Winter charmers

Sunday, 26 June 2016

An early-flowering jonquil brings cheer into the winter garden

Despite my daring talk of culling plants and streamlining my garden, there is one group that I will never get rid of and that comprises the dainty winter-blooming bulbs that brighten and cheer my soul at this cold time. We would probably not even notice them if they flowered in the middle of summer when far bolder divas take centre stage. But when much of the garden is bleak, these little bulbs are treasures. This weekend, amidst our first really cold snap of winter, I've seen the first of their shy blooms peeking through. The group includes some of the 'classic' flowers of the English garden, so few of which do very well in my Sydney garden, so they represent a vestige of the cottage garden dreams of my youth!

Leucojum aestivum

Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) are a delight in the darkest days of winter and I have my first bud just opening. These pristine white bells, spotted with green around frilled edges, hang demurely on tall stems and flower over a long period. I like seeing them below snowy white Camellia japonica blooms such as 'Lovelight' or nearby to white hellebore flowers, echoing the nodding form of these winter charmers. Snowflakes will happily grow in shaded spots, although they will flourish equally well in sun.

Narcissus Soleil d Or

I have always loved jonquils (Narcissus 'Tazetta daffodils'), as they grew in my grandmother's country garden, multiplying over the years into vast clumps, which still faithfully bloom. I only have to take one whiff of a perfumed jonquil flower and I am immediately transported in my mind to that garden. The pale 'paper whites' are the first to bloom, followed by the delightful 'Soleil d'Or' with their tiny golden central cups surrounded by brilliant yellow petals. I have never had much luck with actual daffodils in my Sydney garden, the climate being too mild for them; I am content with my clumps of jonquils. They do best in a sunny spot.

Iris unguicularis thriving in the farm garden, Southern Tablelands of NSW

Another early bloomer is the Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis, syn. Iris stylosa), which begins to unfurl its scented sky-blue (or less commonly, white) flowers in June. This was also a stalwart in my grandmother's garden, and still thrives there; it does do better in a cold climate, but still has enough flowers to justify its presence in my Sydney garden. Finding the pretty blooms open in the garden is like finding a hidden gem on a freezing morning. This plant has rather untidy foliage, which benefits from a heavy cut back in autumn, to enhance the appearance of the flowers. It likes a dry, sunny position.

An unusual winter bulb that does very well in Sydney is Tulbaghia simmleri (syn. Tulbaghia fragrans). Cousin to the ubiquitous society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), it has much wider leaves and larger lilac (or white) flowers, which have a clove-like perfume and appear over a long period through winter (and into early spring). It has the added advantage of doing well in a shaded spot, consorting well with winter bloomers such as Daphne odora or Strobilanthes anisophylla.

Once winter is on the wane, we'll have a procession of other lovely bulbs and flowers, but for the moment, these cuties lift my spirits and make me smile.

Reader Comments

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 June 2016

    Couldn"t agree more about the delights of early jonquils. It"s cold and grey this morning but through the window I can see cheerful clumps of golden jonquils and yesterday I found the first snowflake flower even though it and the leaves are still only an inch out of the ground.Double Erlicheer and Grande Monarch seem to have been out for ages. I"m sure they are getting earlier every winter. Another cheerful patch of golden yellowis provided by Linum reinwardtii (L trygonum). Sue Thanks, Sue. The jonquils seem to be flowering earlier these days here too! I love the linum; it has been out for quite a while. Mine now has more sun than it used to when shade by a large tree (now gone) and it is blooming a lot better. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 June 2016

    I too love jonquils. Actually love all of the spring flowering bulbs and will try those that will bloom for me even if for only one year - eg tulips. I was pleased to notice that the winter flowering Iris was not in your garden - when I saw it I thought how does she do that in Sydney? Mum used to have it in our garden and it produced a few brave flowers but your photo is magnificent. I have a few varieties of tulbaghia and find them most rewarding. The good old snow flakes, a treasure. Yes the winter iris is so prolific in a colder climate; I get a few each winter and I love the colour, so persevere with them. Tulbaghias are great bulbs and very reliable in our climate. Deirdre

  • By Maree 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 June 2016

    When out walking last week I saw a Magnolia Soulangiana in bloom. I"m not sure if this is early as I always consider them Heralds of Spring. However, what a delight to see. It does seem very early; I think July is the earliest I have seen them around here. However, I think the long warm autumn and then all the rain has played havoc with some plants; I have a lot of daylilies flowering right now when they should be dormant! Deirdre

  • By Ingrid 3370 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 27 June 2016

    Living in a colder climate I am thrilled to see my snowdrops flowering strongly in the icy weather we are experiencing. They are flowering among some pale pink hellebores and are a joy to behold in the midst of the bare winter garden. Still waiting for my snowflakes to bud and flower but they are"s so exciting watching the small garden miracles. Can"t wait for the full flush of the spring bulbs. How wonderful to be able to grow snowdrops. They are exquisite. They would look lovely with the hellebores. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 29 June 2016

    Winter bulbs have always been evident in my garden, and they are delightful. I have jonquils, snowflakes, and this year, some dear little daffodils, just budding. I have not had success with Iris unguicularis, but will give it another chance, due to your success. Tulbagia, the white and lilac, provides welcome colour, and flower for such a long time. Like you, I look forward to the huge variety of summer bulbs. Thanks, Margaret. The irises are never very prolific but I love their colour. I find they do best in a hot, dry spot. Deirdre

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