Tag Archives: cool season flowers

Early Spring Flowering Plants

 I look out my window and see deep pink ruffled flowers covering my Blireiana flowering plum.   It's one of my favorite early spring blooming plants and those fragrant blossoms are strong enough to scent my garden. It grows next to an Autumnalis flowering cherry that blooms nearly every month of the year. I'm not kidding. It's the energizer bunny of the flowering tree world.  We all look forward to the earliest flowers of the new season.  What else blooms in winter that you might want to have in your garden? Here are just a few suggestions.

One old fashioned shrub that figured prominently in many old gardens is forsythia. Deep golden-yellow flowers completely cover the bare stems in late winter and become the focal point of the landscape when in full bloom. The showy stems of this easy care shrub are great for cutting. Forsythias are native to eastern Asia but a chance discovery in Germany by a grower who specialized in breeding for the cut flower industry led to the especially vivid variety Kolgold in the 1800's. Forsythia has long been used in Chinese medicine. The flower petals contain powerful bacteria-fighting properties which make it an important dressing.

Hellebores are another winter blooming plant that with foliage that looks great, too. My double purple one has been blooming for well over a month now. I've got my eye on a variety called Golden Sunrise. Each plant is  different with variations of large, canary yellow flowers. Some are solid yellow but most have some degree of red veining and a red picotee edge. Some have a red starburst in the center. Hellebores bloom for six weeks or more and are deer and rabbit resistant. They are often flowering during the Christian season of Lent from which they get their common name, Lenten Rose. Use them for naturalizing in woodland areas. They are a low maintenance plant, will survive with little water and are disease and pest free.

What would a shade garden be without a bright orange clivia? Every year I look forward to their huge flower clusters to emerge from the dark green strappy leaves. Even in dark shade they will bloom and brighten the winter garden although they would do fine in morning sun. If you have a north facing window you can grow them as houseplants. Clivias are hardy to several degrees below freezing but mine, under an overhang, have survived temps of 23 degrees without damage.

Clivia breeders have produced gold and peach colored flowers also but I still like the standard orange and they didn't cost $599 like the plants I saw offered on the internet. I thought this price might have been a misprint but on further investigation I found another site offering the yellow Gloria clivia for a mere $950. I'll stick with my orange ones.

A beautiful vine that blooms in winter is Hardenbergia 'Happy Wanderer'. In the pea family, this evergreen vine looks like a small wisteria when in bloom.  Pinkish purple flowers cascade in clusters on twining stems that reach 12-16 feet long. It requires little water once established and is hardy to about 23 degrees. If you have an older, tangled plant you can rejuvenate it with hard pruning in early spring after flowering. Never prune in late summer or fall because you will cut off the wood that is going to bloom the following winter.

The last plant I couldn't live without is Fragrant Sarcococca.   The tiny flowers of this plant are easily overlooked but you can't miss their scent. If you have a problem spot in dry, deep shade give this plant a try. It's easy to grow, deer resistant and trouble free.

Sweet Peas & Cool Season Veggies

Fall is in the air – sort of. The sun is setting earlier each day but our days are still beautiful. The autumnal equinox on September 23rd marks the beginning of fall when day and night are of approximately equal length. Gardeners living in Minnesota and Maine are thinking about "battening down the hatches" for winter already. Us, we’re just starting our fall planting season. There are so many possibilities for fall and winter edibles as well as colorful flowers, berries and foliage. For the biggest show there’s no better time to plant than early fall.  Let the fun begin.

While most of the summer annuals and perennials will bloom until at least October, there are cool season varieties that come into their own as our nights cool and last through the winter.  Try  colorful combinations of snapdragon, pansies, violas, sweet alyssum, calendula, chrysanthemum paludosum, forget-me-not, Iceland and shirley poppies, ornamental kale and cabbage, primrose, stock or sweet peas.

Who doesn’t  love old-fashioned sweet peas? A small bouquet will perfume a room with a delicious scent. They remind me of my Aunt Ruth who grew them every year and let me pick a bunch each spring whenever I went to visit. There are many new varieties and colors these days but back then her sweet pea vines were covered with the classic mixed colors of violet, blue, pink, peach and white.

Sweet peas have been around for a long time and many different countries claim that they originated there. One story is that a monk, Father Cupani, first harvested them in the wild on an island off Sicily in 1695` and sent the seeds to the Netherlands. In the 1800’s, an Scottish nurseryman named Harry Eckford began hybridizing and introducing larger varieties in a wider range of colors where they became quite a sensation. The most famous and perhaps the most important use of this flower was the extensive genetics studies performed by Gregor Mendel. Since they self-pollinate, their characteristics such as height, color and petal form could easily be tracked. But whether they came from Ceylon- the modern day Sri Lanka, China or Sicily, heirloom sweet peas are as exquisite in the garden and they are in the vase.

I like to plant early blooming types of sweet peas in October or early November. These varieties flower in the shorter days of late winter. Winter Elegance and Early Multiflora are common early flowering types. Also plant some of the more fragrant spring flowering heirlooms and Spencer’s at the same time to extend your harvest time. My very favorite sweet pea with long stems for cutting and an intense fragrance is called April in Paris. Large ruffled blossoms are a soft primrose cream, tinted at the edges in dark lilac that deepens and increases with age. You can’t go wrong no matter what color or style sweet pea you choose. They are all beautiful.

Now that the weather has cooled, plant cool season veggie starts like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, spinach, brussels sprouts, bok choy, onions and leeks in soil enriched with 4-6" of compost as summer vegetable crops will have used up much of your soil’s nutrients. You can sow seeds of beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, arugula, mustard and peas directly in the ground.

This is also the time to start perennial flowers seeds so that they’ll  be mature enough to bloom next year. Happy Fall.

Winter containers for Birds

Outside my window there’s a feast going on. The gingko trees are clothed in bright yellow leaves right now but soon they will drop every leaf on almost the same day and cover the ground like carpeting.  It’s a feast for the eyes.   Hopping among the branches even as I write this is a tiny greyish-olive bird with a white eye ring looking for insects.  It’s either a kinglet or a vireo.  I wish I were a better backyard birder.  The Anna’s hummingbird is also here looking for food.  What plants provide food for winter birds and also give the garden color at the same time?

Why not plant some containers that look great and will supply food for your winged visitors?   Grevillea Canberra Gem is blooming now and is a hummingbird favorite.   Combine it with winter blooming annuals like primroses or pansies and violas.    It’s always amusing to me how much the mail order catalongs from the East Coast can command for a tiny primrose division and we here in California can find them plentiful and inexpensive. 

Mahonia or Oregon grape will be blooming soon and their yellow flowers  would look great with golden Iceland poppies. Many of their leaves are purplish or bronze now that the nights have gotten cold and are very colorful.  Hummingbirds favor their flowers and many songbirds eat the delicious berries.

Penstemon are a favorite garden perennial and bloom late in the year attracting hummingbirds.  Some are short-lived but the variety, Garnet, is an exception.  Combine it with white cyclamen for a traditional holiday look.

For those really dark places, fragrant sarcococca is perfect combined with red primroses and will be blooming very soon. You can smell their perfume from a long distance. Hellebores bloom in the winter, too, and offer texture in your containers.  A variegated osmanthus will hold up in even our harshest weather and would be a show stopper in a Chinese red container.  

Dwarf nandina is perfect in winter containers,  especially now that their foliage has taken on red and orange tints.  Combine them  with a grass like orange sedge or reddish bronze carex buchananii.

Mexican Bush sage pairs beautifully with the deep golden flowers of Mexican marigold.  Both of these perennial shrubs grow to 3 ft tall and as wide and bloom in winter.  Hummingbirds love bush sage and I’ve seen them bloom right through January unless we have a hard frost.

If you have room for a small evergreen tree in the garden, consider the . It is easy to grow and has year round interest. In the fall and winter, clusters of small white or pink urn-shaped flowers attract Anna’s hummingbirds. Fruit resembling strawberries ripen in the fall and attract other birds.

Plant a feast for your eyes and for our feathered friends, too.

Fall Planting ideas

It’s always exciting for me to see the first fall colors of the season. we may not have a show like they do in the the hardwood forests of the east coast but we’re still barbequeing and they’re not. If your garden cries out for a something that you can put a table and chairs under and still have room to play, consider a red maple. Autumn Blaze maples spread to 40 ft. wide and you’ll be enjoying their brilliant orange-red fall color long into the fall season. They need an occasional deep watering like a fruit tree but little pruning.

Take advantage or fall weather to plant cool season flowers.  October is a great month to plant as the plants will have time to become established and start flowering before winter sets in. You’ll be amazed at how much color your plants will produce when you start early. Good choices for this area include iceland poppy, snapdragon, chrysanthemum paludosum, calendula, stock, pansy, viola, primrose and cyclamen.



Looking for something new for the shade? Primroses are back in more brilliant shades than ever.  I  chuckle when I see the catalogs originating from the east coast offering these beauties for sale at prices befitting tulipmania.  Here English primroses are a cool season staple.  By planting these little jewels early you can enjoy months and months of blooms.

Primula Fantastique is a new cultivar with exquisite richly colored flowers feathered at each tip with a contrasting shade.  Super Nova and Rosanna are also new introductions that have to be seen to fully appreciate the brilliant additions they will make to your shady borders.  Add some new color to your garden.  You’ll be glad you did.