Despite a short spell of frigid cold, we have had so many days this early winter of mild weather with the thermometer hovering around fifty, early-blooming perennials and shrubs are lulled into thinking spring. I have never seen the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, flowering for the holidays as it does in England–until now. One patch opened shyly in late December, and now two patches are in full flower a good month and a half before they usually bloom. The difference between the Northeast and Britain is that we don’t have consistently temperate weather, and those beautiful pink-tinged white saucers will inevitably get slammed by bitter cold, ice and snow later this month and in February. One of the things I most love about hellebores is how long their flowers linger, glamorously dressing our small strip of woodland all of March, April, and May. These Christmas roses might be exhausted by then.
Our big winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata) cracked at its base, unable to withstand the weight of the snow in the freak October storm. Its branches are now added to the pile of debris from the storm waiting to be chipped, and their perfect, round, glossy red berries–so treasured for Christmas decoration–are dry and shriveled. Usually I cut the winterberry branches I want for the holidays sometime in November before the birds get to them, for they are often picked clean by December. I store the fruited branches in a bucket of water until I need them. But this year, for that touch of red in holiday bouquets, I am relying on the linden viburnum, V. dilatatum ‘Erie,’ shown above, which is planted along our driveway and is still ladened with shiny fruit. The berries are small and slightly oval in shape, but born in such profusion they offer quite a show. This viburnum never looks shabby–the fruit will linger through most of winter, and the graceful mass of twigs on the eight-foot shrubs will be dressed all spring and summer with broad, lustrous, ribbed leaves. White discs of flowers cover the branches in May.