Your garden may be under snow, or in a state of total dormancy at this time of year, or perhaps basking in midsummer sunshine if you are in the southern hemisphere. Others will be enjoying the colourful stems, foliage and delicate flowers of the winter garden. In my garden mild weather through autumn and in the run up to Christmas has encouraged many plants to get ahead of themselves. When we get these weather conditions some plants seem to stick to the timetable, while later subjects, such as Primula vulgaris bloom early. I notice that many gardens post lists of plants in flower on Christmas day, therefore I went round my garden on Christmas morning to record what was blooming.
I thought you might like to add to my list of plants in flower over the next few days. Wherever you are I would love to know what is in flower in your garden right now. My mid-winter blooming shrubs and perennials are fairly modest – maybe yours are more exotic?
Mahonia japonica, with its lily-of-the-valley scented flowers usually starts to flower in late winter. This year it seems to be about a month early; its fragrance is already hanging on the cool air. This is my favourite mahonia. Those with showy bright-yellow flowerheads reliably bloom in late autumn and early winter; Mahonia japonica is later. Mine grows on a dry bank under a pine tree, where other shrubs and perennials struggle and it flowers when few other subjects are at their best.
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is also flowering early. There is no mistaking the arrival of the first flowers of this shrub, the fragrance is so powerful. The foliage is not as dark as it should be at the moment, but the shrubs are covered with buds. My soil is very light and well-drained and an application of slow-release fertiliser after flowering should restore that leaf colour. Commonly known as the Nepalese paper plant, Daphne bholua is a strong-growing shrub which benefits from some selective pruning of older stems when the flowers have faded.
Viburnum x bodnantense is a vigorous deciduous winter bloomer. I have reservations about this shrub and am always surprised by its popularity. The clusters of delicately fragrant flowers are lovely when they open on bare stems in mild winter weather. They often turn brown in freezing or excessively wet conditions and sometimes the old leaves hang around on the branches spoiling the effect. It is important to cut out a few of the old stems after flowering. Cut back to about 1ft or so above ground level, otherwise the shrub will become impossibly large. My Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’ is at its best right now.
The evergreen Viburnum tinus is a reliable winter flowering shrub with such a long flowering period it is impossible to say if it is early or late. I think this shrub does better on alkaline soils. Mine never bloom profusely but I wouldn’t be without its dark green foliage and structure.
My camellias are blooming more than a month early. This white flowering Camellia japonica (or Camellia x williamsii – not sure which) has already produced a number of perfect flowers. It is well shaded and sheltered by surrounding shrubs. These give some protection from frost and they shield it from the early rays of the sun which can shatter frozen buds. Granted camellias need acid soils, but they can be grown in pots if you have alkaline conditions – bear them in mind as part of your planting palette for shady situations.
Helleborus niger has been flowering in pots and in the open ground for several weeks. I grow a number of the Heuger varieties which are bred for their vigour and early flowering quality. I am always amazed at the purity of the flowers when they emerge from beneath the leaves. Helleborus x ericsmithii hybrids are also blooming well. These are early this year and add interest between deciduous shrubs in beds and borders in semi-shade. Their foliage is good as well as their flower power.
Euphorbia characias seeds freely in my garden, the offspring showing variation in flower quality and flowering time. The bracts are usually still tightly curled in midwinter, but this year some have already awaken adding a spring lime-green to the midwinter garden picture. Often recommended for shade this spurge is happier in an open position with adequate sunshine, on well-drained soil.
The foliage of the fall flowering Cyclamen hederefolium is now at its best: marbled in shades of deep green, sage and silver. Elsewhere the more rounded silver green leaves of Cyclamen coum are fully developed and a few sugar pink flowers are pushing through. These often start to appear in New Year showing that spring is on its way.
My winter flowering heathers are certainly ahead of the game. Erica carnea and Erica x darleyensis are in full flower, providing welcome pollen and nectar for bumblebees that venture out on warmer days at this time of year. Both these dwarf shrubs flower for a long period, grow on most soils in sun or semi-shade and are good for cutting.
So that’s my list – what about yours. Please share your New Year bloomers in the comments below.
Get FREE Gardening tips and ideas from our experts in your inbox.