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.