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Saugus gardens in the winter

Flower buds on branches of hybrid-2
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Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable

  Happy New Year! My family enjoys the Scandinavian custom of giving the birds a feast on Christmas day, so we gave them a little extra in the form of a birdseed wreath in addition to the everyday seed and suet feeders. Frequent visitors include nuthatches (Sitta spp.), which frequently feed upside down, black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus), downy woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens), American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) and tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor).

  The days are growing slightly longer, though not so much to be really noticeable. The storm last Friday brought storm surges along with the high tides, and the Saugus River flooded parts of East Saugus. Considering the summer’s low water levels, it was a contrast to what we had been seeing most of the year. A glaze of ice began to form on our ponds and at the edges of Saugus River and Rumney Marsh. Some areas remain open though, and seabirds, such as herring gulls (Larus smithsonianus) and eider ducks (Somateria mollissima), are congregating nearer the coast where it never ices over completely.

  Temperatures are expected to warm up for the First Day hike planned at Breakheart, but there is a high chance of rain, so it remains to be seen how many people will be out walking on the first day of 2023.

  The month of January is sometimes believed to be named for Janus, a Roman deity of doorways and transitions, who is often pictured with one head looking back to the year just past and the other looking forward to the new one. A shrub in a container in my garden, with flowers on two of its branches right now and waiting buds on all the others, could be said to be looking back toward fall and ahead to early spring. The label says it is a hybrid witch hazel (Hamamelis intermedia), which blooms here usually in late February or March, and most of the branches have small round flower buds indicating this plant will have a heavy show of blossoms around that time in 2023.

  However, two branches emerging from the roots of this shrub started to bloom about a month ago, when you might expect our native species – usually called common witch hazel (Hamemelis virginiana) – to bloom. The reason is likely that the Asian species was grafted onto the rootstock of our native one, a propagation practice that is fairly common on these witch hazels as well as many hybrid roses and other species. What is happening on my plant is that the native witch hazel rootstock is suckering beside the hybrid plant. There is a similar situation commonly seen on ornamental weeping cherry trees (Prunus spp.), when you see a straight trunk, a fringe of drooping branches (the intended form of the grafted tree) and then some upright branches growing from the top, often with slightly different flowers. In this case the graft is farther up the closer to the top of the trunk. Grafting may be done for a variety of reasons, and the kind of plant as well as the gardener’s preferences may determine whether the suckers from the rootstocks are removed or retained.

  The native common witch hazel is the last native shrub to bloom in fall. The hybrid witch hazel, a cross between a couple of Asian species, flowers typically in March here. The flowers of both species can tolerate freezing weather, and together they significantly extend the blooming season of our gardens in the colder months.

  Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.

A nuthatch-2
A nuthatch (upside down, on left) and chickadee (right side up, on right) share a new birdseed wreath. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
Many birds appreciate the birdseed wreath-2
Many birds appreciate the birdseed wreath, including the female downy woodpecker (black and white plumage, left) and tufted titmouse (blue-gray back and tail, right). (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
Herring gulls and eider ducks-2
Herring gulls and eider ducks are shown in the Saugus River near the landing on Ballard Street. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
Flower buds on branches of hybrid-2
Flower buds on branches of hybrid witch hazel are waiting for early spring. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)
Common witch hazel blossoms-2
Common witch hazel blossoms in late fall and early winter. (Courtesy photo to The Saugus Advocate by Laura Eisener)

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