Greetings From the Winter Garden! – 0112

By: Kathy Cropp

This is the time of year that the garden dreamers and planners look at seed catalogs, new plant introductions, and the lists that were created last year so holes in our gardens can be filled in.

Those dreamers and planners have even more to choose from with the changes in horticulture over the years.  We have more plant knowledge, access to a larger variety of plants and our growing seasons have been lengthened by the breeding of plants that can grow in zones unknown to them before. This has given people the chance to move into a three and four season garden. After a lot of research about our garden and searching for those plants that are a good fit for us, we have found that every fall and winter we can be rewarded with beautiful blooms and other winter interests in our garden.

This month we want to introduce you to some of those winter blooming plants and to encourage you to check out the areas in your own garden where some of these beauties can grow. Just remember when it comes to any plant decisions make sure it is the right plant for the right place.

A good starting place is with one of my favorite shrubs, the Edgeworthia Chrysantha. It has a common name, but it varies so much across the country that it is easiest to find it by its Latin name. This shrub can grow to about 8’ by 8’, in sun or partial sun.  It has green elliptical leaves all summer but in the fall those leaves fall off and it gets small white bell- shaped flowers that open in late winter with yellow clusters and an incredible fragrance. It is a good shrub for any season.

There is also a winter-blooming Rhododendron called Christmas Cheer. It takes a few years to be established before it blooms, but from the pictures and from other growers I think the wait will be worth it. Like most Rhododendrons it needs a more acidic soil and definitely shade from any hot afternoon sun.

Of course, you have some great choices with the fall, winter, and spring blooming Camellias (C. japonica/C. sasanqua).  The flowers are so diverse and they can cover the shrub with hundreds of small to mid-sized blossoms. They not only range in color from white to pink to red but also from single, semi-double, and double blooms.

Another tree to consider is the (Acer palmatum) Japanese Maple or ‘Sango Kaku’. Its common name is the Coral Bark Maple and its lovely red bark is striking in the winter landscape. This is actually a tree that offers four season interest with its spring, summer, and fall leaf color. It makes a great specimen choice where it can get a lot of attention in your garden.

A plant that is growing more and more popular is the Hellebore (Helleborus) or the name you may recognize is the Lenten Rose. This plant is being hybridized by growers so you are getting so many color choices as well as various flower styles in singles or doubles. This plant can start blooming in December and last until the hot weather of May or June. The blooms can be red, pink, white, cream and even purple. There is one that was introduced last year and is called ‘Grape Galaxy’. It was introduced by breeder Chris Hansen of Great Garden Plants. (  We also have some wonderful Hellebore breeders close by, Dick and Judith Tyler of Pine Knot Nursery.

Another favorite choice is the (Hamamelis spp. or Hamamelis virginiana) ‘Witch Hazel’. The flowers on this shrub can actually tolerate the cold, harsh conditions of a winter day. The bright firecracker looking blooms look so cheerful and encouraging on a gray winter day. The blooms remind you that spring is coming.  Witch Hazel flourishes in full sun, moist, well-drained rich, organic soil and it’s well worth researching to see if the plant will fit well in your space.

The myriad of choices go on from there with Yellow- and Red-twigged Dogwoods, winter-blooming Irises, Daffodils, Heaths, Heathers, Daphnes and Azaleas just to name a few that work well in our Zone 7. We recommend two books, Wonders of the Winter Landscape by Vincent A. Simeone and Winter Blooming Shrubs by Michael W. Buffin. Both are great resources as you start to find ways to enjoy your garden all year round.