I have always disliked winter: the short days, the often miserable weather, and just being cold, have always been things I dread. Gardens are often depicted as being in a dormant state in the cold months: drab, bare and basically asleep. English gardening books that I read when I first started gardening told me to find some winter solace by studying the shape of leafless trees and examining their bark, or meditating on the subtle beauty of a dried seedpod.
Yet I became obsessed with the idea that I wanted splashes of fiery colour to cheer me up at this time, so I began a search for winter-flowering plants in hues of red, yellow and orange. Eventually, I realised that our relatively mild winters mean that there are actually lots of possibilities for us in Sydney and I have found a whole range of flowers, some familiar, others less so.
Camellia japonica (ht around 3-5m) have long been one of the most significant winter-flowering plants for Sydney gardens, forming medium to large shrubs, which can be underpruned to form small trees. Some cultivars have brilliant red bold flowers, the petals often enhanced by bunches of yellow stamens. Red Camellia can usually tolerate sunny positions, and they form a brilliant partner to other hot-coloured shrubs from places like Central America, South America and Mexico, such as Salvia gesneriiflora 'Tequila' (ht 2-4 m) with its long electric-red tubular flowers in black calyces; the surreal giant golden daisies of the shrubby perennial tree marigold or Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia, ht to 4m); or poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima, ht 3.5m, pictured above), with its scarlet bracts formed like dramatic flowers, in single or double form. The lantern-flowered Abutilon hybrids bloom well through winter and include yellow, orange and red varieties, and the brilliant orange daisies of the mountain marigold (Tagetes lemmonii) are still glowing.
Smaller hot-coloured shrubs can join the scene: Justicia rizzinii, ht 60cm-1m), (pictured at the start of the blog) with its profusion of dainty red and yellow harlequin blooms; Justicia aurea (ht 1.5m, pictured left), with tousled yellow flowers which last a good two months in June and July; or Reinwardtia indica (ht 1m), an undemanding, suckering (but not rampageous), small shrub smothered in bright gold coins for many weeks in early winter. These small shrubs grow well in shade.
Semi-tropical creepers for bright winter blooms include the South American orange trumpet or golden shower vine (Pyrostegia venusta, ht up to 10m!). It needs a strong structure such as a shed, pergola or balcony to support its vigorous growth. The Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens, ht 3m) from Mexico, North and Central America is a more restrained twining creeper, with fragrant yellow bells amidst glossy leaves in winter and early spring, and is very suitable for an arch, fence or trellis, and can also be tried as a groundcover. It blooms best in a sunny position. All parts of this plant are toxic.
I don't grow many natives in my garden but I enjoy seeing them as I walk around the neighbourhood or through the bush in winter. Wattles offer their clear yellow, downy bobbles from the very start of winter, with the fragrant Queensland wattle (Acacia podalyriifolia, ht 4-6m) being one of the first to open in June, followed by the feathery-leafed Cootamundra wattle in July (Acacia baileyana, ht 6m). These wattles are a brilliant sight against a blue winter sky. The big, brush-flowered Grevillea such as 'Sandra Gordon', 'Robyn Gordon' and 'Orange Marmalade' all flower through winter and can grow up to 3 or 4m tall; and the chubby candles of Banksia (pictured above) continue from autumn into winter.
These native plants can look good growing with South African plants, as they seem to like the same sunny, well-drained conditions, and seem to have a similar sort of subtle colouration of their flowers and slightly dry look about them. These include the silver-leafed Euryops (Euryops pectinatus, ht 1.2m) with its large bright yellow in winter, joining its green leafed cousin, the Paris daisy (Euryops chrysanthemoides, ht 1.2m), which began to bloom in autumn. Kniphofia, mentioned a few weeks ago, comprise another South African genus with winter-flowering specimens. The bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae, ht 2m, pictured above) blooms from autumn through till spring, giving bright colour in the winter garden. It forms a big clump and its bold leaves are a good contrast to smaller foliage.
The shiny plump fruit of citrus trees - lemons, grapefruit, oranges, mandarins and cumquats - add to the yellow and orange hues of a bright winter garden, and their glossy evergreen leaves are always attractive on these small trees (ht 2-4m or as pruned). Even compact gardens might find a sunny spot for a potted cumquat or a small-growing lemon variety such as the 'Meyer'. Yellow or orange annuals such as pansies, violas and Calendula can also add colour in containers. We are lucky to have so many options for hot winter colour!
The charm of vintage gardening books
28 Feb 21
A trip back in time
21 Feb 21
Cane-stemmed Begonia cultivars are summer stars for foliage and flower power in Sydney gardens.
14 Feb 21
There are some unusual flowers on my grasses now.
07 Feb 21
These plants bloom for many months in my garden - and some are in flower all year!
31 Jan 21
Many scented flowers are in bloom now.