2012 Winter Interest Plants

Camellia japonica ‘Berenice Boddy’ in full bloom in February in the Cresson garden.

On Friday, February 24, and Monday, February 27, Charles Cresson presented the second annual Winter Interest Plant Seminars for my customers in his beautiful garden located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, US.  I did a post on the seminars last year (to read it click here) and thought I had covered the topic.  However, our very warm winter meant that many different plants were in bloom so I want to show you what we saw.


The weather was cold and rainy on Friday, but participants didn’t let it stop them from enjoying Charles’s presentation.

Monday was warm and sunny which allowed more time for dawdling in the garden.  The snowdrops were a big hit.

The attention to detail in Charles’s garden is amazing.  I thought I would show you some of the “hardscape” features, many of which Charles built himself:


The rock garden with hellebores, Algerian iris, and spring-blooming hardy cyclamen.

Garden shed with the original green roof.

Winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, photo by seminar participant Lucretia Robbins.

Charles has a spectacular collection of winter-blooming shrubs, many of which are fragrant.  We were all surprised by which one was the most fragrant at that time of year:


Chinese holly, Ilex cornuta, retains its berries through the winter.



Sweetbox, Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’, adds the additional feature of ornamental stems to sweetbox’s many desirable attributes.



Bodnant viburnum, V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’, is very fragrant.



Flower of Bodnant viburnum


The adult form of English ivy, Hedera helix ‘Poetica Arborea’, produces beautiful berries but is also considered very invasive.


Camellia x ‘April Tryst’ is blooming early.


I like the male flowers of Japanese skimmia, S. japonica, as much as the berries on the female plants.



Winter daphne, D. odora, is one of my favorite shrubs because of its wonderful fragrance, excellent habit, evergreen leaves, and lovely flowers.


And the winner is….  Yes, Japanese mahonia, M. japonica, was the most fragrant plant in Charles’s garden even with all the excellent competition above.

Winter-blooming herbaceous perennials were also well represented:

The pink flowers and evergreen leaves of heath, Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey’.

Evergreen heart leaf ginger, Asarum virginicum

Fragrant Algerian iris, I. unguicularis, was a big hit.

Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, photo Lucretia Robbins

A gorgeous anemone-flowered (ruffle around the center of the flower) hybrid hellebore—my favorite type of hellebore flower.

The most evergreen hellebore of them all, bearsfoot hellebore, H. foetidus.

Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Winter’s Song’

Hybrid hellebore with the very robust and extremely fragrant snowdrop ‘Brenda Troyle’.

The tour included a wonderful selection of winter-blooming bulbs, including choice snowdrop cultivars.  Here are just a few:

Seeing this large patch of the very fragrant snowdop ‘S. Arnott’ sent participants back to add it to their purchases for the day.

Spring-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. coum

The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, multiplies quickly and looks great when massed.

Evergreen leaves of fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium

A single bulb of a rare yellow-flowered cultivar of the species snowdrop, G. woronowii, just sold for $1,145 on UK eBay.

A silver-leafed form of spring-blooming hardy cyclamen.

The species snowdrop Galanthus plicatus has been in cultivation since the 16th century and comes from Russia and Turkey.  It has beautiful leaves with a unique folded (explicative) pattern.

For all of you who couldn’t actually attend Charles’s seminars, I hope you have enjoyed your virtual tour.

Carolyn

Facebook:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens now has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post.  You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Nursery Happenings: The 2012 Hellebore Seminars are sold out.  To view the 2012 Snowdrop Catalogue, click here.  Snowdrops are still available for pick  up at the nursery, but mail order is closed.

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52 Responses to “2012 Winter Interest Plants”

  1. Many thanks for taking us on a virtual tour of Charles’ garden – what a wonderful selection of fantastic plants. Especially loved the anamone centred hellebore, silver leaved cyclamen and G. woronowii. I have G woronowii here and it is seeding around nicely, I will be keeping a watchful eye on all my new seedlings in future!!

  2. This is just what I needed. Looking at my garden to see where I need to add more winter interest. What a great selection! I love all the winter blooming plants amongst the rocks.

  3. Thanks for another excellent post. I particularly enjoyed the photos of the Cresson garden… so many interesting plants that start each gardening season off in such a marvelous way and the hardscape touches are particularly interesting to see as well.

    As you know I am particularly enamored by the cyclamens and searched for many hours to find a source for a few purpurescens which are quite hardy here to purchase.

    A friend just sent me a comment he found on a site relating to VanDusen gardens in B.C. which surprised me…

    “– Believe it or not, there are a few ecologist types in Victoria who do consider Cyclamen to be a threat to some native ecosystems. I won’t waste space trying to convince you why (unless you or anyone else is curious), but appreciate if you could point me to the folks (a stewardship group maybe?) who are ripping them up in parks.”

    I suppose there may be good science behind this, but it did come as a surprise. Larry

  4. What a great post! I bet that seminar was fantastic! I didn’t realize just how many plants had winter blooms. Nice to see them all in one post. And I enjoyed seeing the hardscape, too. Lots of ideas here.

  5. I was surprised to see Iris unguicularis planted with hellebores and cyclamen. I thought this iris was a sun lover and that it was best cultivated where it could be kept fairly dry in summer. Granted, most of what I’ve read about this iris from US sources comes from the Pacific NW where summers are naturally dry. I’d be curious to know what you might advise about how best to site Algerian iris in the mid-Atlantic region.

    • Klaus, I don’t have Algerian iris in my garden so I am not speaking from personal experience. However, Charles Cresson’s irises are sited at the edge of his rock garden, which has been amended to be well-drained, and face south but are overhung with trees so it is part shade. Carolyn

  6. I loved visiting again Carolyn…those hardscapes are beautiful and all the flowers in February…lovely

  7. Thanks for sharing photos of your visit to Charles’s garden.

    It looks like the gardens I saw in Englad in February. I love winter interest/blooming plants. I am not sure all of those would be hardy here in my garden but I would love to add the Japanese skimmia and the mahonia. I have added viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ to my garden last fall but no blooms yet.

  8. What a wonderful garden and full of lovely blooms and hardscape ideas. Winter design is so important and this topic is important to many of your readers.

    • Donna, About 20 years ago I started focusing on adding winter-blooming plants to my garden, mostly perennials. For the last five years I have been focusing on shrubs that add winter interest. As you know, there is no reason why we can’t enjoy our gardens all year round. You can even see good structure under the snow. Carolyn

  9. What a lot of winter-flowering plants. I particularly like the Erica ,and the unusual colour of Hellebore Winter’s Song, what an appropriate name.

  10. Algerian iris – that’s what it is!! I saw some in my Mum’s garden in England when I visited last month but didn’t recognize it. Thanks!

  11. I’m swooning over all those blooms and wishing I could have smelled every one of them! Thanks for sharing this class tour.

  12. Goodness, this makes me realize just how devoid of flowers my garden is at the moment. I love the Skimmia blooms, and I’ve never seen a Hedera with so many beautiful berries!

    • Clare, Winter really is a great time for gardening. You don’t want to see an English ivy with this many berries because each one could potentially make an invasive ivy plant. Fun to see it some where else though, and the berries are a great color. Carolyn

  13. I love gardens or large areas of gardens devoted to winter interest planting. When I designed gardens in the UK I often made the front garden for winter interest so it was seen by returning owners, visitors and passers by; when perhaps they wouldn’t venture outside to look at the back garden. In summer they wanted to be outside but in the privacy of their back garden and the front garden would jsut look after itself. Great post, my favourite perfumed shrub for winter is Lonicera fragrantissima – it flowers for most of the winter and the scent drifts accross the garden. christina

  14. That looks like a great garden on several levels. I am still amazed and glad to see that camellias live there.

    • Les, The great thing about Charles’s many camellias is that they are very old and have been through our zonal lows in the early 1990s so we know they will survive. They gave me the courage to plant mine. I wish you could visit Charles’s garden because you would take some amazing photographs there. Carolyn

  15. A thoroughly enjoyable look around Charles garden. Just the thing to rekindle my interest after a not so very bad Winter. More flowers have opened on my yellow lady Hellebore, looking as they should do this time. Carolyn, have you heard of this new Magnolia Fairy Magnolia Blush, seems like this one may be very hardy.
    http://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/shrubs/magnolia-fairy-magnolia-blush-=-micjur01/classid.2000017453/

    • Alistair, Glad you enjoyed the Cresson garden and that ‘Yellow Lady’ is performing. I had not heard of ‘Fairy Magnolia Blush’—awkward name. Evidently it is part of the genus Michelia, which has been reclassified as Magnolia. According to the American grower who is distributing it (website here), it is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11, which are very warm zones south of here. I would do a lot more research before I tried it if I were you in your conditions in Scotland. Carolyn

      • Time I got Magnolias out of my head Carolyn. Definitely not the Winter to blame, pretty sure its with the lack of heat in Summer.

  16. So many beauties! I remember the related post from last year, too. The spring-blooming Cyclamen are incredible. I’ve been meaning to start some here–I just need to find the best ones for my garden. Thanks for the thorough description and tour. Simply lovely!

  17. How lovely to see all these winter blooming plants. Many of the choices have quite an English feel to them – or at least are things I would expect to see in the UK in flower at this time of year (although I am surprised to see that English ivy is invasive for you).
    The question of which plant was most fragrant was interesting. I would have guessed the Christmas box [sweetbox] which can be almost overpowering in England, and seems to drift a long way from the plant, or the daphne odora, one of my very favourite shrubs. Wish I could have been there. It’s 82F today in Delhi and definitely not time for winter-flowering plants!

    • Jill, You are right that the garden has an English feel. Charles Cresson trained at RHS Garden Wisley in England and has a very English style of gardening. The fact that the Mahonia japonica was the most fragrant was a surprise (not to Charles) but I had never seen one before. Carolyn

      • Really? Wow. They are very common in the UK, to the point of being overplanted. We have two in our small back garden in England. One of the joys of blogging is finding new perspectives on plants – English ivy as invasive; mahonia japonica as a new plant to an expert nursery owner; dry, reluctant winter aconite as vast sheets of ground cover….

      • Jill, I have never really focused on mahonias because the most common type here, M. aquifolium, never appealed to me. It always looks sick. Charles has been studying mahonias, has lots of different kinds, and thinks M. japonica has the best fragrance. I may break down and buy it. English ivy is very invasive in the mid-Atlantic. I don’t even have it but I am constantly removing seedlings and plants from my garden. Carolyn

  18. I’m loving the highlights of the hardscape. My hardscape was already here when I bought the house and recently I have been seriously thinking about pulling up the patio and making it a)small and b)more natural looking/less Home Depot. I vacillate… it is really well installed, and very nice, I shouldn’t complain, but still…its just not me.

  19. His hardscape features are SO wonderful!! I like that feature in a garden probably as much as the plants. I have never heard of Algerian Iris. It is very beautiful and fragrant too? It’s on my wish list!

  20. One of the things I love about all these early blooming plants is their wonderful scent. When we lived in a warmer climate sweetbox and viburnum were two of my favourites. thanks for the wonderful tour.

  21. It’s amazing to see how much is already in bloom. I love irises, but I. unguicularis is one I hadn’t heard of before. I can see why it was a big hit — early spring blooms, that gorgeous blue color, and fragrance to boot! Even with all the flowers in bloom, I think some of the hardscape elements were my favorite features in this garden.

    • Jean, For me it is the whole package–the plants and the setting—that make Charles Cresson’s garden so special. Hard for readers to see this because I am not very good with big landscape shots so there are no sweeping photos. Maybe you can visit again and I will take you there. Carolyn

  22. I would have been there in the rain, too! I love all the snowdrops; they really are lovely planted en masse.The cyclamen also are wonderful! I am thinking of adding more winter daphne to my garden, risking planting them in the ground, as I have just one in a pot now, which I love. If I can find the perfect, well drained spot!

  23. That’s quite the collection! Also, when I opened this post I saw your camellia at the top just as a ‘Pink Perfection’ bloom decided to fall off the bouquet sitting on the table next to me. They never do like to be indoors! Kind of like me…

  24. Thanks for the tour. Can’t believe the price for a single bulb. Makes me think of tulip mania. I’m embarrassed that even though I have a mahonia shrub in bloom in the back of the garden, I never realized it’s fragrant… And I thought I paid attention to detail in the garden!

  25. I love Charles’ garden…so beautiful and tended so well with those small but impressive touches. You have given me many ideas for things to add to my garden for winter interest. The hard part will be to choose…

  26. Joy Hockman Says:

    Have you posted a 2012 catalog?

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