My Favorite Late-Winter Flowers

With the warm weather we’ve had this past week, my garden is slowly starting to wake up. 

Little mountains of soil are popping up everywhere as bulbs push their way towards the light, and when I peer down into the crowns of my perennials, I see hints of new growth beginning to stir.  

While waiting for my sleeping garden to wake, there’s still plenty of flowers that shine this time of year, thanks to some of my favorite late-winter bloomers.  

Below are some of my favorites, that hold things together during this transitional time when it’s not quite the dead of winter yet it’s not quite spring. 

Cyclamen coum ‘Silver Form’

late winter flowers

These are different than the more common cyclamen hederifolium (that bloom in the fall with ivy-shaped foliage appearing shortly after.)

In contrast, the cyclamen coum’s foliage not only looks like silver lily-pads, but the flowers bloom in February. 

The combination of silver and brilliant pink results in a visual feast! 

late winter flowers

If pinks aren’t your thing, there are also varieties with white flowers, but this time of year, I appreciate all the color I can get, so pink it is!  

These photos were taken in February at the Washington Park Arboretum. 

Ever since seeing them, I’ve hunted down the elusive c. coum bulbs for my own garden (there’s still a few available here at Dancing Oaks Nursery.)   

late winter flowers

Here’s a fun fact: 

The seed pods have a sugary coating that ants adore and will try and carry away to their nests. 

In doing so, they help transplant them throughout the garden. 

Thank you, little ants! 

Heath and Heathers

Let me first talk about the differences between heath and heather.  Simply put, heaths are plants in the erica genus, while heathers are in the calluna genus. 

Heaths are better for warmer climates (typically zones 7-10) while heathers are more tolerant of cold (zones 4-9.) 

Also, heaths also have tiny needle-like foliage, while heathers have flatter scale-like leaves.

In my zone 9 garden, I have a few heaths and heathers that have performed really, really well.  My favorite is the erica canaliculate ‘Rosea.’  

In just two years, my one-gallon plants have soared to 6-feet, and are covered with the sweetest delicate soft-pink flowers.   The internet says these plants are thirsty, but mine have thrived in the low-water area of my garden. 

late winter flowers

Another favorite variety of lower-growing heath is the erica darleyensis ‘Furzey.’ 

It’s not quite as dense as common heaths (like in the very first photo in this category) but has an airy feel to it.

Topping out around 2-feet, this variety has foliage with subtle maroon tinges to it, which harmonizes beautifully with the darker pink flowers. 

 

I discovered this calluna ‘Firefly’ on a walk in my neighborhood and promptly fell in love with its dark orange foliage, brought about by cold weather. 

I promptly ordered some from Digging Dog Nursery, and while they don’t bloom until late summer, the rich reddish tones are much appreciated this time of year.

Violet odora

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I always thought I hated the smell of violets. 

Until a few weeks ago, that is, when a new client picked a bouquet for me. 

After inhaling their deliciously sweet fragrance, I became a violet convert! 

In my last garden, there was a pesky low-growing variety that had funky-smelling flowers on really short stems.

Not only did they invade everything in sight, but the flowers were too short to pick for a bouquet, and they smelled weird. 

I have no idea what variety that was or where it came from, but it was most certainly NOT in the v. odora family!

I’m so happy my client dug up a clump for my garden, where I can appreciate the long stems (perfect for sweet little bouquets) and their intoxicating scent. 

This variety is just as tenacious growing as others, quickly spreading everywhere in a moist environment. 

However, seeing as the only area in my garden with consistent moisture is a small spot at the bottom of a slope, where the water table is oddly high. 

I’m confident it won’t spread into the neighboring bone-dry areas of my garden.  If it tries, it’ll be sorely disappointed!

If you want a good laugh, I googled ‘weird-smelling violets’ and found this thread.

Hellebores (Lenten Roses, zones 6-9)

Of course, I have to include hellebores when writing about late-winter bloomers! 

Just when you need it most, the flower buds quietly snake through the bare ground and explode into colorful cup-shaped blooms.

 

Unfortunately, many varieties have nodding flowers that droop, making it difficult to view the intricacies of their blooms (unless you’re lying on the ground peering up at them, that is.)  

Luckily, growers have been hard at work breeding cultivars that face outward (hooray!) like this compact ‘Monte Cristo.’

corsican hellebore - late winter flowers

Another forward-facing variety is my favorite ‘Corsican’ hellebore, with its oversized clusters of lime-green blooms.

I’ve written a lot about them in the past (click here for some of my favorites, including the Stinking Hellebore) but with so many new varieties, I always find a few more to add to my garden.

Ribes malvaceum ‘Dancing Tassles’ (Winter Flowering Currant zones 5-9)

late winter flowers

I can’t imagine not having a ribes in my garden. 

They’re not only native and fast-growing with a delicate, airy appearance but have colorful blooms throughout different seasons of the year.

For the winter garden, I highly recommend ribes malvaceum ‘Dancing Tassles’, with long pendulous white flowers with a tinge of light pink. 

I have several planted near my front door, where I can appreciate the flowers every time I walk up the steps. 

I’ve even planted one directly in front of my living room window, so I have a front-row seat to watch the hummingbirds who adore the flowers.

Many varieties are deciduous in winter, but ‘Dancing Tassles’ is evergreen in my zone 9 garden, where the canopy of oak trees protect them.

For staggered blooms, consider planting another favorite of mine – ribes sanguineum ‘Claremont.’ 

In March, garnet-colored buds appear, slowly transforming into fluffy blooms of light pink and white.  It’s a sight to behold in a lightly shaded garden.

To read more, Pacific Horticulture has a fantastic article – click here.

Grevillea ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ zones 8-10

late winter flowers

I know, I know – I’m always raving about grevilleas. 

But how can I stop when they’re the #1 species in my garden that produces flowers EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR? 

I have over 12 varieties, which means I’m never without flowers. And  more importantly, my garden is never without a source of nectar for hummingbirds.

Right now, the low-growing ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ is putting on a show, covered with hundreds of tiny, coral-pink blooms.

late winter flowers

These beauties are evergreen and compact, growing to 18” x 3’, and the flowers last for months and months. 

In fact, it’s only without flowers for a short time before sending out more to lure in the hummingbirds. 

‘Coastal Gem’ and ‘Jade Mound’ are similar varieties and are often used interchangeably.

However, I much prefer ‘Mt. Tamboritha’ as the form is tighter, the flowers are more vibrant, and it has the most blooms. 

Edgeworthia (Chinese Paper Bush, zones 7-9)

late winter flowers - edworthia

There’s something pretty magical about an edgeworthia shrub in bloom, when its bare branches are tipped with clusters of creamy white or yellow, sweetly-scented flowers.

I’m thrilled I can finally grow them here in my new garden, as they never seemed to do well in the Bay Area (then again, maybe it was just me?) 

Even though my garden is still in the same zone, it seems our winter temperatures are just a few degrees cooler.  This seems to make all the difference when growing them.

I’m not alone in coveting the hard-to-find edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Akebone’ variety with its intense orange-red flowers (this one spotted at last year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show.)

They’re offered through various online nurseries, but they sell out quickly.

Pieris (Lily of the Valley shrub, zones 5-9)

late winter flowers

I’m always surprised when I include a pieris in a client’s design, and they say ‘isn’t it just a foundation shrub?’  

Sure, they’re great planted under the eaves of the house, used as a foundation shrub. 

But once they see just how amazing a pieris looks this time of year, when covered with long, pendulous ‘earrings’ like these, they jump on board, wanting more in their garden!

One of my favorite varieties is ‘Mountain Fire,’ with new foliage that bursts forth in brilliant shades of rose and coral. 

It’s a slow-growing variety, ultimately reaching about 6-feet or so but can easily be kept pruned to a smaller size if needed.

A smaller variety, the 4’x3’ ‘Mountain Snow’, is perfect for a foundation planting as it won’t grow tall enough to block the windows.

Daphne   zones 7-9

Daphne is another plant that I have to mention for bringing blooms and scent to the winter garden.

There are lots of varieties available in the nurseries, but I think the common daphne odora ‘Variegata’ is my favorite. 

The gold variegated foliage helps brighten shady spots in the garden, and it seems to have to most prolific blooms. 

My advice is to bring a small bouquet in your home, and prepare to swoon when it perfumes the entire room.

For more varieties (plus another favorite winter bloomer of mine – Sweet Box) click here.

Winter-Blooming Aloes (zones 7-10)

december garden rockstars

Winter-blooming aloes are a treasure here in mild climates. 

Recently, I highlighted a favorite of mine, the aloe ‘Safari Rose,’ (shown left) and believe it or not it’s STILL blooming its head off! 

A few years ago, I was speaking at the Laguna Beach Garden Club in December, and after the talk, I took a walk along the ocean. 

I couldn’t believe the towering torch-like blooms of the aloe arborescens (below right) combined with the hummingbirds that were gorging themselves on the nectar-rich blooms.

I was lucky enough to find a variegated version, aloe arborescens ‘Variegata’, which is happily thriving in my garden (below left.)

aloe arborescens - late winter flowers
aloe ferox - late winter flowers

Another favorite is the aloe ferox, with its thick, orange candelabra-like blooms.

Of course, I can’t talk about succulents without recommending Debra Lee Baldwin’s fantastic website. 

It’s jam-packed with everything you could ever want to know about succulents, even those that are cold-hardy for those of you who live in frostier climates.

 

Garrya issaquahensis ‘Pat Ballard’  (Silk Tassel Bush, zones 7a-9b)

This winter-flowering shrub grows 6-10 tall and wide with pendulous catkins up to 12-inches long, dangling gracefully from the tips of the branches. 

The spectacular display lasts for weeks at a time and will brighten the grayest of winter days. 

In my experience, they’re fairly slow growing, so my advice is to buy the largest specimen you can find.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to spruce up your winter garden! 

I couldn’t possibly include everything, so please share some of your favorites (I always have room for a few more!!)

Oh, and before I forget!!! 

Remember Garden Design Magazine?  While the print magazine is no longer with us (RIP), they have a robust and equally-stunning website filled with inspiration (if you haven’t signed up for their updates, you should!)

This year, they’re offering an amazing series of FREE Zoom webinars, ‘A Journey Through Your Garden’ with David Culp (remember when I recommended his book as a holiday gift?)

I’ve listened to the past two and they’re a fantastic way to spend an hour learning, laughing, and listening to David’s musings and advice.  

The next one is in March, and you can sign up here and even if you’re unable to attend, if you’ve registered, you’ll receive a link to view the recorded version!

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8 Comments

  • Thank you so much for a lovely garden tour. What a variety of blooms. Your violets are awesome. I am not familiar with the variety. In Dublin, Ireland we had a lady who always stood outside a famous meeting place for couples. She carried a lovely big basket filled with bunches of violets with the stems wrapped up, and would say “ Buy a bunch of violets for your beautiful lady” She sold them for 6 pence a bunch. I loved getting them. Your picture brought back that memory. Wow 6 cents!!!!!!!
    Thanks Rebecca for a lovely trip down memory lane for me. Love you. Jean

    Reply
    • Jean, I always love hearing from you and your comment made me smile from ear to ear! What a wonderful memory you have! My husband went to Ireland a few years ago, so I read your comment to him and he enjoyed it, too. I’d gladly pay 6 pence for violets now – heck, I’d even pay $6.00 for a bunch!!! Are you still involved with the Los Altos Garden Club? If so, I’ll be speaking (via Zoom, of course) on 2/23 – perhaps I’ll ‘see’ you there? I hope you’ve been safe and healthy, my friend!

      Reply
  • Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for lots of great information, especially on lots of varieties that are new to me. I have to tell you, I went to read that article about the violets and I am laughing so hard my cheeks hurt! I have never before heard of stinky violets, this is so funny.
    I am making slow but sure progress in my yard. I can’t wait until I get it to a place that is ready for new occupants!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you liked that Violet thread, Jaci – I laughed so hard, especially when the President of the Violet Society chimed in. Now you know why I was blown away at the wonderful fragrance of the ones you gave me!!! They’re still blooming their little hearts out in the pot, and once they’re finished I’ll plant them in my garden. I hope you were able to take advantage of the amazing weather to work in your garden!

      Reply
  • Enjoyed your off season beauties. It is always amazing to see anything with color this time of year out and about and in the gardens. THANK YOU!

    Reply
    • You’re so welcome, Brenda! Anything with color this time of year gets my vote (but my favorites are the erica and hellebores)

      Reply
  • Rebecca,
    Thanks so much for the link to David Culps presentation. I look forward to it. It is always a treat to see an email from you in my in-box. I try to ‘save you for dessert’, but usually can’t wait. In your last email, I was reading every crumb, and got all the way down to your ‘speaking events’ when I saw the Alameda Garden club. Well, that is Home to me! I googled them, looked through their web site and then emailed them, because in these days – why not? Well I ended up ‘chatting’ with two members about my time living in Livermore. I grew up in Brentwood, and Livermore was a Big city. I was just getting into gardening, but was more focused on raising my daughters than flowers. We left CA in ’94 and are now and forever in North Carolina, which has about the same weather without the drama 😉 Now, for a personal question…..are you the Rebecca of Rebecca’s Garden Gate magazine? It was published for just a minute, but I think it was the first gardening magazine (other than Sunset) that I subscribed to.
    Peace,
    Lin

    Reply
    • Hello Lin, and thanks so much for such a great note! I’m so happy you’re enjoying my blog, especially now that it connected you to some new gardening ‘friends’ – one of the many perks of the internet, right? I’ve never been to North Carolina, but imagining it with a similar climate without the drama makes it sound pretty heavenly (I can’t even imagine – ha!) So, answering your question about the magazine – I’ve been featured in Garden Gate Magazine, but haven’t heard of Rebecca’s Garden Gate. While Garden Gate is still thriving, it sounds like Rebecca closed her gate and moved on to new gardens. Probably for the best, considering how difficult the magazine business is these days! 😉

      Reply

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