Why not foresake forsythia for something better?

Go with that feeling and replace your rangy, humping mass of egg-yolk-yellow shrubbery that’s ugly 11 out of 12 months of the year with something better and much more attractive. Here are some choices to consider:

Witchhazel (Hamamelis species)

Despite another harsh winter, witchhazel has been blooming since February and many varieties are still going strong. These shrubs usually offer lovely yellow or orange scented blooms and bronzy orange fall color. They typically grow to 6-10 feet or more. Many are native and all are cold tolerant and not enjoyed much by deer. We’ll have a couple of special varieties at the sale, February Gold, which is highly fragrant and prized by our grower because of the link between her father and Paul Meyer of the Morris Arboretum (a wonderful destination just a bit over an hour from Morristown). The other is Orange Sunrise, which is a native and gets to be only six feet talk and turns a burnished red in the fall.

Corylopsis (Winterhazel)

Next to bloom is winterhazel (corylopsis species, we’ll have spicata and pauciflora at the sale). I never heard of this plant before our plant sale and now I’ve planted it everywhere because I love it’s lovely arching habit bearing lemon yellow drooping flowers that persist for about a month. It’s just started to bloom in my garden and it looks just perfect as it arches over an underplanting of deep blue scilla. I’ve started following the advice I got at Great Dixter and now plant my spring bulbs near the base of my shrubs and trees so I’m not constantly digging them up when I plant or divide my perennials. Eureka! What a perfect display -- that stays put.

Cornus officinalis 'Kintoki'

Speaking of trees, the first plant I ever bought at a plant sale ten years ago was a Cornus officinalis 'Kintoki.' This cornus is like the native cornelian cherry (cornus mas) but with better form and more bloom. It is a bright lemon yellow, too, and has been blooming since the end of March this year. It often blooms for two months and then produces red beries and reddish fall foliage. A wonderful understory tree like all cornus, it thrives in part sun and slowly grows to maybe 20 feet. I love it so much I bought another last year and it too is blooming in an otherwise dark corner. I see I need to plant some more scilla and muscari this fall for next year.

Spirea 'Ogon'

Right after the corylopsis gets going, my spirea ‘Ogon’ starts coloring. Sue Acheson told me it was her favorite shrub, so, of course, I had to try it. It has lemon yellow buds -- yellow is the color of spring, isn’t it? -- breaking out to thousands of tiny white blooms on arching stems. This shrub can get to be four by four feet, or somewhat larger. Its foliage after blooming is a feathery chartreuse all summer before turning bronze in the fall. It adds so much color throughout spring, summer, and fall either in a mixed border or at the base of taller trees and shrubs you forget it’s an early spring bloomer.

== Patti Millar & Ilona Ontscherenki, Co-Chairs