Trees and Shrubs for Early Color

The fragrant, rose-pink double flowers of ‘Peggy Clarke’ flowering apricot, Prunus mume, have been a sensation at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens since early March.

Blogging is a lot of work, and 2020 marks my tenth year of providing quality content to my readers all over the globe.  It requires so much computer time that I have been taking a break since last October to dedicate more hours to my plant nursery and my own garden.  However, with coronavirus spreading quickly through the US and my own state of Pennsylvania, I have been wracking my brain for a way that I could contribute without leaving my home.  I hope that reviving my blog will give readers, and especially my wonderful customers in the beleaguered mid-Atlantic area, a brief moment of pleasure in the terrifying world we have entered. 

The photos below are of trees and shrubs that provide late winter and very early spring color.  They are electrifying in my garden when everything else is still winter brown.

I am dedicating this post to my high school friend Adrienne’s sister who is currently struggling to beat corona in New York and to all the healthcare workers and other personnel on the front lines, who are risking their own lives to keep us healthy.  Sty home to save lives.

Nursery News:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops within the US.  For catalogues and announcements of local events, please send your full name, mailing address, and cell number to and indicate whether you are interested in snowdrops.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.‘Peggy Clarke’ is a gorgeous small tree with a vased-shaped habit, sited here in a west-facing location near our front door for optimal late-winter viewing.


Winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, cascades off the corner of our terrace, but I have also seen it grown as a groundcover.  It normally opens a few flowers during warm days in January and February; however, we have had such a mild winter that it has been flowering for about five months.  The photo shows the last few blooms as the leaves start to open.



Our star magnolia, M. stellata, is often damaged by frost, but I wouldn’t be without its glorious masses of early, pure white flowers.


We have planted a field of blue glory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa forbesii, under the star magnolia, and the combination is beautiful.  I couldn’t get a satisfactory shot of the two together, but you can see the magnolia trunk in the background.


Another shrub that has been blooming off and on since late fall is evergreen Japanese mahonia, M. japonica.  This mahonia is the best species for garden use as its leaves remain pristine and its flowers are a lovely shade of yellow in large sprays.


If Cornelian cherry dogwood, Cornus mas, bloomed later in the season, it would be overshadowed by many other small flowering trees.  However, its fresh, yellow-green flowers stand out in the stark late winter landscape.

.‘Okame’ cherry, Prunus x incam ‘Okame’, viewed here from an upstairs window, provides shade for our deck and is the earliest blooming cherry with very long-lasting flowers.

.Under the ‘Okame’ cherry, by the edge of the deck is a dwarf Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’.  Its leaves come out very early and are a striking combination of red and bronze.

.Our edgeworthia opens its fragrant yellow and white flowers in late winter.  This shrub has four seasons of ornamental interest with beautiful flowers, cinnamon-colored bark, tropical leaves, and, my favorite, copious silver buds like tassels on Victorian cushions starting in November.


Edgeworthia flower


Yulan magnolia, M. denudata, is a relatively rare, early-blooming magnolia with large, goblet-like white flowers.  Again, it can get damaged by late frosts but is well worth having in the years like this one when it is magnificent.


Yulan magnolia flower


Buttercup winter hazel, Corylopsis pauciflora, is an early-blooming, fine-textured shrub with elegant, butter yellow flowers.


‘Texas Scarlet’ dwarf flowering quince gives an eye-catching punch of color in what can still be a dreary winter landscape.  It stays quite small and doesn’t have thorns like regular quinces.

My intent is to post on the blog more than once a week.  You can provide inspiration to me and other readers by posting comments about your own experience with these plants or other late winter trees and shrubs.  Blogs are a lot more fun for everyone, especially the writer, when they are interactive.  Scroll down to the end of the page to the box where it says “Leave a Reply” and start typing—-it’s easy!


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

59 Responses to “Trees and Shrubs for Early Color”

  1. Janelle Frazier Says:

    Thanks for posting. I so enjoy seeing the treasures in your garden! Very inspirational. I grow many of these trees and shrubs, this year the blooms have been magnificent…probably due to our ‘non-winter I imagine. I have been looking for Cornus mas for a number of years, haven’t located one yet!

  2. Kathleen A Baker Says:

    Thank you for such a lovely, colorful, uplifting show. Gives us hope and ideas for more projects when we can finally get out to the nurseries and get more beautiful plants for our gardens. God Bless and stay well!

    • Thanks, Kathleen. A lot of customers have emailed asking to buy plants. Please keep in mind that a trip to get ornamental plants is non-essential travel and should be undertaken only when bans are lifted. Although my nursery has been closed as a result, I support our governor’s decision to limit travel to essential trips.

  3. Carolyn Goodman Says:

    So lovely, so inspirational.

  4. Louise Thompson Says:

    Carolyn, the Scilla siberica you sold me several weeks ago have turned out to be a good teaching tool for my daughter, who lives in Ardmore right next to Haverford College in a little house, their first with a little gardening space. We separated the blooming bulbs to spread them out under a little apple tree they were given, and they’re still blooming like crazy, a light in this currently very gloomy world.

  5. TY, ty! Such a wonderful post. Trees and shrubs are my downfall, even more so as I begin to move toward the end of my seventh decade. I’m in zone 5, Michigan, waiting for some of my early bloomers to start. I have a new shrub, fragrant viburnum, that is loaded with buds the deer didn’t find. Yet. We have one spot for a small tree and are thinking about either cornelian cherry or another cherry. Thank you again for this ….. I really really needed to get my mind off the virus.

    • Then I have accomplished my objective, Ann—a few minutes of peace looking at beautiful plants. If my space was limited for small trees, I wouldn’t choose Cornelian cherry. However, if you have lots of other small flowering trees, i really like it.

  6. Bonnie Devine Says:

    I am so bummed that I can’t see you and Mike and walk in your gardens. I’m dealing pretty well with being alone most of the time, see my daughter briefly as she runs weekly errands for me, and so happy when my granddaughter comes to visit and solves all my IT challenges.

    Hope to see all of you and your gardens soon. And, as always, I remind myself, sometimes in tears, that good ALWAYS comes from bad.

    Best & Love, Bonnie

    On Sun, Mar 29, 2020 at 9:35 AM CAROLYN’S SHADE GARDENS wrote:

    > Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens posted: “The rose-pink double flowers of > ‘Peggy Clarke’ flowering apricot, Prunus mume, have been a sensation at > Carolyn’s Shade Gardens since early March. Blogging is a lot of work, and > 2020 marks my tenth year of providing quality content to my readers al” >

  7. Happy to have you back Carolyn.
    Take care out there!

  8. Ann Scott Says:

    Thank you, Carolyn. This brings a bright spot into my day. Wish we were able to enjoy your garden in person. I look out my window everyday and see all the wonderful plants that I have bought at your place. My 15 hellebores spectacular this year, along with the corydalis and other early Spring plants you have provided over the years. Hopefully, you will be able to open for summer flowers.

  9. Susan Plourde McKay Says:

    I am from Brampton Ontario Canada. I first saw your website about 5 years ago when my sister passed away. Her name was Carolyn so somehow, some way your blog came to me. I have been enjoying your posts ever since. My parents are avid gardeners. I love my garden as well but dont have much space. Some day I would love to take a drive your way and visit your nursery😊

  10. Nancy Kressin Says:

    Hi Carolyn, what – no hellebores?! I’d share some of mine, but can’t see how to add photos. Thanks a lot for reviving the blog, very glad to see again.

  11. Karen Waldauer Says:

    Carolyn, what a joy it was to wake up to your post this morning! One of the magical properties of gardening is that it directs thoughts to the future– as in next spring I will have a Peggy Clarke apricot tree blooming outside my window and I will smile and think gratefully of Carolyn for pulling my mind away from the grimness of corona. Keep it up, and be well. Karen

  12. Thanks, Carolyn, much appreciated. btw, at least one source for several different cornus mas cultivars is Broken Arrrow Nursery

  13. Maria O'Malley Says:

    Hi Carolyn, Thank You for posting! We are blessed to live on a farm and have access to farm compost which my husband screens for me….The two beautiful days this week we’re an opportunity to put it down in our shade garden filled with many of your babies, and I am sure I noticed little shoots just barreling out of the ground and heard them say “oh thank you, thank you!” The fact that everything is early is a gift that we all so need! Hoping to see you soon.

  14. Clara Berger Says:

    So glad your back, Carolyn. We seem to like the same shrubs and they have been glorius in the garden this spring.

    Clara Berger

  15. Thank you! My corylopsis isn’t very floriferous. How much sun do they need? Loved your post!

  16. Thank you Carolyn, for all the beauty in your post and for thinking of Elise and I. Here in New York City we need to see the beauty of spring and connect with the renewal that spring always brings. It is a great counter to all the anxieties of these days.

  17. So nice to see a post from you! I’ve been enjoying the early spring here in western Maryland, although it’s hard not to be able to go to the garden centers. I did get four packs of violas before everything shut down. The hellebores have been grand this year and I’ll look forward to your post on those. My earliest trees are classic dogwoods and a sweet Japanese snowbell, so it’s nice to see your early bloomers since mine aren’t yet. I’m settling for spring bulbs in abundance right now. Since I’m in my 70s, I’ve been staying put cuz this is a scary time. As gardeners we’re so fortunate to have our yards to entertain us. Stay safe!

    • I am glad your garden is providing solace. In PA, we are under a stay-at-home order so everyone is or should be staying home no matter what their age or physical condition. My husband and I have not been out at all except to walk for at least two weeks. Our son is shopping for us.

  18. Thomas Cunnane Says:

    Much appreciated! as always, I can’t count on you to identify some things I see but know nothing about! truly! stay well!


  19. Lynn Wolfrom Says:

    Thanks Carolyn! I love your blogs. They are so informative and give me so many ides for my own garden in Kennett Square. I am in an over 55 community so space is limited and you offer such valuable guidance. I miss your open shopping days. Lynn Wolfrom


  20. Page Morahan Says:

    Thank you for the photographs and useful descriptions, Carolyn. I want to look up edgeworthia – always looking for interest year round!

    And I certainly appreciate your dedicating the blog to your friend who is ill with covid19 and all our healthcare workers who are on the front lines.

  21. Patrizia Veneziani Says:

    Un post bellissimo Carolyn . Flowers in my soul which left a sunny trace. Too bad Rome is quite far as you , but I’ll never give up!
    Un abbraccio

  22. Theresa Higgins Says:

    I covet your winter blooming jasmine every time I visit your garden!

  23. laurie cousart Says:

    Welcome back! Have missed the blog. But, I have been perusing your excellent earlier postings about shrubs for shade and using those ideas as I plan for some changes in the garden.

    The garden is such solace for me in these times, i hope it brings peace to you and others.

    Chapel Hill, NC

    • So nice to hear from you Laurie. My son is still at UNCW in Wilmington. I know NC now has a 30 day stay at home order in place starting today. I hope everyone there will follow it. Compliance in PA was not always what one would hope for.

  24. Cynthia Cronin-Kardon Says:


    This is just what I needed!!! So beautiful. My Edgeworthia has been flowering and providing the most exquisite scent for about a month or so. My winter jasmine cascades over a wall and was blooming forever.
    I always look forward to your blogs. I look forward to them so much.

  25. Oh, you can grow such pretty things there. I would so much like to grow a nice star magnolia. There is one in the landscape, and we actually grew them on the farm for a while, but they are never quite happy here. Some of the old fashioned saucer magnolias do reasonably well here, but not the star magnolias. ‘Peggy Clarke’ is the only flowering apricot that I know of here, and even that is extremely rare. However, it seems to be happier here than the slightly more popular flowering cherries that I see mostly around Japantown in San Jose.

  26. Charlotte betancourt Says:

    Thank you Carolyn for these lovely photographs and helpful comments about each plant.
    Both the Edgeworthia and Mahonia japonica that I bought from you have bloomed beautifully this year. The Edgeworthia is a conversation piece in every season. Thank you for introducing me to it.

  27. Some beautiful scenes from the garden, the flowering apricot is fantastic and I wish they weren’t so hard to find around here. Glad to hear you’ll be blogging more, but the circumstances could be better.

  28. Judy Fogelsonger Says:

    Glad I caught this on Facebook as I have a new email since we last communicated!
    Loved visiting your garden, I believe almost 2 years ago!!
    Thank you!!

    • You need to update your email address with WordPress if you want to get notifications of blog posts. I can’t do it for you. Just go to the home page of my blog (click the banner at the top if you are not sure you are there) and subscribe on the right sidebar using your new email address—it’s the third thing down after Welcome and Site Stats.

  29. Hello Caroline… those photos are lovely. … So inspiring. Your grounds must be a wonderland all winter. I would enjoy seeing those trees and shrubs in the larger context of your garden for placement ideas, if possible.
    Would love to get a Peggy Clark and a non thorny red quince. Suggestions on where to purchase them? I live in Annapolis, md. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and beautiful gardens with us.

    • Showing the trees and shrubs in a larger context would involve many more photos in the post and for each photo that actually makes there are probably ten that don’t. You are asking for hours if not days more work. I don’t have the time. To find a source for the plants in the post, you will need to Goggle the botanical name to find mail order sources. I know nothing about nurseries in Annapolis.

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