This has been a week of awakening on Martha's Vineyard. The Cherry and Pear blossoms, the Daffodils, the early Tulips, the Forsythia and the flowering Quince have been drawing all the attention with their showy explosions of floral bounty. On a more subtle note the Elms, the Maples, the Chestnuts and the Lilacs have been offering their pale greens and ruby toned buds, swelling and beginning to burst with tender foliar froth. Oh how this time of year rejuvenates the soul and the senses!
In the Woodland Garden the crane-necked stems of Solomon's Seal extend daily. The Lily of the Valley is starting to set buds signifying “the return of happiness”, in flower language.
Here are some of our favorite plants that are blooming around the island right now.
DOGWOOD: One of the showiest of our spring flowering trees, the Dogwood, has been the victim of a fungal blight called anthracnose that has been causing die off throughout its range. When Dogwoods first open what may be thought of as petals are actually "bracts". The bracts act like the flower’s winter jacket protecting the flower from our harsh winters. Instead of the bracts falling off when the flowers start to swell, they mutate into petaloid structures reminiscent of petals that attract early season pollinators.The issue that is occurring with the North American Dogwood is that the anthracnose causes a circulatory shutdown, killing off the tree branch by branch. Fortunately, there are resistant forms being introduced and available at the Nursery. The best way to prevent the disease is to plant the Dogwood in part day shade and give it additional water in the dry, hot months of summer.
MAGNOLIA SOULANGEANA: This exotic hybrid selection of Magnolia Soulangeana, called “Elizabeth”, has exceptional, luminous yellow flowers. The Magnolia is practically a living fossil. It was one of the first of the Angiosperms (flowering plants) to evolve. Science knows this because of the spirally arranged flower parts and there are fossils to confirm it.
HORNBEAM: Another old-timer on the evolutionary scale is the Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus. The ‘betulus’ of its name indicates that it is similar to a Birch, seemingly in regards to it's flowers. The catkins are characteristic of wind pollinated trees and shrubs that include a wide range of mostly nut-bearing plants. They serve as examples of the evolutional transition from the earliest plants, Gymnosperms (naked seed, or the cone bearing trees like pines) to the later, more highly evolved, Angiosperms (meaning enclosed seed) or fruit bearing plants.
HAZELNUT: Another example of a catkin flowered nut, the Hazelnut, Corylus avellana, “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” has its own special decorative character.
REDBUD: Just coming into flower is the decorative beauty Redbud, Cercis canadensis. It will fully play out its flowering cycle before it starts to set its leaves. The leaves are somewhat heart shaped and have a beauty all their own.
This weeping form of Redbud, may be the variety “Lavender Twist”, but there are several named forms with slightly different leaf and flower color.
VIBURNUM: Another early spring beauty is Viburnum x burkwoodii which is from a group of Viburnums called Korean Spice or Snowball Viburnum. Burkwood Viburnum grows quite large, under ideal conditions 10’ x 10’, and has an insanely delicious fragrance in late April-early May.
ABELIA MOSANENSIS: Another fantastic fragrant spring bloomer is Abelia mosanensis. It's a relative of the later flowering Abelia grandiflora that we use a lot here on the Island because of its stately form and glossy, nearly evergreen foliage. Unlike A. grandiflora, this plant can get quite large but its easy to keep trimmed if you cut it back just as its finishing its flowering. The fragrance is one you’ll never forget and would serve well for summer screening being nearly carefree and very fast growing.
JAPANESE SNOWBELL: One of our favorite shrubs, or small tree, is Styrax japonicus, the Japanese Snowbell. A carefree plant that quickly grows 10’-15’. The flowers fully open in May and hang downward from every branch producing a brilliant display. It flowers over a long period and as they drop they are reminiscent of freshly fallen snow. A nice place to plant it is near a path so the branches have the potential to create a canopy where passerby's can appreciate it's glory and slightly sweet/woody scent from the delicate flowers.
JAPANESE TREE LILAC: A plant that is not used nearly enough here on the Vineyard is the Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata. It may be over looked in the nursery but it’s far from undistinguished once it gets going. It can become a multi trunked tree up to about 40’ with beautiful, gleaming, polished bark and 12” panicles of fragrant white flowers in the summertime. It's a distant, noble cousin to the common privet and just about as hardy.
The list could go on and on! Here’s to hoping your spring is just as stimulating and fragrant as ours is here on Martha’s Vineyard!