It is early February and I can count four different varieties of yellow bloom on a walk through Duke's campus.
The first, fragrant wintersweet, I noticed several weeks ago on my way to work. Its deliberate planting beside a trail in the Sarah Duke Gardens could not be missed. Chimonanthus praecox can become a large shrub or trained as a small tree. By now the small waxy trumpets have lost their keen smell, however they turned my head from ten feet away just after the New Year. Hopefully a three inch sapling I have planted near my front walk will do the same one day. This Southern favorite comes from China and Japan.
Leaving the Gardens and climbing a hill near the medical school, I arrive to the roundabout terminus of Research Drive. An embankment covered with winter jasmine sits near a service entrance to the Perkins-Bostock Library. Thousands of small yellow flowers make it a favorite early blooming shrub to put along steep grades and in difficult sites. Many folks (including me a few years ago) mistake it for an early blooming forsythia. It is much more of a low-grower.
Between the bank of winter jasmine and my workplace, I veer west to find the pedestrian path beside Hudson Hall and the Nello Teer Libray. This walkway is lined with healthy, useful, and typical groups of azaleas, camelias, and hollies. In one shady pocket I am pleasantly surprised by a thicket of Japanese kerria. This six-foot tall mass of crayon green stems is a spreading old-fashioned shrub not very common in institutional landscapes. My newly "discovered" specimen is presently sporting a few golden fluffy flowers which were possibly preserved from a sporadic late summer bloom. A good many new buds are starting to open, a preview to the early spring flowering that lends it one common name, "Easter Rose." I am trying to grow a bunch on the east side of my house beside a bedroom window. Their leafless arches are very attractive in winter.
Lastly, I make a detour past the Levine Science Research Center to a columned walkway. Thick boughs of Carolina jessamine climb these columns, and their small tubular yellow flowers bring it a lot of attention in February. You can count on this native evergreen vine as a good choice for climbing mailboxes, fences, or even cascading down walls. It can be drought tolerant when established and take partial shade or sun. Look for it in trees and yards around town before spring bulbs start to steal everyone's attention.
Monday 2.25.08: a revision
I was wrong about the jessamine vine. It really does not bloom until well into March. My visit today revealed lots of yellow studs that will flower in the weeks to come. There are some scattered flowers so I guess it counts for February, just not in the way I had imagined it.