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David Tarrant’s favourite winter-blooming flowers brighten up the season’s bleakest days
Gardeners have many reasons to feel fortunate about living in B.C., and the ability to enjoy colourful blooms even in the depth of winter is certainly one of them. In fact, the southern coast and southern Vancouver provide ideal growing conditions for a number of winter-flowering plants. Those of us who live in these regions also know that our winter begins with the monsoons of November and ends in February, no matter what official dates the calendar may dictate. Because winter flowers bloom during the darkest days of the year, they are all the more precious and deserve a place in your garden that is not only sheltered, but that allows you to easily view the blooms from the comfort of your favourite chair indoors. To enhance the beauty of these winter gems, be sure to give them a dark backdrop, such as an evergreen hedge or dark-stained fence. This will allow every bloom to show up to perfection. Here are just a few of my favourite winter-bloomers, all of which have quite individual soil requirements. While some of these plants are hardy in Interior and northern gardens, keep in mind that they may not bloom in these regions until early spring. Viburnum x bodnantense is a cross between V. farreriand V. grandiflorum, both of which are quite lovely in their own natural forms. However the hybrid gets its name from the famous Bodnant Gardens in North Wales where it originated in 1935. It is a shrub that reaches about three metres in height and is hardy to –20°C. On the coast it often starts to bloom before its leaves have dropped in early November and continues on and off right through to late February. The sweetly scented flowers are borne in tight clusters at the tip of every branch and side spur. Plant one near an entry to your home so its fragrance can be enjoyed by everyone who comes and goes. The early winter flowers tend to be white whereas those that open from December onward are quite pink. Heavy frost can damage open blossoms, but there are so many flowers to follow that as soon as the temperature rises above freezing they start opening again. As far as soil goes, this viburnum isn’t too fussy. In fact, ours at the UBC Botanical Garden thrives in poor soil with absolutely no moisture retention. As with many woody plants, the best blossoms are carried on younger wood (in our case, two-year-old wood). With shrubs older than three or four years, don’t be afraid to prune out one or two of the oldest branches right to the ground soon after flowering has finished in the spring.
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