2011 Winter Interest Plants

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume

On March 3, 7, and 13, my customers and I attended seminars on Snowdrops and Other Winter Interest Plants given by Charles Cresson at his garden, Hedgleigh Spring in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (US).  Charles is the instructor for the Longwood Gardens certificate course “Hardy Spring and Fall Bulbs” as well as the author of several gardening books.  He is also a frequent lecturer, most recently at the Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island and Rare Find Nursery in New Jersey for presentations on “Choosing Hardy Camellias for Spring and Fall”.

Charles Cresson, kneeling to point out plicate leaves on a snowdrop, to seminar attendees.

Charles trained at the Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley, in England and the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium, best known for its witch hazel introductions.    He has worked at Meadowbrook Farm, Winterthur, Nemours, and Chanticleer.  His grandfather built the house at Hedgleigh Spring in 1911 and created the garden over the course of 50 years.  Charles has gardened there for  more than 40 years.

Every time we viewed a new snowdrop, no matter how rare, Charles picked two flowers and passed them around so that we could closely examine the markings and experience the fragrance.  He then collected the flowers in a little vase for later comparison.

What a treat Charles’s seminars were.  Even though I attended all three sessions, I learned something new each time and came away with a deep admiration for Charles’s encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the depth of his plant collection, not to mention a wish list of plants for my own gardens.  I also appreciated how each plant was not just deposited in the garden but was carefully incorporated into the overall design.

The seminars began in the front garden viewing the hybrid witch hazel cultivars Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (dark orange) and ‘Moonlight’ (pale yellow) underplanted with snowdrops, winter aconite, and various perennials. Charles does not recommend ‘Moonlight’ because it holds its dead leaves.

It would be hard to name another garden with the wealth of unusual plants that Charles has found and nurtured to perfection over the years.  That being said I thought my customers who were unable to attend the seminars and my worldwide blog readers might like to see what we saw.  I have organized the plants by category below with commentary in the caption where relevant.

We crossed a stone bridge to view the meadow where snow crocus and common and giant snowdrops were massed to be succeeded by daffodils, camassia, and then summer and fall blooming flowers.

A narrow path skirts the pond, which is surrounded on all sides by rock gardens full of unusual plants.

The Bulbs

We saw so many rare and unusual bulbs that I can only include a sampling here.

A rare pale yellow form of winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis

The exquisite buds of the species crocus C. imperati ‘De Jager’

Masses of the rodent resistant and very early blooming snow crocus, Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’, shadowed by a magnificent Japanese maple.

The very early blooming daffodil Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

A very good form of winter blooming hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen coum

The reticulate iris I. histrioides ‘George’

There were large patches of spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum, throughout the garden.

The flower of spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum

We were privileged to see this semi-double form of spring snowflake,  which Charles has named  Leucojum vernum ‘Gertrude Wister’ and registered with the Dutch bulb authority.

The Snowdrops

If you read my blog, you know what a galanthophile I am so with supreme effort I have limited myself to just a few of the many snowdrops we saw.

Clockwise from upper left: G. elwesii var. monostichus, G. ikariae, ‘Jaquenetta’, ‘Straffan’, G. plicatus subsp. byzantinus, ‘Dionysus’

Galanthus ‘Brenda Troyle’, confused in the trade but still quite lovely

Galanthus plicatus subsp. byzantinus Cresson GardenThe elegant pleated leaves and plump flowers of Galanthus plicatus subsp. byzantinus

The beautiful shiny green leaves of Galanthus woronowii

There were drifts of Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, called the ‘desert island snowdrop’ because it is the one cultivar many galanthophiles would choose if they were limited to one.

The Perennials

A very rare perennial for shade Amur adonis, A. amurensis ‘Fukuju Kai’

Helleborus niger double form Cresson gardenA semi-double form of Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, which I have only seen at Hedgleigh Spring

The Algerian iris, I. unguicularis, blooming in early March with a beautiful fragrance

The Shrubs

Koehne holly, Ilex x koehneana, looking as fresh and beautiful as it did in the fall

Camellia japonica ‘Spring’s Promise’ was one of several very early spring-blooming camellias that we saw.

Grape holly, Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’

A highlight for me were the buds on this paperbush, Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’, which look like the tassels on Victorian cushions

Hybrid witch hazels, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ and ‘Moonlight’

I hope you have enjoyed your virtual seminar.  Please let me know in a comment/reply what your favorite winter interest plant is.


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: My first open house sale is Saturday, March 26, from 10 am to 3 pm, featuring hellebores and other winter and early spring blooming plants for shade (checks and cash only).  For directions and parking information, click here.

53 Responses to “2011 Winter Interest Plants”

  1. This was a wonderful tour and I liked that you mentioned that plants were incorporated into the design, an important thing to note. I do hope you take us back in summer also, it is a beautiful garden and you are lucky to have such a knowledgeable individual as Charles to host the seminar.

    • Donna, Thanks for giving me the chance to pursue the design point. In an interview I did with Charles for Horticulture he said he likes layers of plants from trees down to bulbs in a diversity of settings and degrees of formality “all put together with a good eye for composition. No matter how impressive the big picture , in a great garden, even the smallest vignette is a work of art. True beauty is in the details. [Gardeners can work towards this ideal] by not just collecting plants, but by grouping plants in communities that work together and achieve an aesthetic balance. You have to try a lot of plants to see which one works together in a specific spot.” I know many gardeners would not have the patience for this approach, but a garden designed this way is magnificent. Carolyn

  2. Laura Wysong Says:

    Dear Carolyn, beautiful photos and virtual tour, thank you! Here’s a question for you: I was just given a Blewburry Tart snowdrop in a pot as a door prize at a garden club monthly meeting. Now I don’t know what to do with it! I live in Ithaca, NY where the temperatures are still in the twenties sometimes. Should I keep the plant on our porch where it is cold but not as cold as outside? When can I put it in the ground, and where is the best place? Our soil is mostly heavy clay, very wet. Also, should I protect it from the deer? Thank you for your answers and all the best, Laura

    • Laura, You can keep the plant on your porch or even inside for a while if you want to enjoy the flower. However, I am assuming that this plant came from outside, and even if it didn’t, you can plant it outside. Snowdrops are not damaged by temperatures in the 20s–they love it. That’s what’s so great about them. Deer do not eat snowdrops. Plant it in part to deciduous shade in average soil and add organic matter. Carolyn

  3. Carolyn, those snowdrops are beautiful – but I am now beginning to see the charm of the paperbush. The one we saw together at Chanticleer was just coming into flower and I was not greatly drawn to it. But you’re right – those buds are fabulous!
    I’m just at the airport waiting to fly home from Philadelphia. Thanks again for letting me visit your beautiful garden and teaching me about hellebores at your seminar. I’ll be in touch once I’m home. Jill

    • Jill, The overall form of paperbush takes a little getting used to. Not sure where I am going to put mine. So fun to meet you in person all the way from Paris. I would like to know what Philadelphia sites you visited today. Have a safe flight. Carolyn

  4. What a joy to be able to walk along with you Carolyn! So many jewels within this amazing garden. I love the shots with masses of crocus and snowdrops and the paperbush tassels are stunning. What a great opportunity for you and your customers. Someday I want to visit Longwood Gardens! I would love to see this garden as well. Your photographs are just beautiful!

  5. Sounds like a great experience! I was surprised to know there are so many varieties of Snowdrops. I need to add them to my garden–that is becoming clear to me. Thanks for all your expertise. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour!

  6. ronniejt28 Says:

    What fabulous photographs. Thank you for introducing me to plants I have never seen before. I love the Japanese Apricot blossom, how intricate! It looks as though it has been enbroidered. As for the Spring Snowflake, I will start my search as I definately want some of that.

  7. gardeningasylum Says:

    Carolyn, What a fascinating location and subject! Your photos give me hope that one day my own witchy ‘Jelena’ will stop holding those leaves – it’s loaded with blooms that you really can’t see very well – after 8 years! I added leucojum last fall, very excited to see if mine come through anywhere near as nicely as in your photo.

    • ‘Jelena’ is not supposed to hold its dead leaves and Charles’s doesn’t. Maybe you were sold the wrong plant. There are over a hundred witch hazel cultivars I believe. Sounds like you planted the leucojum from bulbs. I would be very interested to know where they came from and if they work. Usually they do not. Carolyn

  8. what a magnificent garden tour…you are so lucky to live close enough to all this wonder!!

  9. Carolyn, this was wonderful. A cornucopia of plant porn. Your photos are fantastic and I’m drooling over that reticulated iris. Despite the warning about that witchhazel the combination of the orange with the chartreuse is eye catching.

    • Marguerite, That iris is my absolute favorite flower color. Although I have not had good luck with these irises in the past, I am going to give them another try this fall. Charles has pruned and trained the witch hazels for years so that they intertwine where they meet–it’s gorgeous. There are plenty of other light yellow witch hazels that don’t hold their dead leaves. Carolyn

  10. You have so many gorgeous blooms! Your photography is wonderful too. I loved the picture of the Japanese flowering apricot, and the snowdrops. Everything looks so lovely.

  11. Carolyn, Thanks for taking those of us who couldn’t be there along. So many plants to add to the wish list….

  12. Wow! What a wonderful opportunity! And I’m so glad you got to take pictures and shared with us. So many beautiful flowers. I’ve never seen anything like that paperbush!

  13. Sharon Halpin Says:

    Many thanks for this virtual seminar, Carolyn! You outdid yourself on these stunning photos. I could not possibly pick a favorite winter interest plant. I’ve tried to grow those reticulata irises, too, but haven’t had long-lived success with them. Your photo really captures the silken texture of the paperbush buds and you’re right — they do resemble tassels! I love the spring snowflake, Leucojum vernum, and especially adore Charles’ semi-double ‘Gertrude Wister.’ I’ve never seen L. vernum for sale. The summer snowflake, L. aestivum, and its hybrid ‘Gravetye Giant’ are far more widely available, I think.

  14. I was quite taken with G. ‘S. Arnott’, this being the first time I have seen a whole patch together, not just one singly.

    Also the Algerian iris… love fragrance, especially now.

    Thank you for sharing this great location.

  15. Thanks for composing this virtual seminar. I enjoyed coming along.

  16. I very much appreciated the virtual tour of this beautiful garden and I identified a shrub that husband bought last fall that has begun to flower: Grape Holly.

    He brought it home, with no tag, just here is a bush. So I planted it in a container to see what would happened. This spring, a cascade of lovely yellow flowers.

  17. Thank you for sharing these awesome photos! I was so intrigued by the many types of Galanthus… I didnt realize there were so many! I want each one of them!! I cant wait to begin taking photos of flowers again! I have to wait a bit longer here in WI. looking forward to more posts from you 🙂

  18. PS I hope to keep my posts as interesting and hopefully informative as well!
    Great job.. i really like yours!

    • Gabrielle, I am glad you think my posts are interesting and informative. Unlike most bloggers, I have opted for posting once a week so that I can put a lot of work into each post. They are meant to be more like magazine articles. Also the blog is primarily for my nursery customers, and I don’t think they want to hear from me more than weekly. Carolyn

  19. Sigh…thanks so much for the peek into Charles’ world! I enjoyed the plant tour. The walk around the pond looks magical! Favorite winter interest plant? That’s a hard question. There are so many. I do love my Burford holly, laden with red berries. I might have said nandina, but you know the story behind that!

    • Deb, If your holly looks anything like Charles’s, I am envious. I recently discovered that the reason I get no berries on my holly trees is because the plant I was sold as the male is female. I will have to remedy that this spring. Glad you passed up the nandina. Carolyn

  20. Thoroughly enjoyed the garden tour, I have stopped trying to decide on favourite plants as I seem to like all of them these days. Enthusiasm for gardening and plants rubs off on all of us when people such as Charles Cresson and yourself get involved.

  21. IT sounds like you enjoyed the seminars and brought home some ideas. I am glad you mentioned that the Moonbeam witch hazel keeps its leaves, as it is a plant I have been considering for a while.

  22. There are literally thousands of snowflakes around me and dozens in my yard, but I have NEVER ever seen a double one. How cool. Learn something new every day.

  23. Excellently glorious trip Carolyn, and thank you very much. How wonderful it is to be guided and lectured by the authority like Charles. All the flowers are elegant especially my always ‘acquired favorite’, snowdrops. However, that paper bush you showed is really exceptional, most especially that is my first sight of that plant! It looks so alien yet very beautiful.

  24. How great for you to get a hands on seminar in winter plants from such an expert! This is the kind of learning I always love to do. Those plants are like wow. I’ve never even heard of half of the cultivars and they all look so rare. The witch hazels are gorgeous.

  25. P.S. Forgot to say thanks about the info on ‘Ruby Giant’. I bought a collection of the snow crocus and this one was late. I had no idea about it being late. Thanks! Have a good weekend.

  26. Sorry Carolyn! As the Hippeastrum gets misnamed amaryllis, so I get confused between snowflakes and snowdrops ;~) Have tucked the Galanthus into its place now.
    Can I have a paperbush please? Those silver furred buds are covetable!

    • Diana, There is no reason you should have included snowdrops other than in the north we are all obsessed with them. I ordered a paperbush to plant this spring. It has a rather odd habit, but I have to have those buds, which appear in fall, to feel and admire all winter. Carolyn

  27. Carolyn: I wanted to let you (and any others who may have followed this thread this far down) that I have identified a source for Leucojum vernum, and that a catalogue that lists this bulb can be obtained by emailing dcbdaffodil@verizon.net

    Best regards,


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