Winter Flowers

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Contents

Introduction

I have always tended to be unorthodox in life, and one aspect of this is that I like my garden, especially the part most visible to outsiders, to be as different as possible from normal. One way I do this is by attempting to grow apparently tropical plants, which is dicussed on another page. Another way is to try to have as many flowers as possible blooming in the depths of winter, when most British gardens are at their most dull.

The separate page on my tiniest garden just discusses what I have actually tried and am considering doing. Here I discuss more generally the concepts involved and provide links to other sites dealing with the same subject. I will, as far as I can, also discuss some plants that I have tried, heard of or seen, and which seem possibly suitable for the purpose.

With very few exceptions, the plants which will flower in the open in a British winter seem to be confined almost entirely to just two groups, shrubs and those loosely considered as bulbs (including corms, tubers and some rhizotamous plants). These two groups are therefore dealt with in the following two sections, followed by the few others.

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Shrubs

Jasminum nudiflorum
I put the winter jasmine first because I consider it the best winter flower available. Its prime advantage is its reliability. It usually begins flowering in November (I noticed the first flowers open for the 1997-8 winter, on 6th October!) and continues to late March. This photo (162,506 bytes) shows it on 22nd December 1997.It loses many open flowers when snow covers it, but quickly recovers afterwards. It is a scrambler, the long flexible branches needing to be supported by tying to wires, usually along a fence or wall. Alternatively it can be trained up the inside of an obelisk, as I have done, so the side shoots hang out like a fountain, green in summer and bright yellow in winter. It could probably also be allowed to trail along the ground by planting at the top of a slope, but I have not tried this method.

The stems remain green for their first year, matching the small glossy dark green narrow leaves. The leaves fall in autumn, growing again as the last flowers fade in spring. I find that every stem that touches the ground quickly takes root, so if allowed to do so it would soon form a great thicket, but it is not dense enough to suppress weeds so I would not recommend allowing it to do so. This could be a problem with growing it on a slope.

The flowers only appear on new growth, so it performs best if it is pruned hard immediately after flowering. It then appreciates feeding with a balanced fertiliser and a thick mulch to conserve summer moisture and suppress weeds. New stems can grow ten feet or more in a year on well established plants.

It seems to be happy in almost any location. I have grown it successfully against a dark fence where it received no direct sun at all, dried out in summer and became waterlogged in winter. I have grown it at least as well in a raised bed in full sun. To show off its flowers to best effect, it is probably an advantage to grow it with a dark background such as a fence or a tall evergreen (as I have NOT managed with mine shown in the photo mentioned above).I do not know of any pests or diseases to which it is particularly vulnerable. Every garden should have at least one.

For the rest, temporarily, just a list of genuses and species (some of which I am not particularly keen on), in the hope this may help someone. I will fill in much more descriptive information as time allows:

Daphne
Camellia japonica
Hamamelis
Lonicera fragrantissima
Lonicera x purpusii Sarcococca
Erica carnea
Erica curvifolia
Erica x darleyensis
Erica erigena
Erica (several other species)
Chimomanthes fragrans
Prunus subhirtella "Autumnalis"
Viburnum tinus
Viburnum x bodnantense
Viburnum foetens
Viburnum grandiflorum
Arbutus x andrachnoides
Arctostaphylos glandulosa
Arctostaphylos manzanita
Azara integrifolia
Azara microphylla
Garrya

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Bulbs, corms, tubers & rhizomes

Initially, just a list of genuses (some of which I am not particularly keen on), in the hope this may help someone. I will fill in much more descriptive information as time allows, so some sections will slowly grow as I add information to them (as irises have just done):

Iris reticulata
This is the nominal species of a group of small bulbous irises. Like others in the group it grows about 4 inches high at flowering time and suffers one major handicap - after flowering members of this group tend to split, forming a larger number of small bulbs which then take several years before they are big enough to flower again. The colour of this species varies from pale to deep violet blue or reddish purple, with a raised yellow central stripe on each fall.

Iris danfordiae
This is a member of the reticulata group mentioned above and suffers severely from the same problem, so flowering in the second and third years after planting is almost unknown. It is a little taller (6 inches) and bears two inch yellow flowers.

Iris unguicularis
According to the books this rhizotamous iris flowers any time from late autumn to early spring. In the two years I have had mine it has produced most of its flowers in mid-spring, much too late for my purpose, but did produce one flower a few days before Christmas 1996. No doubt it is dependent on the previous summer weather, the treatment it has received and how long it has been established. I had hoped to show a photo here, but it is one of those flowers that does a complete colour change to pink in photographs - when I solve that problem I will include the picture - I do have a few ideas, but advice would be welcome.

It is an evergreen, with grass-like leaves about two feet long. The flowers are two-three inches across, pale lavender to deep violet with a central yellow stripe on the falls. It is fully hardy in Britain, but a white flowered variety is more tender.

Sub-species cretensis is only four inches tall with the standard part of the flowers violet and the falls white or yellow with violet veins and tips. This is one I shall probably try if I can find it.

Asphodelus acaulis
Crocus
Cyclamen coum
Eranthis
Galanthus
Narcissus
Tulipa

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Others

Helleborus niger
Helleborus orientalis
Primula
Viola odorata
Viola x wittrockiana

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