December GBBD: Past Prime

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  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Every year I make a Christmas wreath using all natural materials from my property.

It is the middle of the month and time to participate in Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day hosted by May Dreams Gardens where gardeners from all over the world publish photos of what’s blooming in their gardens.  I participate because it is fun and educational for me to identify what plants make my gardens shine at different times of the year.  I also hope that my customers will get some ideas for plants to add to their own gardens to extend their season well into late fall.

My garden is located in Bryn Mawr (outside Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, U.S., in zone 6B.

I used berries from this native winterberry holly, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, to make the wreath.  On December 7, the robins came and cleaned off all the berries.

Last month was still prime time in my gardens, but now with hard frosts and generally colder weather, my gardens are past their prime.  The show goes on though with the focus shifted from the garden as a whole to individual plants peaking between November 15 and December 15 (I do not take all my photos on December 15).  This means that they bloom now (or are still blooming), have ornamental fruit, or feature exceptional foliage or fall color during this period.

Let’s start with flowers:

The large and vigorous fall-blooming snowdrop ‘Potter’s Prelude’ is in full bloom through this entire period.  Mine is surrounded by the marbled purple foliage of ‘Frosted Violet’ coralbells, Heuchera villosa ‘Frosted Violet’.  For more on fall-blooming snowdrops, click here.

Over the years, I have planted hundreds of giant snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii, and in the process have acquired plants that bloom in the fall instead of January when this species normally blooms.

I am always raving about the long bloom time of  ‘Shell Pink’ lamium so I thought you might like to see a photo of it in full bloom in December.  For more on lamium as a wintergreen groundcover, click here.

The buds on my paperbush, Edgeworthia chrysantha, have gotten large enough to show their beautiful silvery color and will remain ornamental until they start to open in March.

‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, does not seem to be bothered by hard frosts.

Hellebores are one of the primary contributors to flowers during the winter months:

The spent flower heads of ‘Josef Lemper’ Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’, which has been blooming since early October, seem more ornamental when everything else has gone by.  Buds are forming at the base for the next wave of bloom.

Since November 15, another Helleborus dumetorum (no common name) has put out fresh foliage and covered itself in flowers.

The lighter chartreuse buds are forming on bearsfoot hellebore, H. foetidus, which will remain ornamental through May.

‘Jacob’ Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Jacob’, is covered with buds just starting to open.

This photo might not look very exciting, but I am thrilled to see buds on my rare double Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Double Fantasy’.  In all my years of collecting hellebores, I have only seen a double Christmas rose once in a garden.  Now I will be offering blooming plants to my customers in my 2012 snowdrop catalogue.

This is what ‘Double Fantasy’ will look like when it’s open.

My fall-blooming camellias are a mainstay of my garden right now.  The first three pictured below are Ackerman hybrids, which I profiled in Fall-Blooming Camellias Part 1:

This is the last flower on Camellia x ‘Winter’s Darling’.

Camellia x ‘Elaine Lee’ still has a few buds left .

Camellia x ‘Winter’s Joy’ has been flowering since October and is still covered with buds.

Fall-blooming Camellia oleifera is no longer covered with flowers but still continues to produce blooms when the weather warms up.

I was very lucky to receive as a gift this fully hardy, red-flowered Camellia japonica from Korea.  It has not yet been introduced for sale.  For more information on and photos of camellias, including this one, click here and here.

If you are just in it for flowers, then you can stop here because the last few plants rely on leaves to make their contribution.  However, foliage is very important for filling out the late fall garden, and I wanted to give you a few ideas:

Although they have dropped now, dwarf fothergilla, F. gardenii, holds its gorgeous fall leaves way beyond November 15.  For more information on this outstanding native shrub, click here.

Another woody with late fall color is ‘Shishigashira’ Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’.

‘Magic Carpet’ spiraea, S. japonica ‘Magic Carpet’, is still displaying some of its gorgeous fall color right now.

‘Albury Purple’ St. John’s wort, Hypericum androsaemum ‘Albury Purple’, remains fully clothed in plum-colored foliage.

This is the first year that I have grown ‘Cool Splash’ southern bush honeysuckle, Lonicera sessifolia ‘Cool Splash’, but I am amazed to find that it looks like this right now.  For more information on this great native shrub, click here.

I have over 20 kinds of pulmonaria or lungwort in my garden providing me with beautiful flowers from February to April, but I appreciate them almost as much for their pristine foliage through early winter.

‘Diana Clare’ lungwort, Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’

Both native ‘Bronze Wave’ coralbells, Heuchera villosa ‘Bronze Wave’, and fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. herifolium, will look like this all winter.

My post, More Flowering Wintergreen Ground Covers of Shade, included several photos of Italian arum cultivars, which are great winter interest plants.  I won’t repeat those plants here but show you a seedling that appeared among my arum.  The leaves are more pointy and narrow than the species and the markings go beyond veining to cover the leaf.

If you would like to look at my photos all year round, please consider buying my 2012 calendar, available worldwide, and free ground shipping with the proper code.  For details, click here.

Enjoy the last few days of fall,  Carolyn

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.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

60 Responses to “December GBBD: Past Prime”

  1. Wow… so much color! Of course, camelias aren’t doable here, but I’ve often considered the Red Sprite and never gotten around to them… amazingly beautiful… thanks for sharing how amzing they really are! I love your wreathe! Merry Christmas to you… Larry

  2. You have so much that is interesting in your garden at the moment, leaves, berries, flowers, a joy to see, no one would think it was December.

    • Pauline, If you looked at the garden as a whole you would know it is December. I have planted the areas around the paths to the front and back door with an eye to keeping the garden going in winter–almost all the flowering plants in the post are there. Carolyn

  3. Still so much to see in your garden Carolyn, just a few Roses hanging on over here. Cant wait to show you the new Hellebores in our garden which hopefully will flower in Spring.

  4. What a great wreath… I sooo miss floral designing, although this time of year between pine sap and lots of wiring, my hands certainly don’t. Thanks for the little snowflurry on your blog, hard to believe I am missing it…

    • Deborah, I cheat a little. I buy the form with the fir boughs attached at Produce Junction for $5. Then I collect the other materials from my garden and hot glue them on. I was especially happy with the results this year. I was sad last year when it stopped snowing on my blog on January 4. Carolyn

  5. Did’nt know there were so many varieties of Lungwort. Love that white one. Beautiful Christmas wreath.

  6. Love that red Camellia!! Let us know if you get any for sale, will you?

  7. I cannot believe how many things are in bloom over there! Here in Seattle we have various shades of mush but I did manage to make a nice wreath at least.

  8. nwphillygardner Says:

    I went to a great lecture by Public Garden designer Lynden Miller who said she starts her garden design considering winter interest, both evergreen & deciduous plantings that have winter appeal (bark, berries or dried seed/flower heads). I suppose those of us lamenting completely bland spaces in our beds should take a moment to consider what additions or changes could enliven the winter garden.

    • Eric, For me the winter garden is more important than the garden at any other season. Although I like snow, winter’s cold and gray weather gets me down and the winter flowers in the garden are the one spark of hope that it will be over soon. Although it is always a good idea to plan your garden to achieve desired results, for winter interest you can just buy the appropriate plants and stick them in in places you walk by in winter. Carolyn

  9. Carolyn – Is this the first year that your snowdrops are blooming in winter, because it’s unusually mild ?

    • B-a-g, No. If you collect various species and cultivars of snowdrops you can have them blooming from October through April. Galanthus reginae-olgae blooms here (always) from the middle of October to the middle of November. Galanthus elwesii var. monstichus ‘Potter’s Prelude’ blooms (always) from mid November into the beginning of January. Some random G. elwesii plants in my garden also start in November while others can start in late February. Please see my article on fall-blooming snowdrops. Thanks for giving me a chance to explain this. Carolyn

  10. Carolyn,
    I am interested in what you say about your some of Galanthus elwesii blooming in the fall as I seem to have one fall bloomer myself this year. A bonus for sure.

    You have a beautiful garden. I bet you are excited about the double Helleborus niger! Wonderful find. Is there ever a point in January where your garden reaches a frozen solid state? Mine is frozen after evening temps in the teens this week.

    • Julie, The ground will freeze after we have lower daytime temperatures but for now it is still going up into the 40s and even 50s during the day. The lowest night time temperature was 27 degrees two nights this week. Hellebores are not really held back by the freezing temperatures. They just wait for the snow to melt or the air to warm and the blooms stand up again. I just noticed today that some of my white hybrid hellebores have flowers that are all the way up, showing color, and ready to open. See my reply to B-a-g about fall-blooming snowdrops. This is normal and has nothing to do with the weather. Carolyn

  11. Carolyn so many of the same plants we both have bloom so differently…yours are still going and mine are done with one hard freeze…I would love to have fall flowering snowdrops and hellebore …mine all bloom in spring…

    • Donna, I think you probably know, but in case anyone else is confused, the flowering hellebores, snowdrops, and camellias are all special cultivars bred to bloom in the fall. They are not plants blooming out of season because of weather conditions. Your weather is much colder than mine so I can understand that the mallow and lamium would be gone where you are. The mallow took a hit last night, but there are still buds to open. Carolyn

  12. I love your hellebores. I do wish I could grow these. And I didn’t realize that there were different varieties of snowdrops that bloomed at different times! How wonderful! Your wreath is very pretty. Enjoyed seeing all your blooms, and your berries, too!

    • Holley, Your blog says you are in zone 8. A quick internet search on hellebores shows that both Plant Delights Nursery and the Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder say that all hellebores are good in zone 8 and many go to zone 9. Is there another reason you can’t grow them? Carolyn

  13. I too have most of my plants slumbering for the season. I really do miss PA for the more temperate climate. A few stragglers are hanging in after our lake effect snow, but nothing like the beauties you have showing at this time of year. Your wreath is very beautiful. The one I made for my house is just a simple Grand Fir to match the tree out front. Nothing fancy or creative about it.

  14. I would love to visit your garden! No matter the time of year, it seems there is always so much to see. Your posts need to be perused at leisure, like a good garden magazine. First, I love your wreath! Second, how thrilling to see such a beautiful variant of the arum! Third, it really is getting dangerous for me (and my budget) to read your blog. Now I must find a southern bush honeysuckle. ‘Cool Splash’ would be a welcome addition to my garden!

    • Deb, The primary focus of my blog is my customers so I post only once a week and make each post substantial—like an on line shade gardening magazine. Having garden bloggers join in is inspiring. I was going through the availability list for my wholesale shrub supplier when I noticed they were listing this native bush honeysuckle. When I visited them I saw dozens of this beautifully variegated plant in full bloom with attractive yellow flowers. However, I never expected the leaves to be ornamental in mid-December when almost every other deciduous woody has shed its leaves. Carolyn

  15. Chris Ciarrocchi Says:

    Hi Carolyn…. The Zebrina hollyhock is beautiful! Do you offer that one for sale? The hollyhock I got 2 summers ago didn’t reseed itself 😦 …. so I am looking for another one.
    ps I guess one of these days I should go outside and enjoy all the beautiful hellebores that I now have 🙂

    Your wreath is beautiful..
    Merry Christmas!

    • Chris, Thanks for commenting. As I am always saying common names are confusing. Common hollyhocks (genus Alcea) are biennials like foxgloves. When the plant blooms and drops seeds, it will make seedlings that will then bloom the following year (and the mother plant will die). Contrary to popular belief, biennials bloom every year if the pattern is not interrupted, usually by weeding out the seedlings. ‘Zebrina’ (genus Malva) is a perennial, although it can be short-lived. It is just called hollyhock mallow because it looks like a hollyhock. Both plants are in the mallow family. I did sell ‘Zebrina’ once in the past but then decided it required too much sun for Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. Ask me to look for this for you in the spring. Get out there and look at your hellebores. Some of my regular hybrids are starting to bloom, which is very unusual. I am thinking I should make and sell my wreaths next year. Merry Christmas, Carolyn

  16. I am surprised your snowdrops are flowering already, in Europe I’ve never seen any before January. Unlike you I like to take all my photos on one day for GBBD as I find it helps me understand better exactly when plants are performing well. Your informative post covers flowers, foliage and seedheads which again I divided into three posts. I love your wreath, I like to use all natural materials from the garden too, yours is beautifully made. Christina

    • Christina, In the UK, there are several selected varieties of snowdrops that bloom in the fall. I believe one is called ‘Three Ships’ and another is an early blooming G. elwesii (maybe hyemalis group). Anyway they are around but rare and pricey. Carolyn

  17. Carolyn, I must visit your garden sometime. You never fail to amaze me with the variety of blooms and interesting foliage. Your wreath is gorgeous and inspires me to stop procrastinating on making one.

    My Christmas rose hellebore is budding, too. I like its quiet beauty.
    Re: the robins. I saw the most lovely sight this week – robins dancing in and out of the branches of a twenty-foot tall holly in the neighbor’s yard. They were feasting joyously on the berries. It was like seeing a living Christmas tree.

    • Sheila, It is very easy to make a wreath if you buy the form with greens and use a hot glue gun. The robins flocking to eat the berries on my winterberry hollies and ‘winter King’ hawthorn are a joyous sight. But I few it with mixed emotions because I miss the berries. Carolyn

  18. Carloyn your wreath is gorgeous! I LOVE the hollyhock mallow, the camellias are always a firm favourite of mine and your foliage plants … how wonderful! You’ve given me lots of ideas (again!) for my winter garden.

    • Christine, I guess the mallow is a winner. You inspired me to go check it because it went down to 23 degrees the other night. The flowers were frozen but the buds are still viable. Such a funny plant with a mind of its own, appearing wherever it wants in my garden, looking sort of tropical, but withstanding freezes. Carolyn

  19. The Mallow is spectacular! And your Hellebores are always amazing to see. What a beautiful wreath you created! Thanks for all the great suggestions.

  20. So many beautiful plants! I love your Fotergilla…I’m so trying to find a spot for one in my garden next year 🙂

  21. I applaud all of your efforts. People who think that winter interest is limited to shadows in the snow need to see this post. Happy GBBD!

    • Les, I have had people tell me that they are not interested in winter interest plants because they want to be done with their gardens in fall. However, as you know. winter interest doesn’t require any work in the garden in winter. It just requires planting the appropriate plants in spring and fall in winter visible locations. It is actually the best of gardening: all enjoyment of the plants and no work. Carolyn

  22. I’m always delighted to see how much you have going on in your garden at all times of year. What an inspiration. although I must admit I think I loved your wreath best of all, great job putting that together.

  23. I love this post maybe because I am striving to have more winter interest plants in my garden. I am in Putnam County, NY, I wonder if those hellebores would bloom regulary up my way at this time of year. Helleborus dumetorum is something I might add to my garden, love the green flowered ones. I also want to add some of the niger ones-jacob is very nice. I recently made one bed that can be viewed from part of the house that is my “winter garden”. I have planted several witch hazels, a cornus mas and winter hazel too. Under them all I have planted hellebores and now some snowdrops. My H.x hybridus bloom in March (I do have one white one in bloom now but that is out of season for me).
    Love the wreath too with that pop of red berries. Merry Christmas Carolyn.

    • Terryk, I am not sure what zone you are in, but if H. niger grows for you than ‘Josef Lemper’ and ‘Jacob’ should bloom early for you. I think the best green-flowered species hellebore is green hellebore, Helleborus viridis. Your bed sound lovely. Interesting that your white hybrid hellebores are blooming out of season like mine. Happy Holidays, Carolyn

  24. I’m zone 6 Carolyn and I just ordered ‘Joseph’ and ‘Jacob’ (they have theirs in bloom now too) so I will keep my fingers crossed. I have to research viridis and see if it is suited to my garden.

  25. If you do, I would order…

  26. Maybe I will.

  27. Beautiful wreath of natural materials!!

  28. Your garden is so beautiful all year long. I love the wreath. I wish I had a few fall bloomers left. It great to be able to vicariously enjoy your flowers.

  29. Carolyn, this post, as many others, is one big WOW! The wreath is wonderful, I mean it!

  30. Carolyn, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog this year! Maybe in 2011 I will be able to blog more often. Because of family challenges, my energy has been directed elsewhere. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  31. You have so much interest in your garden so late in the season, thank you for the tour, I enjoyed it very much. The berries on the holly are simply amazing, and the camellias are lovely. I enjoyed looking at the foliage too. Merry Christmas.

  32. Great article. Reading your blog is such an interesting and inspiring way to learn about plants. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  33. Great blog so enjoyed all your photos specially helabores.

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