like an art project gone awry. Much as I hate to do so, I am just going to dig it up come spring (or maybe next weekend if this warm weather continues!) and replace it with something else. The two remaining stems of a clump of grey birch are also coming down and being replaced with a species of tree that does not bend as much. Plus the path to the patio needs to be relined too. It will probably take a couple of growing seasons to give this garden a complete makeover. One white garden discovery that did put a smile on my face was a couple of rose blossoms on the miniature ‘Green Ice’.  In a normal year, most woody plants would be going dormant by now, not blooming. Hopefully this valiant act of winter denial will not jeopardize its survival when the cold arctic temperatures finally do arrive.

Propped up magnolia

Green Ice rose blooming 11-28-11

I have noticed a few other deviations of natural growth cycles as well this year. First of all, I have been seeing some lovely, small, lemon-yellow butterflies. They are very quick and active so I have not been able to get a good look at them for identification purposes. Also, as I was cutting down some of my grasses and perennials, there seemed to be considerably more new growth present at the base of the plants than I see most years. With some plants, this is worrisome; with others it might be a way to decrease their population or eliminate it.

A few years back I innocently purchased a plant labeled, doronicum, at a local garden club plant sale. Also known as Leopard’s Bane, doronicum produces bright golden, daisy-like flowers in early spring. I had grown it at another location in the past and was quite happy with this clump-forming early bloomer. Imagine my surprise when the spring following its planting, I noticed it popping up amid cotoneasters, rhododendrons, ferns and other plants in my woodland walk garden. That little devil was moving a lot faster than I could pull it up. I do have a nice spot for it down by the pond, but I was looking for well-mannered plants for the area that I planted it in.

This doronicum spreads by underground roots.

This flush of spring-like growth might just prove its demise. As I let the senescing leaves from overhead sassafras and maples form a mulch in this area, the planting beds are fairly loose and friable. This makes pulling up the running roots of the doronicum a fairly easy task. I do wonder about more substantial rootstocks deeper in the soil, however. I pulled for about a half hour last Sunday and hope to finish this weekend. I’ll plant a few of these by the pond. The rest will get chopped up and the leaves will go in the compost pile and the roots in the trash. I am not 100 percent positive on the species of doronicum but I do believe it is Doronicum cordatum. If someone can positively identify it, please let me know so I can put it on my top 10 least wanted list!

Doronicum leaves appearing in late November - awaiting pulling!

As far as our plants go, we will have to see how they adapt (or don’t) to climate change. Extended warm weather in the fall or earlier warmer weather in the spring sounds delightful to us humans but when coupled with drastic fluctuations in temperatures and precipitation events (like our October foot of heavy, wet snow or our April warm up and freeze of 2009) it can be devastating to our plants. Gardeners, as a whole, are a pretty observant lot. It is clear to many of us that – the times they are a-changin!

Horticulturally yours,