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These 6 plants signal that yes, spring is already here in Kentucky

Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Paul Cappiello Ph.D.

Yew Dell Botanical Gardens Executive Director

Winter, schminter . . . I know we were punched in the nose with the Christmas blast from the North, but
as far as I’m concerned, it’ Spring!

I’ve always defined the start of Spring in one simple way – when we sow the first seeds of the year in Yew Dell’s greenhouses. But admittedly, that’s not really fair. After all, it’s not everyone who gets to garden on 60 acres with 7 different types of greenhouses, each with its own specific environmental conditions and a staff to keep it all running like Geppetto’s cuckoo clock collection.

Next, I moved on to a tree dweeb’s definition of the start of Spring – when the silver maples (Acer saccharinum) first start to boom. But every year when the silver maple in front of our house would
push out its very first, tiny and totally unshowy blooms, I’d run down the stairs exclaiming, “the Acer
saccharinum’s
in bloom . . . the Acer saccharinum’s in bloom!” a bit like Steve Martin’s gleeful proclamation about phone book arrival in the movie, The Jerk. My wife would look at me with an expression only available to spouses of the world, and she’d say, “it’s not a real flower . . .” 

On to method three . . .

On Tuesday of this past week I took a wander around Yew Dell’s grounds to see what’s out there . . . with real flowers . . . and a few others putting on a foliage display despite the recent cold. So here’s my evidence of Spring’s presence in the garden . . . at least for now . . .

Hellebores

The white blooming Lenten Rose (Helleborus niger) are at their peak right now in the garden. Gleaming, almost porcelain-like flowers poking their heads above the left over brush and dead, dropping holly leaves, are putting on a show. Likewise, the so called Lenten Rose (Helleborus xhybridus) varieties are starting to do their thing with blooms varying from white to pink, deep burgundy and even a few yellow and peach colored forms for good measure.

Daffodils

Yes . . . some daffodils are in bloom. One of the best of the earliest is named February Gold and in past years we’ve even had it in bloom in late November! It is a variety that was bred for a short cold period – for the Gulf Coast where they don’t get proper winter and often have a hard time getting daffodils to thrive. On Tuesday, the February Golds were buzzing with honey bees. 

February Gold is a particularly early blooming daffodil that was originally bred for the Gulf Coast.

Primrose

While I do have one in my own garden that has been showing a bit of flower color for the last week, those blooming at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens (Primula Pink Ice) might be considered a little unfair. They’re in full and fabulous bloom right now . . . in our white, poly-covered hoop houses. Still, it’s January, the houses are unheated, and the primroses are in bloom! Smells like Spring to me . . .

Flowering in Yew Dell’s unheated poly houses right now is the stunning Pink Ice primrose – an early and excellent selection of a group of plants usually considered too fussy for southern climates.

Witchhazels

The many members of the genus Hamamelis form the backbone of the winter blooming shrub hall of fame. With sweetly fragrant flowers of yellow, orange, red and even burgundy, many are in flower right now. When I checked a few in the arboretum at Yew Dell this week, they were covered with at least three species of bees.

But there are also some plants out there that are putting on more of a foliage show – a trait worth noting after the cold we’ve had already this winter.

The North American Vernal Witchhazel forms a large shrub that is at its best in mid to late winter with gold to rust colored, fragrant flowers and excellent fall foliage color.

xHeucherella Sweet Tea

This hybrid of our native coral bells (Heuchera species) and foam flower (Tiarella species) is certainly not in bloom right now, but its foliage is a fabulous mass of red/orange/burgundy. It seems to be completely untouched by the cold.

A hybrid of the North American coral bells and foam flower, Heucherella Sweet Tea isn’t in flower right now but its foliage has remained in excellent shape through the cold.

Yuccas

And finally . . . the Yuccas. Yuccas the workhorses of the summer landscape, primarily known for their incredibly drought tolerant, spiky foliage mounds with 6’-tall spikes of fragrant, white summer flowers. But several of the gold variegated cultivars are out there right now, providing a much-needed blast of color. Bright Edge and Color Guard are two of the best.

Like I said . . . smells like Spring to me!

This article was originally submitted to the Courier Journal on January 17, 2023.

About the Author

Blurb about Paul here.

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