Imagine walking outside on a clear, cold winter morning. The sun is bright, dazzling off a dusting of snow that rests on the seed heads of the switchgrass and little bluestem. You come around the corner and suddenly you smell…lemon? A clean, bright scent that seems surprisingly floral for such a stark season. Sure enough, up ahead the bright orange yellow flowers of vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) peek through their little snow caps. One of several witch hazel varieties that we have here at the Arboretum, vernal witch hazel begins to bloom around New Year’s Day. This native shrub puts on a stunning display of fragrant blossoms that are definitely worth scheduling a visit to see and smell!
Our many species of witch hazel bloom throughout the winter, with peak season being January, February and March when the hybrid and Chinese witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia and Hamamelis mollis) take center stage. These incredible flowers are not to be missed. Witch hazels are not alone in their winter display. If you look closely, there are herbaceous flowers to be found as well. The historic core of the Arboretum is filled with them, with a profusion of lenten rose (Helleborus sp.) that blossom from February until April, in an array of colors from clear white to deep blue. These lovely soft flowers can withstand even heavy snow, and are undaunted by the cold winter wind.
Alongside the lenten rose you will also see the sunshine yellow flowers of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) carpeting the ground and brightening even the darkest of days. These are some of the earliest bulbs that emerge in the very last days of winter. As the season moves forward, more bulbs will pop up to join them. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), crocus (Crocus sp) and finally the daffodils (Nacissus sp) will blanket the slope behind Lachford hall in a rich profusion of golds, whites and purples. Up in the Meadow Maze along the Scenic Loop, thousands of daffodils will lift their faces to the sky. It’s a sure sign that spring has sprung when their flowers open. With blossoms from pure white to deepest gold, it’s well worth the hike out from the Visitor Center.
In February though, it is the witch hazels, lenten rose, and aconite that hint at the bounty to come. Winter is a season for quiet reflection. The snow on the pines and bare deciduous branches lead to early evenings by the fire and cups of hot chocolate, sipped slowly as the shadows lengthen. The clear, cold winter days are made for peaceful walks, and we hope you’ll stop by to visit Tyler. No matter the season, our grounds have something to see every day of the year! Come by for a walk, and enjoy the surprising and subtle beauty of the end of winter…and the beginning of spring.