If you think you need to visit a florist to see flowers in the depths of winter, you are dead wrong. Just head to the Arnold Arboretum where there is something in flower every single day of the year. On Friday, with blue skies and sunshine (a rarity in this dreary, rainy, largely snowless imitation of a New England winter) I needed to see some flowers in action. I can report that the Winter Flower Show at the Arnold Arboretum™ (just kidding) is possibly the best I have seen in my dozen years here.
Every January, there are five species of woody plants normally in flower at the Arnold, working hard to attract their hardy insect pollinators: three species of witch hazel (Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis; Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis; big-leaf witch hazel, Hamamelis ovalis), winter jasmine (Jasminium nudiflorum), and a personal favorite, wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox), a stunner from China (the Arboretum has been trying to grow this Zone 7 species since the 1870s — perhaps climate change will assist going forward.)
So here is a winter flower walk: Start with wintersweet (upper right image) on Bussey Hill. With the sun out and the flowers getting a bit of warmth, floral scents will volatilize and create an amazing cloud of perfume as you approach. Inhale deeply. And my advice: get out there asap since this coming week’s single digit (F) temperatures will probably be more than the flowers of wintersweet can bear. Next, amble down to where the original 1908 Ozark witch hazel accession (from which the species was first scientifically described) still stands magnificently by Rehder Pond and is swarming with flowers (left image). A favorite and easily reached Chinese witch hazel is just a bit further along Meadow Road. Then head to the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden and make a pilgrimage to see the ‘Wisley Supreme’ Chinese witch hazel cultivar (off the charts). While there, swoop over to the big-leaf witch hazel (native of Alabama and Mississippi; first scientifically described as a new species in 2005!) that is putting on its finest show to date (lower right image). For a map to locate each plant, just click on the web links. Now get out there : the Winter Flower Show at the Arnold Arboretum™ is not to be missed!