It’s the first month of the winter quarter and Christmas is looming. The days are short often cold, damp and dull so a few spots of colour will lighten our hearts at this depressing time in the gardening year. But is anything apart from winter pansies actually in flower? YES LOTS.
Autumn flowering Camellias like Yuletide with brilliant red fragrant single flowers and golden yellow centres and Camellia Fuji-no-mine with large double scented pure white blooms are flowering in December and January. They are good to grow in tubs in ericaceous soil on a sheltered patio that gets lots of sun. Daphne Bholua Darjeeling is another divinely fragrant plant that requires lime free soil. It produces small pinky white flowers from November throughout the winter months. Another lime soil hater is Witch Hazel Hamamelis Mollis with unusual spidery flowers along the bare branches. The flowers are scented so position near the door to enjoy the perfume when you go and come. The best yellow variety is Hamamelis Pallida, H. Jelena is coppery orange and H. Diane is red.
Iris Unguicularis the Algerian Iris is happy growing in lean and mean dry soils often at the base of a wall in a sunny place. The lavender blue delicately marked flowers are sweetly scented and start opening around Christmas time until late March. Cut some stems when in bud and bring them indoors to delicately perfume any room.
There are a couple of wall plants that are also in flower in early winter. Jasmine Nudiflorum is easy to grow either trained on wires or trellis on a wall or allowed to scramble down a bank. It is deciduous so loses its leaves in autumn exposing the green stems which then start to bear bright yellow star shaped flowers from December through to March. It grows well in sun or shade in well drained soil but will flower earlier if the wall is sheltered. Prune immediately after flowering has stopped in March by cutting the branches back to a strong bud or young lower branch. In older plants cut a quarter of the growth back to ground level each year to maintain prolific flowering. Clematis Cirrhosa Freckles is a delightful evergreen species clematis flowering from November through the winter months. It is easy to grow and does not suffer clematis wilt like the many hybrid varieties. The creamy nodding bell shaped flowers are beautifully speckled maroon red inside the cup. It thrives in rich humus soil so incorporate lots of compost when planting and shade the roots by planting a brightly coloured low growing evergreen shrub at the base like Euonymus. Another good variety is Clematis Cirrhosa Jingle Bells with creamy yellow nodding flowers which have a slight citrus scent. Both varieties produce attractive fluffy seed heads that you can use in Christmas flower arranging.
A useful winter flowering tree is Prunus Subhirtella Autumnalis. It has pale pink flowers scattered along its bare branches from November to March. Under plant with winter flowering heathers like Erica Carnea Springwood White or Springwood Pink and with snowdrops and early dwarf daffodils to enhance the effect in early spring.
There are two Viburnums also flowering in December the evergreen Viburnum Tinus and deciduous Viburnum Bodnantense. Viburnum Tinus Gwenllian has clusters of fragrant starry pinkish white flowers followed by blue black berries while Viburnum Bodnantense Dawn has pink highly perfumed flowers on bare stems from December to April.
Mahonia is another evergreen shrub with bright yellow flowers borne at the tip of each branch. The variety Winter Sun is just that really brightening any overcast winter days with cheerful clusters of Lily of the Valley scented flowers from November to March.
Chimonanthus Praecox Lutaea is an upright deciduous shrub with butter yellow amazingly fragrant flowers on bear stems from December to February. Lonicera Purpusii Winter Gem flowers at the same time on bare stems but has creamy white flowers of intense fragrance. Cut a few sprigs of either of these plants and the house smells gorgeous for days. Sarcoccoca Winter Gem The Christmas Box simply must be found a place in any garden. It is a small shiny leaf evergreen that starts producing small pure white highly perfumed flowers from November through the entire winter months. Grow in a tub and put next to the front door and then move away during the summer. It grows well in JI soil with extra compost.
Last but by no means least are Helleborus Niger the Christmas Rose. They like to be grown in partial shade in rich moisture retaining soil so dig in lots of compost when planting. Mulch and remove faded foliage as the flowers begin to appear to deter slugs or put down grit or pellets. Hellebores can be brought to flower earlier by putting a cloche over the plants in November.
We must not ignore the Winter Pansies with their individual marked little faces that are a joy to paint. The Winter Violas are even more colourful with many smaller flowers that seem less damaged by severe weather. The little cyclamen that are in the garden centres in autumn will also give lots of colour to tubs until the really cold weather after Christmas. So there we are as I said………….. YES LOTS