Most gardens are without colorful flowers at this time of year, but that does not have to be the case in your garden if you plant some of these suggestions. Camellias are a well known subject for the garden, but for the most part, people are only accustomed to a very few types. C. sasanqua and the related sorts (C. heimalis, C. vernalis, etc.) are fall and winter blooming, but there are many others from which to choose to plant in your garden and they will provide lots of color. Among these are the already discussed fragrant hybrids, but the vast majority of varieties under C. japonica provide us with an almost unending assortment of flower types, sizes, and colors. Select from the early season bloomers which are blooming NOW. Among these are the rare and new ‘Toichi Domoto’ a formal light pink double with red flecks on each petal. Nuccio’s Bella Rosa is an exquisite red formal that is early and long season blooming. There are several early white singles and many early pink cvs. as well. Shin Akebono is a nice cup to flat shape single/very light semidouble in the blushest white on a plant of elegant habit. The leaves tend to be held many years and if you have a stem which is lightly branched, those leaves give a ribbon leaf effect to the shrub. This is mainly due to the plant habit, which is slightly weeping/pendulous. I fyou want this to show off in your garden, train it to a single leader and then let the branching form from higher in the canopy to allow the pendant branches to cascade.
Wintersweet(Chimonanthus praecox) has been blooming for a few weeks now and will continue to do so until late winter/early spring. Fragrance is legendary. Powerfully fragrant light yellow pendant blooms, most often with the inner petals tipped in maroon, are strongly and sweetly fragrant. I recommend planting this medium sized, easy care shrub near the house, by a much used entry or path so you can enjoy the fragrance as much as possible. It makes wonderful cut material for the vase as well! Something you will never be able to get from the florist.
Hellebores are beginning to show their first colorful blooms and they will continue to do so until mid spring. There has been much hybridizing work done with this group so we now have a wide array from which to choose! Singles, doubles, pure colors(white, pinks, reds, chartreuse, yellows, and bicolors) as well as single and double flowers. Additionally there are the very new upfacing bloomers which allow the viewer to see them from above, not sideways or from below as traditionally was the case. These are sturdy perennials for shade to part sun(full sun with ample water in a cooler climate or microclimate location).
Flowering quinces are old fashioned favorites and will soon be showing color in profusion. They take a few years to mature, and that is when the floral show really begins in a big way. These tough shrubs range from dwarfs to up to perhaps 6-8 or even 10 ft tall and wide. Prune to shape, control size. Better to think about mature dimensions (as with any plant) and allow for those ultimate sizes of height and width so pruning will be minimal when mature.
Reds, pinks, whites, salmon oranges, and variegated flowers are all to be had here. There are some very showy large flowered doubles available, but since they are new, will take a few years to become available in more quantity. They are also drought tolerant when well established and offer the dry landscape garden some vivid color during the cold months.
For a sheltered spot, try fairy primrose or cyclamen. These primroses have a light and airy quality and are delightful in containers, especially mixed plantings. Cyclamen now come in a wide range of sizes and colors/petal forms. Most commonly available now are the smaller strains which have lots of small showy flowers which are also often fragrant. Vivid colors from white, pink, red, and purples are available. Showier and also larger in plant size and flower are the florists types. These plants offer large flowers, often in bicolors, and there are also very showy fringed petal forms which are very choice. Addtionally, cyclamen have showy foliage, often silvery patterned to give additional interest. They make excellent pot plants. Early forsythias are now budding up nicely. I will have the fringed leaf form which is even interesting when not in bloom as it gives a feathery effect in the garden in leaf only. (it has deep serrated leaves which offer a feathery texture) These basic winter/early spring shrubs are so well known in cold winter climates, that they are not often planted in California gardens with mild winters. The variety Tremonia has the fringed leaves and is very rare and choice. Other hybridizing work has yielded dwarf compact shrub forms. There are some variegated leaf forms as well. Easy care, basic culture. Their only fault is that they become somewhat rangy if not pruned regularly and present sort of a floppy appearance…not an issue in an informal setting, or planted among other shrubs where that growth pattern offers interest, rather than an unkept appearance.
Iceland poppies offer great color, especially this year since it has been cold. They like this cold and need it to set full flowers in the buds. (if it is too warm, the buds form, but not the flowers within). In very mild areas with no frost, cinerarias offer brilliant colors in the blue range. These are stunning when presented in a bicolor flower(blue and white, purple and white) and the daisy flowers are borne in profuse clusters. Part shade, ample water, light fluffy organic soil will give excellent growth and bloom, but no hard frost, so protect the plants or use indoors as potted plants.