COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Brighten January with some winter blooms

Meet Marianne Binetti at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show at 2 p.m. every day of the show. She’ll teach seminars on winter gardening and pruning tips and give away plants and gifts to some attendees. For more information visit



The third week of January is the start of the gardening season – yep, the Tacoma Home and Garden Show runs Jan. 25 through Jan. 29, followed by the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February and then a bumper crop of garden shows, plant sales and blooming celebrations to welcome the 2012 growing season.

So what’s going on in the garden on in the midst of winter’s dark days? The joy of the winter garden celebrates hellebores, heathers and snowdrop bulbs with signs of spring popping up all over.

If your own landscape looks bleak this time of year, it’s time to consider adding these bloomers to brighten a January day

Hellebores: The Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose

Here’s a perennial that has gone from obscurity to super stardom without even having it’s own reality show. Hellebores are woodland plants that happen to love growing in western Washington and are even slug, deer and freeze resistant. Add the fact that they thrive in the shade of cedar and fir trees and you’ve got the perfect performer for your Northwest winter garden.

It is all the new varieties that have made this old-fashioned cottage garden plant suddenly Twitter worthy and Facebook proud. A variety named Jacob has pure white blooms that fade to green and this proud winter bloomer holds it’s blossoms on upright stems rather than nodding downward like most hellebores. Another early-blooming hellebore, called Ivory Prince, bloomed for seven months in a container garden on my front porch.

You don’t even need a garden to enjoy the blooms of Jacob the hellebore this month. Local growers have discovered this perennial does well indoors as a temporary houseplant. Snatch one up at a local nursery, watch the blooms unfold and enjoy the gentle fragrance. Once the flowers are done you can add this hellebore to a shaded part of the garden or, if you don’t have a garden of your own, offer the plant to someone who does.


You can enjoy drifts of color from winter-blooming heather and these low, shrubby plants will even bloom again in the summer if you remember to shear off their spent blooms right after they flower.

The secret to growing great heather is to keep the fibrous root system from rotting by not planting them too deep. Don’t use a mulch near the crown of the plants and make sure new heather plants get plenty of water the first summer they are in the ground.

When it comes to adding winter-blooming heather to the landscape the best advice is to visit garden centers in winter and pick out plants in full bloom. Heather propagate easily and new varieties are introduced each year.

The tiny leaves and microscopic flowers make this evergreen shrub easy to ignore unless you plant it in the landscape in groups of five to seven or add your winter-blooming heather to patio pots near the house.

Winter-Blooming Bulbs

Snowdrop, crocus and dwarf daffodils are all peeking up from the frozen winter ground this month. If you want a closer look at these delicate beauties dig the bulbs from the ground now, set the plant, roots, bulbs and all into a tea cup with a bit of soil and enjoy a tiny garden on your tabletop. In Europe, the nurseries sell bags of moss to drape on top of indoor winter bulbs while they are in flowers. After you fool Mother Nature and force the bulbs to bloom early indoors you can return the spent bulb, foliage and all to it’s planting hole outside and the spent bulb will live to flower again next winter.

All Together Now

Add some winter color to your planters, window boxes and front entry garden with a combination of hellebores, heathers and winter-blooming bulbs. Poke in some stems of pussywillow or cut branches of winter greens for a back drop of more color and you’ll have a beautiful cure for cabin fever.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.



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