Next Winter, I’m growing color

>> Thursday, March 13, 2008

Color in winter. Sounds like a nice change to the usual white, brown, black, and grey. After seeing this all winter I’m planning on adding some plants that actually produce color in the snow.

One of my favorite flowers is Iris, so naturally, I thought I would start here. After consulting the mother of all search engines, Google, I find that Iris reticulata is the earliest of all Iris, blooming in January in some gardens. Great, might be what I’m looking for.

It’s a beautiful blue, shorter than all the other Iris at 5”-6” tall, but that’s okay as long as its colorful, and it blooms it winter. But does it actually bloom in the snow? Despite what some reports say, I only found this one photo of it in snow. I searched through ten pages of photos on Flickr to find this one, thanks to Green Destiny. I am not told what zone the plant was grown in or when it bloomed but since there is snow there is hope that I can have some color in my part of the world.

This Iris goes by several names: Dwarf Wild Iris, Rockgarden Iris, and Netted Iris.

According to Paghat’s Garden, “Iris reticulata blooms late winter or early spring, in shades of blue & purple. In some gardens they bloom as early as January, but for us, this wild natural form begins flowering at the start of the second week of February & is done by mid-March”. Paghat, for those of you who don’t know, is Paghat the Ratgirl of Puget Sound in “old Charlestown” overlooking Sinclair Inlet Washington State. Paghat’s garden is USDA zone 8 and I am USDA zone 5 or 6 (I still haven’t gotten a definitive answer). I’m not sure how useful this information will be for me, so I think I will keep searching.

Here’s another dwarf Iris, Iris danfordiae. Wouldn’t this bright canary yellow go great with a bunch of deep blue Crocus? One caution I learned from the plant expert is that if left in the ground the bulbs will break up into tiny bulblets which may not bloom the next year. Disappointing. I’ll probably shy away from these unless I want to dig them up each year. Doesn’t sound very “low maintenance” to me. And I’m definitely into low maintenance. I found this beauty at van Bourgondien.

I know that there are several bulbs that will come up in the snow, such as snowdrop, glory of the snow, winter aconite and crocus, but these come up as winters snow is leaving us and I want to try some plants instead of bulbs.

Hellebore is one of the most popular perennial winter flowers and depending on the variety, can bloom anytime from December through March, or later. The flowers are various shades of green or cream to bright white or rose-pink. Not much of the color I’m looking for. I chose this photo because it looks more like its namesake ‘Christmas Rose’ and actually is colorful. These grow 18”-24” tall so they stand right up and broadcast their color very well. But, no pictures of Hellebores actually in the snow.

Pansies are early bloomers. Usually purple, blue, yellow, white and various shades and mixtures of any or all these colors. No photos of pansies in snow either. I find articles saying they grow in winter, but where is the proof? ‘Universal’ pansies were bred to flower in the short days of winter; they are tolerant of cold, wet and windy weather and they have the ability to stay compact and not stretch and flop over when mild weather eventually arrives. ‘Icicle Pansies’ were developed for northern and Canadian gardeners, bloom until winter's deep freeze, but don't die. They'll lie dormant until very early spring, when they bloom again! (Whisper: where are the photos of pansies in snow?)

Finally, a flower in the snow! A Primrose! I never would have guessed that primroses bloom this early. This photo was taken by lorelei and posted on the weather site I start every day off with, Wunderground. Primroses are nice looking plants with their thick almost leather-like leaves more like a succulent or cactus without the thorns. They are usually blue but can be found in yellow, too.

There are other flowering plants claiming to bring color to the winter garden, but I’m beginning to think there aren’t any flowers that actually grow in the snow. Maybe gardeners, in their haste to get away from the dreariness of winter, are stretching it a bit when they say we can have color in winter. We have plants that herald the arrival of spring by popping up as the snow recedes, but I don’t find many that grow in the snow.

Plants like lungwort, moss phlox, heartleaf brunnera are early bloomers. There are early-blooming shrubs: February daphne (March-April), Vernal witch hazel (January-March), Spring heath (March), and Winter jasmine (March-April). One site, the Independent, gave me a list of early bloomers that I had never heard of but none of them bloom in the snow.

I guess I got my hopes up too high. I’ll just have to resign myself to seeing only white, brown, black and grey next winter too.


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