With the exception of a couple of snow days, so far (touch wood) our winter has been wonderfully mild. This has prompted a wealth of flowering shrubs to add amazing colour to these dark, cloudy days.
Many folks have yet to discover the beauty winter flowering shrubs can bring to our gardens.
To me, a fragrant Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), blooming in mid-winter, is more special than a whole row of flowering plums in May.
Winter flowering shrubs provide that lift we need during those cold, grey days, and they bring a gentle reminder that spring is on its way. Let me unfold a chronological map of winter treasures that everyone can enjoy.
The star-like yellow blossoms of Jasmine nudiflorum are open now and will continue to flower until mid-March. I recently saw an artistic bouquet of these branches in someone’s home, and the old-fashioned charm of these flowers was a match for any spring bouquet.
In colder parts of the Lower Mainland, winter flowering Japanese cherry trees (Prunus Autumnalis) are rather fickle when it comes to early blossoms, but in Vancouver there is a row of them along Nanaimo Street north of First Avenue which actually starts flowering in November and continues almost non-stop until April. How many other trees do you know that tease you with colour for almost half the year?
I have mentioned deciduous winter flowering Viburnum Pink Dawn so many times, but it is still one of my winter favourites. Its fragrant clusters of tiny pink blossoms just never seem to quit.
It will throw out a few blossoms in fall, but from early February onward, more and more blossoms will open until this shrub is a mass of pink through to April. We too often overlook a distant cousin of Viburnum Pink Dawn, the evergreen Viburnum tinus Spring Bouquet. It is full of white blossoms now that look exceptional when contrasted with its bronze buds and steel blue berries.
I like Spring Bouquet because, if it is located in a protected, sunny location, it never seems to quit blooming. Its branches are nice to bring inside as cuts, and they make a great combination with fresh daffodils.
I have a great weakness for witch hazel, especially the fragrant yellow mollis. Cut a few branches from a vine for indoors, and your whole home will be filled with a most exotic perfume.
Although they don’t have a great perfume, the orange variety, Jelina and the red Diane are a must for the home garden. By the way, surround the red ones with Snowdrops, and you will have the makings of an award-winning combination.
One of the less known winter gems is the series of winter flowering Oregon Grape, or Mahonia.
The variety Winter Sun is in full bloom right now and is just as beautiful in sun or shade.
As the last leg of winter turns the corner, a whole host of winter-blooming shrubs celebrate its passing. Chimonanthus, or Wintersweet, will be in bloom soon, and its fragrant, light yellow/stained purple flowers are a delight few gardeners have enjoyed, probably because it is so hard to find.
I am very fond of Corylopsis pauciflora, or Buttercup Winter Hazel. It is not yet in bloom, but it looks so neat in any landscape situation. If you plant some purple Wanda primulas or miniature blue Iris reticulata around its base, you’ll create another great combination.
February daphne (Daphne mezereum) blooms faithfully for me each year after Valentine’s Day. Its perfume rates a “10”.
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.