Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter Blooms at the JC Raulston Arboretum

Winter in North Carolina is fickle. Some days are sunny with temperatures in the 60s but then you might get freezing rain and 32 degrees the next.  After a couple of wonderful days of the former, we got the latter, and it was cold, wet and windy when I visited the JC Raulston Arboretum  on Thursday.   I couldn't feel my fingers by the time I left, but hey, anything to see a stellar collection of plants --  I didn't want to miss out while I was in Raleigh.

I was charmed by Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), pictured above.  This was one of JC Raulston's favorite plants.  He once called it "the greatest glory of the winter flowering woody plants," and he spent many years of his life convincing people to grow it.  It came as no surprise that there are quite a few of these silky-blossomed trees scattered around the Arboretum.  All are breaking into fragrant bloom just now.

Mahonia bealei  is well-represented, all selections blooming bright gold, which is particularly striking against a winter gray sky. Mahonia is a reliable, deer-resistant plant that has beautiful, grape-like clusters of blue berries later in the season.  Birds love these.

There are many witch hazels, too.  This one is red Ozark witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Carnea').

I love the airy look of it in the landscape.

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) was a new plant for me.  I walked into the Visitor's Center when I first arrived and noticed a tiny vase with an equally tiny flowering sprig of this in it.  I inquired, mentioned the scent - wonderful! - and went out into the garden in search of it since the volunteer didn't have a guess either.  Immediately I thought I needed one  (didn't you?) but have since found out they will really try your patience.  They can take many years to bloom and when they finally do, they may or may not be fragrant.  Meanwhile they are not the most attractive plants once they leaf out, nor are they native.  They are related to our sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus), so I may have to stick with that.  But - wow! - at Raulston, they are glorious right now.

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is one of my favorite winter blooming plants. Elizabeth Lawrence wasn't fond of it I understand, because of it's undignified growth habit. It does tend to look disheveled and in need of grooming as it ages, but the smell is so wonderful!  Every year it comes as such a nice winter surprise, that I can't resist it.  I say plant it at the edge of the woods or in a shrub border and don't worry too much about how it looks.  If you get a chance to see the berries before the birds do, they are translucent red and glow like stained glass when the sun hits them -- magic in the garden.  Winter honeysuckle is very easy to grow, tolerating all sorts of difficulty and inconvenience without succumbing. That's definitely my kind of plant.

NC State University articles about these plants:
Japanese apricot 
Witch Hazels in the Winter Landscape
Winter honeysuckle


  1. Oh Daricia, what great photos of those wonderful winter blooms. I am curious about the Lonicera fragrantissima...thought it was invasive?? If not, I certainly want some.
    I imagine the fragrance of the Witch hazel was great from that large shrub. Sure a super winter plant.

  2. janet, thank you for bringing that to my attention. it IS listed as invasive in several states, including my own! what i will have to determine now is exactly what i have. i got it from another gardener so i dont know for sure, but i am guessing it is probably a hybrid bush honeysuckle. it has never spread or produced seedlings. the one at raulston is, in fact a hybrid. unc charlotte has a row of them -- i will see if i can find out what those are.

  3. What a treat for you to get to the arboretum. We have several P. mume at work and the only blooms are from a branch we cut and forced last week. This year the blossoms are as tight as a tick. I have not heard about the Lonicera being invasive, but I know some members of the family are. I also agree with Lawrence about the shrubs ugliness, but that is more than compensated by its delicious Fruit Loops aroma.

  4. The flowers are just beautiful and brings vibrant color for the winter months. Thanks for sharing such lovely pics, and JC Raulston Arboretum looks like a beautiful place.