This past week the weather has taken a turn for the worse with our daily high temperatures dropping down a notch, and a few full rainy days reminded us it is indeed winter.
There are a number of plants that are looking great at the moment and it is well worth having a few of these in your garden to bring winter cheer.
Osmanthus Pearly Gates: Pearly Gates is one seriously sought after plant. Its fragrant attributes and pearly white mass of flowers are exceptional. It is always a popular plant; for a number of years I struggled to even source this plant for the garden centre. This year is no different, with limited numbers. Pearly Gates produces a mass of sweetly scented tubular white flowers along the stems. The pearly white flowers contrast spectacularly with the deep-green foliage. They flower for a decent period from about early July in the middle of winter.
Daphne Perfume Princess and Perfume Princess White: There is an old saying that goes "every home must have a daphne and a lemon tree". These two plants remain as some of the top plant gifts for house-warming presents. Daphne Perfume Princess is a recent release bred by well-known Taranaki plant breeder and nurseryman Mark Jury. It is a cross between the traditionally grown pink daphne "odora leucanthe" and daphne bholua. Perfume Princess boasts the largest flower size of all the daphnes, as well as the longest flowering period, being the first and last to bloom. Daphnes are grown for the noseful of scent that any passers-by derive from this outstanding plant.
Protea: The protea is a flower that is recognised around the world. Proteas produce a long-lasting flower display and are an excellent cut flower. Proteas are sometimes referred to as sugar flowers, because of the high nectar levels the flowers can produce. So they are highly attractive for bringing birdlife such as tui into the garden. The flowers of proteas are produced during the winter months and are among some of the larger ones in regular home garden cultivated plants.
Leucadendron: For the most part leucadendrons grow between 1m and 2.5m in height and width. The flowers look like they are an extension of the stem with a kind of cone sitting down below the leaf-type bracts that is not seen unless the plant is viewed close up. As the cold of winter sets in, the flowers become more obvious with the leaves intensifying in colour to put on a real show. The colours vary from creamy yellows to orange-yellow to intense reds. One of the most well-known and widely grown leucadendron varieties is Safari Sunset. It has boldly coloured red bracts and is a strong plant, excellent for cut-flower production and as a garden specimen.
Hellebores: Commonly known as winter rose or lenten rose. Many new varieties of these delightful plants have been released in recent years. Colours range from pure white to pink, apricot, purples, reds and many spotted variations. As well as double-flowered forms, these are highly desirable plants to have in the garden. They flower for six weeks in late winter into spring. In the Northern Hemisphere this coincides with the Christian festival of Lent, hence the common name.
Camellia: Many varieties flower during the winter months when there is little other colour in the garden - another bonus for this winner of a plant. The flowers may be single, double or semi-double and pink, red, sometimes white or mixtures of all three. There are a few creamy-yellow varieties too. Camellias are suitable for growing in containers on the patio and in the garden. If you want a plant that is green, keeps its form without regular trimming, is not susceptible to many pest and diseases, provides tidy structure, has lovely flowers and is generally pretty hardy then look no further than a camellia.
Wintersweet: A delicious name for a delicious plant. Chimonanthus praecox, commonly known as wintersweet, produces deliciously sweet-scented flowers during the middle of winter each year. The cold air of June and July seems to bring out the fragrance more strongly on this deciduous shrub. This plant has waxy yellow flowers with dainty purple markings; the flowers run along the bare branches, which are leafless during the winter months. In spring the plant comes out with fresh green leaves that turn yellow in the autumn before dropping. It is well placed in the back of a garden where it provides backbone and structure with its green backdrop during the summer months. Smaller- growing shrub varieties, such as hydrangea, callistemon or hebe, planted in front can provide colour and interest during the summer months. Left to its own devices, wintersweet will form a shrub 2.5m to 3m high by 2m wide. However, its size can be contained with a pruning in late winter-early spring each year before it comes into leaf. Wintersweet originates from China where it was domesticated during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It is a relatively tough and versatile plant, hardy to cold and grows well in sun or part-shade. A highly recommended plant for offering some winter joy on a dreary day.
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Miniature cyclamen: One of the most prolific flowering plants is the bold, bright, colourful cyclamen. They are a very popular colour plant to grow during the winter months. They start throwing flower buds as the weather cools in March and continue in mass profusion into September. As a result of selective breeding, a range of cyclamen are available. In addition to the bold, bright single colours of red, violet, white and many shades of pink, there are some with frilled flowers, butterfly double-type flowers as well as variation in leaf marbling (colour).
Look for a gap in your garden and choose one of these to bring some colour, joy and even fragrance into your garden during the dark winter months.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre