Winter flowering plants in my garden – my thoughts

When designing a garden I have always given a lot of thought to how the garden looks in winter.  When I designed gardens in the UK I often devoted the front garden to winter interest as I feel it gives a lot of pleasure to the owners and passers-by at a time when many front gardens are rather bare.  The back garden was the space used most in summer and therefore I concentrated the other seasons there.

When I started gardening in Italy, between Rome and Siena I thought it would be possible to grow many plants to give pleasure during the winter months, I imagined that many bulbs would flower earlier here and so spring would be spread into the winter months.  I already knew a lot of shrubs that flowered in winter imagined my garden as an oasis of flowers throughout the year.  I WAS WRONG.

Many shrubs that flower in winter are triggered to flower by COLD; here the cold weather rarely begins before January so many plants that flower from November or December in the UK don’t start into flower here until February.

A case in point is Lonicera fragratissima, a favourite of mine as, for me; it has the best perfume of any plant.  In the UK it often begins to flower in November, maybe even October if there has been cold weather in September, here in Central Italy it doesn’t really begin to put on a show until February, then flowering on through March and if it isn’t too hot into April.  The heat of spring soon brings flowering to an end so if it didn’t have such a wonderful perfume I wouldn’t grow it here.

Lonicera fragrantissima

Lonicera fragrantissima

Viburnum tinus is perhaps the most reliable winter plant in the UK; yes, it is used in every municipal planting but for a very good reason, it flowers for 9 months of the year.  Not here!  It is really only just beginning to open its tightly closed buds and by April it will be over – then the foliage looks dismal before the new leaves grow, so not such a useful plant, mine was burnt badly by last year’s hot winds so is in need of a drastic prune, I had left the branches in the hope they might recover.

Tightly closed Buds of Viburnum tinus

Tightly closed Buds of Viburnum tinus

Shyly opening buds of Viburnum tinus

Shyly opening buds of Viburnum tinus

Some years daffodils don’t flower at all, or if they do it is late, so late that summer plants detract from their beauty.  Tulips, I won’t give up, I adore their colour and form but they too flower only a little earlier than in the UK and are often accompanied by early roses throwing my ideas of the seasons into confusion.

So it is with very much pleasure that this winter two plants have flowered for months and don’t seem to need cold temperatures to propel them into growth.  What plants you may wonder; well I think this post is long enough so I’ll describe these plants soon, can you guess what they are?

28 thoughts on “Winter flowering plants in my garden – my thoughts

  1. How interesting! I thought winter plants would have the decency to keep to the same schedule all over Europe. Here in the Charente-Maritime, France I don’t find too much difference with the seasons compared to the UK apart from being a bit earlier.

    • Not all plants behave differently. Those that are triggered by cold definately flower later; apples for instance sometimes don’t flower at all in this area; after a very mild winter in 2011 my crab apples didn’t have any flowers or fruit. Christina

  2. Christina, you are a tease, I was all ready to read what the two plants are that have flowered for months with you, I will just have to be patient!

  3. I’ve just become familiar with the term ‘chill hours.’ To grow plants successfully a person needs to know how many chill hours they have in the winter in their area. Just exactly what you have discovered where you are. Not enough chill hours for plants that you grew in the UK, or the chill hours come later in the season.
    I always enjoy reading your blog, and seeing your beautiful photos.
    Have a great day!
    Lea’s Menagerie

  4. So interesting, what a learning curve. So do Italian gardens just not feature flowering plants over winter? I have a love-hate relationship with Viburnum tinus, love it where it is still in check and flowering away, despite the fact that it is really in the wrong place, casting far too much shade in what would otherwise be a sunny border. Hate because the one that has suckered all over the front garden is going to be a beast to remove… Will look forward to the mystery reveal!

    • Sorry Janet, another comment that found its way into the spam, I’ve no idea why. Italian winter gardens quite often have Camelias but my garden is too dry and windy too, which they don’t like. Christina

  5. very interesting Christina, I know some seeds need to ‘chill’ to germinate but didn’t realise flowers on some plants were triggered by chilling, you will have to learn to love the plants that do grow through winter in native habitates like those you have in Italy, also does the warmer autumn and early winter extend the flowering of summer and autumn plants? Frances

    • Autumn can be like a second spring when the rains arrive after the summer drought. But this also means that there isn’t a lot of autumn colour, again that is a temperature controlled mechanism but I written about that before. Christina

  6. I’m going to take a wild guess, and ask if one of them could be a variety of rose? In the southern US you can find roses blooming in December and January. And of course there are many long-blooming and fragrant varieties.

    • My mahonia didn’t flower at all this year, it could have been the drought last year but even last year it didn’t flow for very long. Camellias don’t do so well for me for the same reason, it is very dry when their buds are forming. They grow well here though in soil that is a little heavier than mine and where there is more shade. Christina

  7. Lonicera fragrantissima is a favorite of mine, too. That’s too bad that it doesn’t bloom as long in your climate as it does in England. Here it can bloom from the first of December through April, making it an ideal winter shrub.

  8. It’s so interesting that plants can bloom at such different times in different places. I have been trying to add more winter bloomers to my garden. Like you, some I thought would work have not. I have ordered more, and hopefully I will eventually be successful. I look forward to hearing about the two that flower for you through the winter. You know they will be on my next order list!

  9. I love winter honeysuckles but I think mine will have to go. My garden is too small to accommodate a plant that is too sprawling and scruffy for 9 months of the year. And the only place I could plant it is awkward to get to so I don’t really get the chance to benefit from its perfume anyway. It’s sad because i do love it but I need something that performs more effectively for my space.

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