Most perennial winter plants are dormant in winter and start shooting out of the ground in spring, so the ones that do flower in winter are eye-catching. The following provide an exciting glimpse of what can be grown in the winter garden, when many plants are resting.
Helleborus – This is an important genus from the gardener’s point of view, with many desirable plants, all with nodding flowers and handsome, more or less evergreen leaves. They are indispensable in the winter garden. All Hellebores thrive in the shade of deciduous trees and shrubs and will even tolerate heavy shade next to a wall. They are easy to grow in any fertile, well-drained soil in sun or shade. All are poisonous.
H. argutifolius is Corsican hellebore that tolerates drier conditions than most other members of the genus. The firm, jade-green leaves, which have toothed leaflets, are attractive throughout the year. The clusters of apple-green, cup-shaped flowers appear in late winter and last until early spring.
H. foetidus. Bear’s foot or stinking hellebore is a dramatic species, which makes a clump of dark-green leaves. Strong stems carrying many bell-shaped, apple-green flowers appear in mid-winter to mid-spring. It looks good with snowdrops.
H. niger. The Christmas rose is one of the prettiest and most desirable of the hellebores, but unfortunately, it is also one of the trickiest to grow. It has dark-green, basal, leathery leaves and large, glistening, cup-shaped white flowers in early winter garden. The flowers are sometimes flushed with pink, with greenish-white centres, ageing to pinkish-white. It is slow to establish and needs fertile, sticky soil that does not dry out.
H. orientalis. The Lenten rose, an Eastern Mediterranean species, is one of the easiest hellebores to grow and is also one of the most variable species. The flowers, which appear from late winter into spring, can be white, yellowish-cream, dusky-pink, clear glowing red or plum-purple. All are flushed green inside and out. The leaves are also handsome: firm and with serrated edges, and in shades of green, paler leaves being associated with paler flower colours.
Ophiopogon – the species, Ophiopogon planiscapus is rarely grown: it is a grass-like plant with dull, deep-green leaves and small. bell-shaped, pale pinkish-purple summer flowers, and produces small black berries in autumn. The plant spreads slowly by stolons. For the most impact, grow it in gravel or in containers. It is especially effective in a Japanese-style planting.
Phormium – Originally from New Zealand, phormiums look exotic but are frost hardy. Being evergreen, they add interest throughout the year. P. tenax “Rainbow Queen” has a wide range of colours with its sword-like leaves ranging from pink and lemon through orange and bronze. It requires sun and moist soil.
Enjoy your perennial winter plants!