Q: I have recently moved to Vancouver and started a little garden on my patio with herbs, lavender and miscellaneous flowers. Would you have some advice on what plants I could get that would look nice through winter?
A: Violas are available in garden centres right now. The flowers are like little pansies in beautiful pastel colours but don’t have any face patterns. Violas are more resilient to adverse conditions than pansies.
Hardy cyclamen plants are also pretty during winter. Cyclamen hederifolium opens pink or white flowers in September, then produces large leaves with intricate patterns of silver and green which carpet the ground till early May when it goes dormant.
Cyclamen coum is another dwarf hardy cyclamen with plainer leaves. The flowers it produces in January continue for about eight weeks.
The winter-flowering hellebore (Hellebore foetidus) has glossy, dark evergreen leaves and does very well in containers (so do violas and dwarf cyclamen). This hellebore forms clusters of large, green grape-like buds in December which open into clusters of cup-shaped, green and red-rimmed flowers in January.
Hellebore orientalis flowers about month later, but has larger, more colourful blooms. It’s been much-hybridised, and blooms range through white, pink, purple-red and black with embellishments ranging from dots, picottee and doubles to nodding and upright types.
If your patio garden is partly in-ground, you might enjoy the Winter Jasmine (Jasminium nudiflorum), which flowers from November to February. Flowers are small, yellow, non-fragrant and carried in loose clusters. The stems are bright green.
Winter Jasmine accepts most soils and is very hardy, but it does need considerable pruning after flowering because it wants to grow big and sprawling. It is beautiful in winter for several months.
Winter heather (Erica carnea) is well suited to containers. It’s fairly dwarf and in a container might look good around a tall, narrow juniper. The heather flowers for ages in various pinks and whites.
Heather and juniper need well-drained soil. Both are drought-resistant.
Some beautiful dwarf confers with yellow, blue or variegated foliage are available. Conifers are always nice, but always the same and people who prefer variety through the seasons don’t get it with conifers. But conifers don’t need a lot of upkeep either. It’s useful before buying to ask about their growth rate, eventual height and spread.
I wonder what herbs you have aside from lavender? There are some beautiful blue-green-silver leaf culinary sages such as Berggarten. Parsley is also lovely in a pot and stands through all but the worst weather.
In Vancouver winters, rain is usually more of a hazard than hard freezes. Plants can get soaked and rot rather than dying of cold.
This winter, you could get more plant ideas by wandering around a garden centre. January is an especially good time to get a good idea of what else you could expect to flower in your own situation and what kinds of flowers you like best.
The annual Alpine Garden Club of B.C. fall sale will be held Sept. 22 from noon to 4 p.m. in the Floral Hall at Vandusen Gardens. Lots of treasures will be available at this sale along with information from the people who grew them.
Free admission. Sales are cash or cheque only.
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