I sense I’m a bit of defensive when writing about mid-winter flowers in my garden. Somehow, I feel slightly apologetic that northwestern Virginia doesn’t suffer Arctic temperatures and is just mild enough that a few hardy souls are able to eek out sporadic blooms through the eight weeks that is the worst of our winter. I don’t pretend to understand the psychology of it, but even residents of the deep South are quick to assure that they have “real” winters. A few days of cold are exaggerated to pretend that wherever they are is as cold as areas a few states to the north.
Last winter’s extremely mild temperatures convinced me that I could be content without much cold at all. The winter was more typical of two states to the south, but with just enough spells of cold to satisfy plants that require a number of cooling days to flower. For the first time there were flowers in the garden every day through the winter, and so also every day of the year.
I’ve made an effort in recent years to plant winter flowering plants to shorten this dreary season, and in cold temperatures these often bloom for extended periods. The flowers of Winter Sun’ mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) are little bothered by cold, and in fact consistently cold weather prolongs the flowering from mid November into January. A week into January the yellow blooms are only slightly past their peak, so I expect that partially shaded plants will show color for another couple weeks.
A year ago the late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei, above) began to bloom by the middle of January, and checking it today there seems no possibility that it will again this year. It is showing a bit of color, but not enough to figure that it will burst into flower any time soon. With typical January temperatures it should begin to bloom near the end of February, though it seems a bit ahead of schedule.
Yesterday, I saw a few scattered flowers on winter jasmines (Jasmine nudilforum, above) in the neighborhood, but mine are showing only a hint of yellow. A warm up next week will probably push it into bloom, and then it will flower into March. Unfortunately, the jasmine is planted along the edge of one the garden ponds, and tucked beside a wide spreading edgeworthia, so it is not readily seen.
A year ago (or perhaps it was two), I planted a large Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, below) that was labeled as common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). It didn’t flower when it was supposed to (November), so I was delighted to identify it as Vernal witch hazel when it flowered in January. The flowers of vernal or common witch hazels are considerably smaller and unremarkable by comparison to the late winter flowering hybrids, but any bloom in January is a bonus.
A year ago the flowers of the witch hazel were a muted yellow, best described as a rusty yellow if there is such a thing. The first flowers have opened in early January, and they are a bit yellower, though still not to compare with wonderful hybrid ‘Arnold Promise’ that is a month away from flowering. With only the few blooms, there is no fragrance yet, but as more buds open the vernal witch hazel can noticed from across the garden.
A few of the hybrid camellias that are more shaded didn’t flower with the others in November, and now the buds are swelling and a few flowers with edges that have been frost damaged are partially open. With a week of warm temperatures a few more flowers might open, but since the flowers are easily injured by cold I don’t expect much from the camellias in January.
The yellow-green flowering hellebores are a bit ahead of schedule for early January (above), but a year ago they were in full bloom by now. In most winters there are a few flowers by early February, with most late in the month. The leaves remain lush and full, but foliage is usually damaged by persistent freezes and is best cut to the ground so that flowers are more easily seen. It would be a shame to miss even a single bloom.