Now the leaves are off the trees, and frost and snow are regular occurrences it would seem that winter has started. However in the garden not all the plants have gone dormant. We might not be getting the impact of massed flowers, but it is great to see the late autumn and winter flowers appear on those very hardy plants.
Then indoors we can still enjoy flowering pop plants popular for the Christmas and winter market.
Some we can grow ourselves, but others are bought in from garden centres already starting to flower.
The yellow flowered winter jasmine is always very reliable and makes an excellent climber bursting into flower all winter whenever we get a run of sunny days. It can grow on any wall or fence facing any direction, though I find it most profuse on a south facing fence with more sunshine.
Both Viburnum bodnantes Dawn and Viburnum fragrans continue to flower in early winter when a few days of sunny weather opens up the sweetly scented pink flowers.
Summer flowering fuchsias such as Swingtime and the hardy outdoor Mrs Popple and Snowcap are continuing to flower even after several days of light frosts. Swingtime is only half hardy and growing in a tub so it will soon be coming into the greenhouse to dry off and over winter, but the others are quite mature, hardy and settled into the garden. They may die back a wee bit, but come spring they burst back into life.
The pink flowering Nerine bowdenii are at their best in mid autumn, but my small clump is continuing to flower as we go into winter. They like a poor well drained soil in a sunny position. Bulbs should be planted with the tops at soil level, but give them a mulch in the first year to protect them from frost. Once established, leave them alone as they prefer to form dense clumps for best flowering.
The Christmas market is popular for house plants as gifts so we are usually spoiled for choice.
Bowls of prepared scented hyacinths are always favourite and nearly everyone gets a poinsettia at some time, but the phalaenopsis orchid is fast becoming the popular up market choice for living rooms, kitchens and bathroom as long as the light levels are good, but no direct sunshine for these rain forest exotics. Our favourite at this time of year has always been the zygocactus or Christmas cactus flowering in late November to mid December in a wide range of colours. It spends most of its life kept dry in a sunny windowsill, but when buds start to appear in autumn it gets watered and looked after while flowering. After flowering, stop watering as it needs a rest for about four months. Once it wants to grow again in spring start watering then give it some feeding to encourage good growth. However by mid summer it needs a rest again to build up strength for flowering in winter.
Amaryllis, the hippeastrum is another plant with a demanding regime if you want repeat flowering every year. Fresh new bulbs can be potted up from autumn to mid winter and will flower about three months later. New bulbs will already have a flower bulb ready to emerge in the first year. Plant the bulbs in ordinary compost in pots with the top of the bulb above soil level. The flower should appear before the leaves, but sometimes they all come together. Keep them in a warm sunny room near or on the window sill. After flowering keep them growing and give them feeding to encourage strong growth. Towards the end of summer stop watering to dry off the plant so the bulb can rest and form a flower in its dormant stage. However they prefer to flower when completely pot bound so often don’t give much flowers in the second year as they are still growing at the expense of flowers. By the third year you should have a flower pot with several large bulbs and a completely root bound plant. It will now be very happy and should give you several flower spikes.
Another couple of excellent plants to continue flowering before Christmas is impatiens, the Busy Lizzie and geraniums. Cuttings from beds and hanging baskets can be taken at the end of summer and root very easily. Pot these up and grow them on to flower in a few weeks time.
Plant of the week
Blue orchid is the latest flower to hit the headlines and demand for this plant has been huge as it is the very first blue colour in an orchid. Apart from delphiniums, meconopsis, pansies and a selection of other plants, blue flowers are not all that common. Breeders and growers would love to get a true blue rose, hydrangea or tulip, and have now turned their attention to the phalaenopsis orchid.
This is one of the most popular and easy to grow orchids.
However this rich blue orchid colour is not natural, it is created by injecting dye into the flower stem and will only last for one year. The orchid will revert to white the following year. The technique is patented and the dye is not available to the public.