January 27, 2021 JC Williams
It is nearly the end of January, the sun is shining, and the ground is covered in a heavy layer of frost. Gardeners all over Canada have long since put their gardens to bed and are now dreaming of what to grow and plant once the warmer months return. For those of us in Vancouver and the surrounding areas, winter, at times, is often just an extension of Autumn, peppered with a few days of snow that make driving in the city chaotic. January for me is a month to reflect on what needs to be done in the upcoming months; it’s a time to reimagine what my outdoor space will look like in August. It is the perfect time to address what worked well last year, what did not work so well, and to make plans for soil improvements. I do all of this not from the comfort of home, but while out walking the neighborhood. This is where I get my inspiration. “How might this be,” one may ask, “what is inspiring about the dead of winter?” Well, the answer is simple, winter blooming flowers.
As a gal who hails from the very wintry east coast, from a town of all rocks and two trees, the concept of winter blooming flowers was very foreign. I remember moving to Vancouver one January, it was the warmest winter I have experienced to date. With every corner I turned, something was in bloom; I was starstruck by the beauty. I purposely walked down the same street every day, just so I could see the scarlet rhododendron in full bloom. I must have walked every street in the 5-mile radius of my home. I was determined to soak in as much of this magic as possible, knowing one day soon I would return to battling snowdrifts and trying to find my way out the front door. It has been 12 years, and I am still walking the streets in January hunting out all the blooming flowers and learning their names, discovering what has the best perfume. Vancouver winters, albeit awful to some, became my muse.
Winter flowers and evergreens are key players, they are the structure or ‘bones’ of a garden. They elevate a garden from seasonal to year-round. An added bonus is that most winter-flowering plants have the gift of fragrance; this is how they attract pollinators. Another way to have year-round interest is to leave perennials and grasses till spring to cut back. This provides shelter and food for the beneficial insects and critters. When covered in frost they take on a new persona, sparkling in the sparse rays of sunshine.
My favorite winter plant is Sarcococca, (Image 1) aka Himalayan Sweet Box, available in multiple varieties, which blooms several times throughout the year with delicate white or pink, heavily-scented flowers that smell divine. Coming in at close second is Viburnum x bodnantense “Dawn.” (Image 2) This winter-hardy shrub boasts heavenly-scented clusters of tiny pink flowers on bare stems. If you are lucky enough to cross paths with this beauty during heavy frost, take a moment and think about how incredible nature is, even during the coldest and darkest days of winter. There are so many winter-flowering plants to list, so put on your warm winter clothes, hit the streets and see what is blooming in your neighbourhood. Be inspired, or at least have a wee chuckle to yourself that you’re not shoveling 6 ft of snow; instead you’re smelling the flowers.
Image 1: Sarcococca humilis, Image courtesy of J. Williams 2021
Image 2: Viburnum x bodnantense “Dawn” image courtesy of J. Williams 2021