Many of us who enjoy gardening at this time of year don’t especially like cold weather. But we do like winter, for what it brings. And that is a surprising array of flowering shrubs and trees that stand out through winter.
Surprising is probably an understatement as these flowers tend to open suddenly. One day a tree such as Okame cherry is quietly bare; the next, pretty pink blossoms start to open.
Fortunately, the Piedmont mostly has mild weather through the winter, allowing us the time to savor these blooms outdoors. While this is not the masses of bloom such as spring produces, it is still noticeable and enjoyable.
The leading lights in this lovely drama are, of course, pansies and the well-known camellias, which are beautiful, dependable and so varied that you could devote your entire landscape to these beauties. Tempting that may be, it would overlook some really fine plants.
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Some of the most popular ones advertise their seasonal beauty by having winter in the common name. This includes wintersweet and winter honeysuckle, both of which are good background plants with delicate flowers that are tempting to cut and bring indoors. Winter honeysuckle is not a vine, but a big shrub that is best planted in an out-of-the way spot, but close enough to notice when the small, white fragrant flowers emerge. Wintersweet grows quite large, possibly to 15 feet over many years, and bears flowers with a sweet to spicy scent from early winter.
Witch hazel is another great background plant that produces very fragrant, oddly shaped flowers that are typically yellow, orange or reddish orange on a plant that can be called either a large shrub or small tree about 8 feet tall. Flowers open in mid- to late winter, lasting until spring.
The early cherry trees, including Okame and Prunus mume, the Japanese flowering apricot, are so worthwhile and lovely for their early bloom. They are midsized ornamental trees that really stand out, especially at a time when other trees are still leafless. This is a sight that cannot be overstated for beauty and attracting attention.
Among perennials, certainly the best for winter bloom are the Lenten roses. A marvelous array of hybrids are in the marketplace, offering different colors. These are long-lasting flowers, with lovely flowers on low plants with nice, deep green foliage. They make great edging plants for flowerbeds or walkways in shade.
Q. What can I do with a Norfolk Island pine that spent the summer outdoors and is now 8 feet tall? It is too big to bring inside. Will it survive in the garage? I am now thinking of giving it away.
A. It may survive in the garage provided it gets some light through a window this winter and does not get hit by a very cold blast of air. If you have connections with a school or other institution, ask if it could have a home in the large hall with a high ceiling, where it can be seen and enjoyed for a long time.