Winter Flower Arrangement II

Helleborus Viburnum tinus Pittosporum Duck

This second winter flower arrangement portends the spring greens and creams that enliven our dampened winter spirits. The unopened rose buds and immature fruits of Viburnum tinus, and the airy twigs of the red beech and dark linear blades of red hook sedge break up the green monotony. The plants, which are long-lasting as cut components, used include:

Gleichenia dicarpa (tangle fern)

Helleborus x nigercors (hellebore)

Leucadendron ‘Safari Goldstrike’ (yellow conebush)

Nothofagus fusca (red beech)

Santolinia chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender)

Uncinia rubra (red hook sedge)

Viburnum tinus (laurestine)

Helleborus Viburnum tinus Pittosporum ferns Close Up

The pristine, minimally designed porcelain vase by well known Australian ceramicist Les Blakebrough highlights the arrangement’s colors well. Because the porcelain vase is fragile, we placed two small glass jars (recycled baby food jars) and sandwiched tissue or newspaper between the jars to stabilize them inside the vase. Two individual bouquets were created and tucked into these jars.

~ Eric

Helleborus Viburnum tinus Pittosporum ferns Close Up 2

Winter Flower Arrangement

Cut stems of rosemary have been carefully aligned and glued to the vase, concealing the maze of stems inside.

Cut stems of rosemary have been carefully aligned and glued to the vase, concealing the maze of stems inside.

This winter floral arrangement is essentially a natural potpourri of scented flowers that are wonderful together, as well as falling within similar colors (white, green, and pink). It incorporates the following plants:

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Harry Lauder’s walking stick, contorted hazelnut)

Daphne odora (daphne)

Eucalyptus (eucalyptus)

Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ (variegated Japanese ivy)

Helleborus x hybridus (hellebore)

Jasminum polyanthum (pink jasmine)

Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary)

Viburnum tinus (laurestine)

Note: The hellebore flowers will not last more than a day and will need to be replaced – if a substitute is desired, ranunculus will work well.

The rosemary stems are first affixed to the sides of the vase before the main arrangement. Inside the vase, Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ and eucalyptus form a foliar scaffolding through which Viburnum tinus and Helleborus x hybridus are woven. Lastly, the jasmine and contorted filbert are gingerly tucked in, spilling out of the vase.

~Eric

Close-up detail: The twisted branches of Corylus avellana 'Contorta' mirror the twining flowers of Jasminum polyanthum, adding movement to the arrangement.

Close-up detail: The twisted branches of Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ mirror the twining flowers of Jasminum polyanthum, adding movement to the arrangement.

The unopened buds of Jasminum polyanthum are a rich red violet, the same hue as Helleborus x hybridus, fading to pale pink, picked up by Daphne odora and Viburnum tinus. The variegated leaves of Hedera rhombea 'Creme de Menthe' breaks up the solid greens of the arrangement - 'the cream' that floats to the surface.

The unopened buds of Jasminum polyanthum are a rich red violet, the same hue as Helleborus x hybridus, fading to pale pink, picked up by Daphne odora and Viburnum tinus. The variegated leaves of Hedera rhombea ‘Creme de Menthe’ breaks up the solid greens of the arrangement – ‘the cream’ that floats to the surface.

Allowing the jasmine and contorted filbert to spill out from the confines of the arrangement prevents the look from being too stiff.

Allowing the jasmine and contorted filbert to spill out from the confines of the arrangement prevents the look from being too stiff.

Placed in the airy bathroom, the floral arrangement is a potpourii of winter fragrances.

Placed in the airy bathroom, the floral arrangement is a potpourii of winter fragrances.

Winter Flowers: Daphne

Daphne odora f. alba

Daphne odora f. alba

As the Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) approaches at the end of January, my thoughts turn to the traditional container plants, like Prunus mume and citrus, which herald this auspicious holiday. Where winters are mild, daphnes coincide with Chinese New Year when they perfume the garden courtyards. They are usually Daphne odora, a species with a long history of cultivation.

Dahlia odora 'Maejima'

Dahlia odora ‘Maejima’

The Chinese once valued Daphne odora as a pot plant for its fragrance as well as planting it in their gardens. In Garden Plants of China (1999), Peter Valder cites a story of a sleeping monk who dreamed of a memorable fragrance and upon waking, sought and found the source of the scent, a plant he named Shuixiang (Sleeping Scent). Like other garden plants, Daphne odora was probably introduced to Japan from China. Several variegated varieties, such as Daphne odora ‘Maejima’, are valued by the Japanese. Taking their cue from east Asia and certainly seduced by the daphne’s scent, the Victorians grew this species in the conservatories and hothouses in the 19th century.

The gawky habit of Daphne odora resists pruning since lateral growths are rarely produced unless drastically cut closer and on mature wood. Complicating matters is the production of flowers in terminal inflorescences. My inclination is to let the plant mature more and then re-evaluate pruning, and in the meantime, one has to overlook the sparse branching. Viruses do plague Daphne odora  – yellowing or dying foliage and stunted growth are telltale symptoms. Tissue culture has done much to reduce the incidence of viruses as older stock propagated by cuttings became contaminated over time.

The starry flowers are set in clusters like brooches against the wavy dark green foliage.

The starry flowers are set in clusters like brooches against the wavy dark green foliage.

Daphne bholua is a familiar, welcome sight in Europe and Australia during winter when its starry flowers purple in bud and pink-blushed fully open wafted its intoxicating fragrance. Pronounced ‘bo-lua’, bholua takes its origin from the Nepalese name bhulu-swa. It is found in forests between 7,000 and 11,000 ft (2000 to 3350 m) in mountainous regions of Nepal and Bhutan. Plants at lower elevations tend to be more evergreen than those higher above that are semi-evergreen to deciduous, and selections from the latter will be clearly harder. Sadly for those in colder climates, Daphne bholua is more tender than Daphne odora, requiring frost protection as young plants and preferring sheltered sites for success. Seed-grown plants are slow to flower, but grafted or tissue-cultured plants will flower young. The habit of D. bholua is taller and fuller than that of D. odora, therefore formative pruning is less of an issue. 

Both daphnes make excellent cut flowers that emanate their fragrance in a warm room. Inside their fragrance may be too overpowering for some noses, but they chase away the winter blues, reminding us that the cold months are not without its floral interests.

Daphne bholua

Daphne bholua

Winter Flowers: Snowdrops

Snowdrop_Betsy_Collage

The porcelain perfection of the snowdrop etched with green is the zeitgeist of winter thawing to spring. Its bravery in breaking through the cold earth, its promise of spring, lures admirers out in freezing weather. Most simply enjoy the white sheets of flowers carpeting the ground. Some study the miniscule markings of green, yellow, and white in hopes of discovering a new variety. The most definite reference Snowdrops by Matt Bishop, Aaron Davis, and John Grimshaw (2001) boasts over 200 snowdrop varieties, some of which fetch large sums for a single bulb.

Galanthus nivalis and G. elwesii are the two most commonly cultivated species, with G. plicatus featuring here and there. Galanthus nivalis naturalizes well, forming those white drifts that have become a wintertime ritual in the Northern Hemisphere. Its leaves and flowers are smaller proportioned than those of G. elwesii, a giant by all snowdrop standards. Galanthus elwesii have beautiful blue-green leaves and bold markings on the inner parts of its flowers. Less common species include the bright green-leafed G. woronowii and autumn flowering G. reginae-olgae. Snowdrops do hybridize with each other, yielding progeny of varying vigor and traits that make galanthophilia, the love of snowdrops, a never ending obsession. Galanthophilia can escalate to feverish heights – fingers twitch, knees bend, eyeballs flicker without persuasion at the sight of snowdrops naturalized in churchyards, coppiced woodlands, or old gardens. The temptation to discover a novel snowdrop, one with distinguishable markings like a tattoo, is ever persistent, and indeed a rare snowdrop can easily fetch a princely sum as high as 500 dollars per bulb.

The green markings in the inner segments of snowdrops (sometimes on the outer parts too) are like tattoos.

The green markings in the inner segments of snowdrops (sometimes on the outer parts too) are like tattoos.

As long as fertile soil, good drainage, and adequate light are provided, snowdrops are not particular about their conditions. They do need good light during their growing season – and it is not in shortage when deciduous trees are still denuded in wintertime. Good companion plants are crocuses, cyclamen, and winter aconites. Hellebores are permissible as long as their old foliage does not compete with snowdrops emerging and growing.

Left: Asplenium scolopendrium (hart fern) and snowdrops at Painswick Rocco Garden; Right: Fallen camellia petals highlight snowdrops.

Left: Asplenium scolopendrium (hart fern) and snowdrops at Painswick Rocco Garden; Right: Fallen camellia petals highlight snowdrops.

Propagation is either through division (‘in the green’) or twin-scaling. The practice of moving ‘snowdrops in the green’ is controversial – some people still stand by it while others discourage it, preferring to wait until the foliage begins to die down.  Lifting snowdrops in the green risks damaging roots, which can be detrimental for future growth. If one elects to move snowdrops in the green, minimize root disturbance and be prompt about watering after planting in a well-situated location. Ideally late May to early June is best for transplanting dormant bulbs, and careful labeling will prevent identification mishaps and fruitless searches at a time when the garden is bursting with plants. Twin-scaling induces young bulbs to form from meristematic tissue of ‘damaged bulbs’. This technique is not for the impatient or inexperienced, and those wanting to increase stocks of rare and desirable selections have gone this route (after much practice of course!).

~Eric

Winter Flowers: Mahonias

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December can be a bleak month for flowers unless you count the odd, brave snowdrop  or a precocious witch hazel. The last of autumn leaves have fallen, and the late-flowering asters have gone to seed. While it is true that the bright red hollies can wake up our gray senses, they lack the sensual power of flowers, a strong reason for the magic of gardening. Only do the days become perceptibly longer in late January can we anticipate winter flowers even if they lack the spring pyrotechnics. Often the wait is rewarding for winter flowers can be intensely scented.
Why do these plants expend energy flowering when odds are stacked against them? Winter flowers do not have to vie for pollinators as they would have if spring and summer were their seasons. They’re savvy to recognize that those warm winter spells will revive any hibernating insects needing sustenance for the next cold spell. I am always taken surprise at seeing bees and various members of Hymenoptera (bees) and Diptera (flies) at what seem paltry options in winter. Somehow the plants do succeed when mature, ripe fruit take the flowers’ place later.
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Before Christmas, I can always count mahonias to commence the winter flowering season. Their sprays of yellow flowers glow bright and incandescent in the weak winter light, luring us as much as those hapless pollinators. Sweet and heavy like honey, the mahonia’s perfume can cut through the chill like a scythe in a wheat field. It is faintly suggestive of lily of the valley, but more potent in its intensity. The best mahonia for fragrance remains Mahonia japonica, a species curiously not found in the wild.
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Lax and wide spreading in habit (6 ft tall by 5-7 ft wide), Mahonia japonica can be hard to accommodate in small gardens. And despite being highly scented, the flowers of M. japonica may lack the showiness factor people seek in winter flowering shrubs. Those willing to accept less fragrant, but showier flowers can look towards Mahonia x media.
A hybrid of M. oiwakensis subsp. lomariifolia (syn. M. lomariifolia) and M. japonica, Mahonia x media originated in the batch of open-pollinated seedlings in northern Ireland. One seedling was grown at Savill Gardens, England, where it was named ‘Charity’ (its siblings were respectively named ‘Hope’ and ‘Faith’). Breeders expanded the selections, which vary in flowering times and mature sizes. Generally Mahonia x media tend to form taller, if not tighter, statuesque shrubs than M. japonica. They are surprisingly architectural as their leaves have this precise zig-zag pattern somewhat tiered on the stems.
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Some people are highly dismissive of mahonias’ ranginess over time. Pruning the stems hard to 1′ to 2′ will encourage new shoots to develop – it is advisable to cut in spring for the plant to heal and regenerate rather than autumn or winter. Others might view the leggy stems as an opportunity to underplant with interesting shrubs or perennials to conceal them.
Mahonias do best in mild winter regions. They require protection from winter winds, which can scorch and tatter their beautiful foliage. Although the damage appears cosmetic, the effect is rather distracting for the evergreen leaves can be long-lived. In fact, open and sunny exposed locations are not ideal for mahonias, which tend to be understory shrubs in the wild. I often see robust plants in northern exposures, and in dry shade where other plants would fail. It is a common sight in London to see mahonias somehow flourishing in those dark corners, lurking furtively until their flowers appear, awakening the bleary landscape.