Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I don't really miss the British winter - well who would? But I do miss some the the beautiful plants, mainly shrubs that choose to flirt with their best displays in the winter. There are so many wonderful winter flowering species that I am always amazed that gardens aren't full of winter flowers. Most are very easy to grow, tolerate an amazing amount of cold and after a harsh frost will often re-bloom again as soon as the weather improves. Many also have a strong scent and some have interest at other times of the year. By comparison Palm Springs has relatively few winter flowering species. Now here are my top ten winter bloomers for the UK and similar temperate regions.

I have planted and grown many of these over the years and for those of you that visit University Park in Nottingham, most can be found in the winter garden next to the Millennium Garden.

Hamamelis mollis 'Pallida' - yellow witch hazel, a good reliable cultivar flowering in late winter with a bonus of fiery autumn colour.

Daphne bholua 'Janet Postil' - a good scented daphne that I only discovered in recent years. I bought one for the Uni before I left but don't know if it ever got planted
Jasminum nudiflorum - an old stock favourite - often badly pruned. Plant it at the top of a bank and let it grow naturally creating a cascade of bright green stems and yellow winter flowers.
Winter flowering heathers - cultivars of Erica carnea and Erica x darleyensis.  Many named hybrids which bloom from late autumn to springs. And unlike their summer flowering relatives the winter ones are tolerant of alkaline soils.

Mahonia x media - many different cultivars such as the well know 'Charity' that are all quite similar. Flowers from late autumn through to spring and the bonus of a strong perfume
Garrya elliptica - great for a north wall and blooms the whole winter

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' - this is the male form so no berries but the main display is the bright red winter buds. In late spring, these open to white flowers, a little plain after the red berries.

Chimonanthus praecox - probably my favorite winter shrub. I recall discovering it many years ago as a student at Writtle and cutting a small sprig for my room. The claw-like flowers are curious but the sweet perfume is beautiful.

Viburnum x bodnantense - good winter standby for January colour and scent. Several cultivars such as 'Dawn' and 'Deben'.
The last - not a shrub - Iris unguicularis although some of you may remember it as Iris stylosa before being renamed. This is an evergreen herbaceous plant that likes to be really hot, dry and baked at the base of a south wall. Nothing to look at in summer but worth tolerating for its winter blooms. Pick when in bud if you want them indoors and they will last a couple of days.

Back in Palm Springs I am struggling to name many plants that choose the winter as their main display season. There are of course those such as Bougainvillea and Lantana that bloom virtually all the year round. Here are just a few good winter ones.

Pyrus kawakamii - the so called evergreen pear, which it isn't - well at least not here. It drops its leaves just before Christmas and flowers in January. Doesn't look at all desert-like - just a small scruffy pear tree rather like a badly shaped 'Chanticleer'

Euphorbia milii - one of the tender succulent spurges

Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks of Fire' which colours up for winter  so not really a winter bloomer as such but colourful. I presume that this and the species above are both short day plants like the related poinsettia and so respond to the short winter daylength.

Senna artemesioides - good easy free flowering shrub if its left alone and not pruned

Strelitzia regina - the bird of paradise  - not sure that this is particularly winter specific but our plant seems to always flower in the winter and rest in the heat of summer. Our plant currently has 22 beautiful flower spikes.

And so although I don't wish myself back to the UK winter I do miss some of its floral benefits.

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