Winter is well and truly here, but luckily for Sydneysiders, there is plenty of flower colour still to be found in our gardens. A stroll around my garden revealed some of the blooms that only appear once the temperature plunges. Who knows why they choose winter to star, but I am very glad that they do! I spied the very first flower on my specimen of Camellia japonica 'Lovelight' (ht to 3 m), a pristine white semi-double form, which is my favourite camellia. Once there are enough blooms, I like floating them in a shallow bowl indoors. The flowering period lasts till early spring, and the shady border where I grow this shrub will later have other icy-coloured blooms to echo the camellia: snowflakes, hellebore hybrids and self-seeded white forget-me-nots and Primula.
Another evergreen shrub that has just started to bloom is Mahonia lomariifolia (ht 2-3 m) producing its long, upright flowering spires of tiny, yellow, clustered bells, which have a soft scent. It also does very well in shade. Recently, I planted some Corsican hellebore seedlings (Helleborus argutifolius, ht to 80 cm) beneath my shrub: this has tall stems holding clusters of large, rounded green flowers from now on all through winter, and its serrated-edged, veined foliage has a similar look and colour to that of the Mahonia. Another beautiful evergreen, perfumed shrub that begins to bloom in June is Daphne odora (ht 1 m). It has exquisite posies of waxy pale pink (or white) flowers from rosy buds all along its evergreen stems all through winter. The waxy lilac or white stars of winter-flowering sweet garlic (Tulbaghia simmerli, ht 40-60cm) are remarkably similar to the flowers of the Daphne and make good companion plantings, as these bulbous perennials too will bloom in shade. Other pretty bulbs that produce their flowers now include jonquils (ht 30-40 cm), Nerine (ht 45 cm), Haemanthus albiflos (ht 20-30 cm) and winter iris (ht 50 cm), all adding welcome splashes of colour.
There are many Salvia still lingering on in bloom from autumn, but June sees a few more come into their own. One of the most delightful to me is Salvia 'Timboon'. It appears to be one of the many winter-flowering Salvia involucrata x karwinskii crosses, which do well in Sydney gardens. I found that most of these got too big for my garden (up to 4 m!) but 'Timboon' has a more upright shape and grows to around 2 m high and 1.5 m wide. It has deep burgundy-pink flowers in wine-coloured calyces: even when it is in bud, it is beautiful. It is such a cheering sight in the winter garden. The flowers are a perfect match for the leaves of Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima' (ht 60 cm), which I grow nearby to it: a fantastic foliage plant for mild gardens.
Another great salvia for winter blooms is Salvia rubiginosa (ht 1-1.5 m), a much more compact plant, with rich blue flowers accentuated by purple calyces in winter and early spring. It pairs well with the bromeliad Aechmea gamosepala (ht 50 cm), which has unusual brush-like pink inflorescences tipped with the same colour blue as this Salvia, and in bloom now. Another attractive bromeliad that has just started flowering in my garden is Aechmea weilbachii (ht 60 cm), bearing a slender stem with red-bracted, lilac-purple flowers. The flower spikes of both these Aechmea species last for a long time and they are very useful plants for dry shade.
The Acanthaceae family of plants has winter bloomers offering bright hues for the garden. Justicia floribunda (syn. Justicia rizzinii, ht 1 m) has dainty, pendulous, tubular-bell shaped flowers, each multi-toned in colours of scarlet, orange and yellow - from June until October! The effect is like that of a shower of embers suspended in mid-air, sparkling in a sunny spot or lighting up a shadier position. A related plant is Justicia aurea (ht 1.5 m), which has big, feathery flowers of a brilliant yellow hue; it does best in a sunny spot. Megaskepasma erythrochlamys (ht 2-3 m) is another bold shrub, with vibrant crimson bracts in bold spikes held all through winter above huge, glossy, veined leaves. It will grow in sun or shade, and grows well even next to trees, but flowering seems to be best in a sunny position.
Some succulents flower in winter - epiphytic zygocactus (Schlumbergera hybrids, ht to 30 cm) are showing their unusual, silky flowers their stem tips now, in colours of pinks, purples, magenta, white, orange, yellow and red. Some develop a cascading habit with age. They seem to look best when grown in pots under trees, tied to tree branches, in hanging baskets or in a dry rockery situation, and need protection from frost in a part-shade position. Shrubby Crassula ovata (ht 90 cm) is like a small, many-branched tree, with sprays of dainty pale pink or white flowers in winter. It looks good growing in a pot and likes a sunny position.
There's lots to spark joy in June! Let me know some of your favourites.
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.