January offers 20 things in bloom
Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
Along about now each year, I begin to get the Christmas spirit. Better late than never.
One catalyst toward that end is the (sometimes) emergence of the year’s first flowers. This time it has been nothing short of remarkable.
My partner in cynicism, Mike Garner, commiserates (and emphathizes) with me on our failures, and last summer’s drought gave us plenty of ammunition. But you (and we) have heard enough of that. It’s January, time to look ahead, or at least look at now.
With pad in hand, I took a walk-around recently to enumerate on paper whatever was in flower. No less than 20 different shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials were noted. No misprint. Some of that, to be sure, was in the singular, that is, just a single blossom, but in other cases there were plenteous amounts.
(There are some few nice people in the world. One of them is Cynthia Guinn, who gave me the aforementioned pad. Not just an ordinary pad, but one made especially for gardeners. It has waterproof pages that can be written on even in rain, and it is a handy size, about 4-by-6 inches, to slip in a pocket.) So, here’s my winter list:
1. Well, violas and (2) pansies (plural), of course.
3. Roses (barely plural). We had a couple of Flower Carpet Scarlet on our Christmas table.
4. Helleborus or Lenten Rose. And it’s a month or more until Fat Tuesday and the onset of Lent. Not unusual to have one or two by now, but this year there are dozens.
5. January jasmine. Often mistaken for forsythia, but daintier and of a paler, lemon yellow. We’ve had it out since back in early December.
6. “Annual” dianthus. Most of them will prove to be short-lived (two or three years) perennials. A few here and there in flower.
7. Pacific chrysanthemum, botanically Chrysanthemum pacificum. Well worth growing for its excellent foliage, with scalloped leaves outlined in white. The yellow button flowers come late, in November to wit, but in mild winters hang on until the new year.
8. Azaleas. Barely plural. Two or three flowers on the excellent Azalea poukhanense. My favorite azalea, a species from Korea hardy to 20 below zero and often reblooming in autumn.
9. Camellias. Several kinds, all of them of the National Arboretum breeding of fairly recent vintage, fully hardy in our climate and blooming from early autumn until spring, depending on variety.
10. Snowdrops. Among the first bulbs to flower. We have had from one to a dozen out since late November.
11. Daffodils. You want daffs at Christmas? Plant Rijnveld’s Early Sensation. I had several as did cousin Cindy Barnett in Murray, Ky., and Rick Conger here in Paris. Just a plain yellow long-cup. No, wait. There are no plain daffodils in December or January.
12. Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox. Little known (I may have the only one in the county) but easy. Hundreds of nondescript flowers decorate my 10-foot specimen, exuding the most exquisite fragrance, borne freely on the winter air. One stem will smell up a room.
13. Witch hazel. There are many recent hybrids, but Jelena, with fragrant copper colored flowers, opened (a few) week before week. Our native one flowers in autumn, with the tiny flowers hidden among the foliage.
14. Carolina jasmine. Barely plural. A spring bloomer, but the variety Butterscotch aka Rankini, re-blooms in fall and early winter.
15. Vinca major is a rampant ground cover, not recommended for polite company, but it does have the habit of throwing a few pale blue flowers in fall and winter.
16. Mahonia. Most common species is Mahonia bealei, with thorny evergreen leaves that would gore a bull, but a beautiful shrub in its preferred shade setting. Big spikes of yellow flowers are fragrant and appear from winter into spring.
The hybrid Winter Sun has smaller leaves and blooms earlier, fall to wit, and into winter. Ours has been going for a month or more.
17. Old fashioned quince. Just a flower or two out now, but budded branches force easily for arrangements.
18. The aforementioned forsythia. A few flowers and not as early blooming as January jasmine. But everybody needs forsythia. Get the variety Spring Glory.
19. Autumn cherry, Prunus subhertilla Autumnalis. One of the few long-lived flowering cherries. This year it could be called Winteralis, since it is in flower (wanly) as we speak, and has been, off and on, since October.
And (drum roll):
20. Japanese flowering apricot, Prunus mume. Much grown in the Orient, but seldom here. Again, I might have the only one in these parts. I wouldn’t take a farm in Georgia for mine. Adorned with pink flowers every winter, usually in February, but now with hundreds. ,Ours is 20 years or so old, and a shapely 15-foot-tall mushroom, needing little pruning. Reliable and easy. Good luck in finding one.
That adds up to 20 things in winter (January even) flower. Most of these are easy.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 1.10.12
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path