There is always some kind of flower to be found in the garden in every month of the year even throughout winter. When it is cold, sunless and wet the winter flowers just lie dormant, but as soon as we get a couple of sunny days they take their chance and out comes the flowers. Yellow flowered jasmine carries on like that from late autumn till the end of winter. This is also the time for winter flowering viburnums, mahonias, some daphnes, chimonanthus and hammamelis.
However it is the early flowering bulbs, such as snowdrops and aconites that give us the biggest mass displays of colour, and the hellebores at this time of year are also many people’s favourites. All of these plants are very winter hardy and are often seen rising into flower above a carpet of snow. They signal the end to winter weather with the promise that spring is not too far away. It is always a good idea to plan the garden design so that these early flowers can be seen from the comfort of a warm room.
Every garden, no matter how small should have a drift of snowdrops. They are very easy to grow, multiply quickly and very accommodating as they are quite happy to grow under large deciduous shrubs. They enjoy a deciduous woodland setting with dappled sunlight or shade and if the soil dries out in summer it will help to ripen off the dormant bulbs. They will spread by seed scattered by birds but also by dividing up mature clumps and replanting them while still growing but just after flowering, so we don’t spoil the display. Snowdrops are perennials, so although they die down at the end of spring, they will emerge again every year.
There are many large gardens noted for their Snowdrop Festivals where you can find them in massive drifts. Cambo Estate near Kingsbarns in Fife is always well worth a visit with over 300 different Galanthus species and holding National Collection status.
This is the plant to use if you want to establish a golden yellow carpet of flowers in February and March. Winter aconites are known botanically as Eranthis hyemalis. They are very similar to snowdrops in their use and growing conditions, but are better in the sun or dappled sunlight to open up the flowers fully. They spread by seed or dividing up established clumps immediately after flowering. They also like a rich moist woodland soil that is free draining and are quite happy on an alkaline soil. To help establish a good drift collect the seed after flowering before it disperses and just scatter it onto the soil surface and rake it in. The following February it will produce one seed leaf then the following year it will produce a larger mature leaf. It is in its third year before the flowers appear. Be careful when handling this plant and seeds as it is poisonous.
These are also known as the Christmas rose and the Lenten rose and are always very popular. The flowers appear in late winter and spring and come in pinks, mauves, white and spotted colours.
Although the hellebore is a herbaceous perennial, it often remains evergreen, but it is better to remove the older leaves after flowering otherwise the foliage clump can grow too tall and hide the flowers the following year.
Hellebores like a rich moist, but free draining, woodland soil in shade or partial shade with some shelter from strong winds.
They can be propagated by digging up and dividing mature clumps after flowering or in the autumn.
You can also propagate by seed, but germination can be quite slow, so patience is required as you might have to wait more than one year. Home saved seed will not come true to type, but you may well get the next best variety.
Plant of the week
Daphne odora is not a tall shrub, only reaching about three feet after many years, but the flowers produced in late winter to early spring are so scented that you will enjoy and always remember this plant. The scented flowers are pale pink to white with carmine buds. This Daphne is evergreen and prefers a rich moist limey soil in a sheltered woodland garden. It will grow in sun or partial shade, but in Scotland it would be better with a sunny aspect. The plant has a stringy root system that does not transplant easily and hates disturbance, so it can present quite a challenge.