Ten Blooms for December.

Gardener, if you listen, listen well:

Plant for your winter pleasure, when the months

Dishearten; plant to find a fragile note

Touched from the brittle violin of frost.’

From ‘The Garden’. Vita Sackville-West

I love the outline of trees against a violet winter sky.  I love the texture and shape of evergreens without the distraction of flowers.  I planted a large part of my garden to enjoy in winter, with coloured bark and interesting foliage. But the icing on the cake of course, are the delicate looking flowers which brave the worst of the winter weather.  None of them are flamboyant; most are shy and retiring and you have to seek them out. Many of them are fragrant because they rely on scent to entice any bees brave enough to be out and about.

Each month when I write about my ten favourite blooms  I try to stick with plants that are blooming in their proper season. December is the most challenging month for finding ten beautiful blooms to recommend,  because many of my favourites don’t really get going until later in January and February.

I’ll start with my favourite flowering shrub. It is the Winter Sweet, Chimonanthus praecox and it comes from China. It grows to about seven feet tall. I love the flowers which look like pale lemon claws. They open from little round buttons. Graham Stuart Thomas said they are dirty cream. Actually the colour is variable; some are primrose yellow and I have seen one in Cambridge Botanical Gardens which is white. They have inner petals which are maroon.

Chimonanthus praecox

The scent of these flowers is fabulous; it is spicily sweet and a small sprig fills the room with a wonderful fragrance. The drawback is that it needs a warm, sunny position, preferably in front of a south-facing wall to flower well. This wouldn’t matter if it didn’t look so coarse and unattractive in summer. I get round the problem by growing a viticella clematis up it. I have never succeeded in striking cuttings but it has little lantern- like seed cases full of seeds. They germinate readily but do not start to bloom until they are about seven years old. I grew mine from seed about twenty years ago. It moved around with me during a turbulent time in my life and clearly resented being dug up four times in three years; it showed its resentment by not flowering for a few years. This year it is full of bloom and looking happy again, I think it has decided that it has come home.

Chimonanthus praecox with last year’s seedheads

The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger lives up to its name most years and blooms on Christmas Day. I used to have one with huge flowers called ‘Potter’s Wheel’, but I haven’t come across it for some years. This plant grows in woodland in its natural habitat so it likes partial shade and lots of leaf mould. Unfortunately, slugs enjoy munching on the flowers.

Helleborus niger

I love Helleborus orientalis and once they get going later in the winter they bloom for months. I decided to have some that I could enjoy in the greenhouse this year, whatever the weather. I chose the lovely hybrid Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’. This was bred by Rodney Davey and named after Anna Pavord. It has stunning pinky red flowers and marbled leaves.

Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’

Helleborus ‘Anna”s Red’ leaves

The other hellebore I have in the greenhouse is Helleborus ‘Silver Lace’. When I bought it, I thought it was Helleborus lividus which comes  from Majorca and is not reliably hardy.  Actually it is the Corsican Helleborus argutifolius so it is quite hardy and  can be planted in the garden. I love the silvery, spiny foliage.

Helleborus argutifolius ‘Silver lace’

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ blooms in the spring with pink flowers but I prefer it when it has the dark red buds in winter. It is perfectly hardy in the garden but I have one in a pot in the greenhouse for a bit of colour.

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

Of course snowdrops feature strongly in my top ten December list of favourites. This is the reliable Galanthus ‘Farringdon Double’.

Galanthus ‘Farringdon Double’

Galanthus ‘Remember,Remember’ bloomed for Armistice Day and was still looking good well into December.

Galanthus ‘Remember, Remember’

Also in bloom are several Galanthus elwesii and Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ which reliably blooms for Christmas’.

 Galanthus’ Three Ships’

I suppose I should include viburnums as they obligingly bloom throughout the winter months . I can’t say I love them though. These flowers go a bit brown in the frost and ice but carry on happily when the frost lets up.

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

One winter flowering viburnum that is definitely not one of my favourite December blooms is Viburnum tinus. I have it everywhere even though I have dug up several and I do dislike it. The leaves are often covered in white fly and as I have said before it smells awful when it is wet. Someone near here has planted it all the way up his long drive and I should hate to walk there when it has been raining. But having been so rude about it I have to admit that if you remove all the leaves it is quite useful for a vase.

Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

The lovely winter flowering Iris unguicularis seems quite unconcerned by bad weather, the flowers look too delicate for the middle of winter. If you pick it in bud it will open in water. I love the sky blue one but I also love this pale lavender one.

Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

I suppose I should mention winter jasmine as it obligingly blooms all winter.  Wherever the stems meet the earth it roots, so you never need be without it. It’s not a plant  which makes the heart beat faster, but it is useful.

Jasminum nudiflorum

Another climber is a clematis which sounds  more like a liver disease rather than a plant. It is Clematis cirrhosa ‘jingle Bells’. I forgot to take a photo of it so I have just been down the garden in the dark to pick a few flowers.

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Jingle Bells’

I used Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ in my Christmas vase. I love these delicate winter flowering clematis. They look so fragile but they are quite hardy.

Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’

I have already cheated a bit by showing plants in the greenhouse rather than the garden and now I am going to take you indoors to see my lovely slipper orchid which is blooming for the third year. I have lots of Phalaenopsis or Moth orchids which bloom for weeks on end on the kitchen window sills. But this is a bit more special. It looks as if it is made of wax.

Orchid paphiopedilum

I will finish with my favourite December flower. It is the diminutive daffodil, Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’. Most years it manages to be in bloom for Christmas Day. It is rare and wonderful and very elusive. Just as you think you have a lovely big clump it will fail to appear one year. I think it is very vulnerable to attacks from Narcissus Fly, I don’t know why it should suffer more than other daffodils but over the years I have lost quite a few. It is always a relief when it appears. For a little more about the history of this daffodil click here.

Narcissus minor ‘Cedric Morris’

So there are my top ten blooms for December. Next month there will be some more exciting blooms as more fragrant shrubs come into flower.  If you have any treasures to share,  I would love to see them. If you can’t find ten, just one beautiful bloom is a treat in December .


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36 Responses to Ten Blooms for December.

  1. Kris P says:

    Despite your trepidation about finding 10 blooms in December, I think you’ve had stellar success! I have an ‘Anna’s Red’ hellebore in my own garden – she hasn’t bloomed yet but it looks as though she’s gearing up for it. That plant is remarkable and, despite my investment in others, it’s still the best performer I have in that genus. How I wish I had even that much success with Clematis! I took my camera out on Christmas Day in search of blooms I hadn’t had on Bloom Day and found just a few newbies, which I featured in a new post this morning.

    • Chloris says:

      Well I cheated a bit by going into the greenhouse and house. But I am so delighted with the orchid.
      I love H.Anna’s Red, specially as Anna is the name of a special person in my life. Having it in the greenhouse I get earlier blooms which are undamaged by the weather.
      I am surprised you have no success with clematis, is it too dry?
      I saw your lovely post and tried to leave a comment but it disappeared into the ether. I’ll try again later.

  2. I feel the same way about Viburnums, they are hard to avoid here – thus far I have! I love Anna and am always amazed by the number of Snowdrops…never heard of winter Clematis until you.I wonder if they are grown further north? Loved seeing them regardless. Happy New Year, Liz.

  3. Anna says:

    You have some real December gems there Chloris. Why do some plants like chimonanthes take so long to flower? Seven years becomes a long time when you get to a certain age 🙂 Your indoor helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ looks so much happier than mine which is exposed to the elements.

    • Chloris says:

      I probaby wouldn’t have tried growing chimonanthus from seed if I had realised how long it would take to get flowers, but I am glad I did now. Tree peonies take about 7 years too but it is worth the wait.
      Yes, having a few hellebores in the greenhouse is a way to get early blooms which are unblemished.

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    I’m a bit jealous of all that you have in your garden. 🙂 As you know, my garden is under ice and snow.

  5. snowbird says:

    Deprived as I am, I find your floral offerings just beautiful, especially the snowdrops and your orchid. I have skimmia and jasmine and am most grateful for both. I love the trees and dogwoods at this time of the year too, stark outlines are so dramatic. All the best for 2018 dear Chloris!xxxx

  6. tonytomeo says:

    Ten? I was just trying to get six for next week? I have never done a meme before, so thought I would give it a try. However, instead of flowers, I will try fallen leaves, just to show that we really do have a few here.

  7. No blooms outside when the high is 7F. I do have some indoor blooms in the sunroom, and they will increase as the days lengthen. Your blooming flowers are beautiful!

  8. mrsdaffodil says:

    Beautiful, beautiful post! Just what I needed. It’s been cold here and there was a snowfall Christmas Eve. There is nothing blooming in my garden. Love the Vita Sackville-West quote.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Mrs. D. It is fun to have a white Christmas but not so much fun if it goes on too long. I love that Vita Sackville West quote too. ‘The brittle violin of frost’ is such an evocative phrase.

  9. Chloris says:

    Thank you Anca, I am glad you enjoyed it. Is your garden still under snow?

  10. Hooray for ‘Silver Lace’ and ‘Jingle Bells.’ What fun to see your monthly blooms and note the rhythm of the seasons. I have a few Iris unguicularis in bloom, and a few hellebores, but my Chimonanthus is still closed tight.

  11. I’m amazed that you have 10 plants in bloom outside in September. (Well, 9, I guess.) I love that Clematis, though the name makes me think of a Clematis with a drinking problem. Here, of course, everything is frozen solid.

  12. smallsunnygarden says:

    Love the lines by Vita Sackville-West – what a lovely way to begin your post! Your Hellebores are beauties. I would find ‘Silver Lace’ irresistible, I know. How nice that it turned out to be hardy enough for outdoors too! I used to wonder whether I might sneak one or two in here, having found them surprisingly drought-tolerant in my Missouri garden. But after three years of growing things here in the desert, I think perhaps I’ll not try! Unless the itch just gets to be too much… 😉
    I managed five again this month; the roses are stars right now, which makes me so happy! https://www.smallsunnygarden.com/2017/12/28/five-favorites-for-december/

    • Chloris says:

      I love the words: ‘The brittle violin of frost’, it doesn’t make much sense but it sounds lovely.
      I love your roses. Roses in December, what a treat.

  13. Cathy says:

    Lovely post – and beauties all. Picking your brains a bit – I’m having trouble getting decent sized flowers on my H. niger. The soil is heavy, yes. But someone in the village gave me a big bunch for my birthday in December a few years ago. So it’s just me! Do you think I need to pop on cloches? Clematis ‘Freckles’ always makes me sigh with desire. Thanks!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Cathy. I have found that the flowers of H.niger vary in size according to which plants they are growing on. But having said that, I know that they don’t like to dry out, so that may make a difference. Cloches keep them pristine and keep slugs off them, but I don’t think they will make the flowers bigger.

      • Cathy says:

        Thanks so much Chloris! It’s the stems that aren’t long – the flowers are good and big, but held right close to the awful mud in my garden! I will try the cloches next year.

  14. Thank you for the wonderful post. Now I long for spring! Unfortunately the only color in the garden here right now is white from the snow, splashes of red from the lingering crab apples and winterberries, the green of the firs, and the bits of color from the blue jays and cardinals at the feeders. We’re under a foot of snow (not bad for December) and in the midst of a horrific cold spell…day 5, or is it 6, of temperatures in the negative teens (Fahrenheit) and wind chills around -30 degrees F. Weather fit for neither human nor beast….

  15. How I really like the galanthus flower.

  16. Cathy says:

    I looked forward to seeing your December flowers as I know how you like to ensure you have many winter beauties, just as Vita suggests. Shame that some of the bloomers (like Chimonanthus – and winter honesuckles) are ugly at other times of the year, but growing clematis up them is an excellent idea. I am storing some of your ideas up for when I develop the area where the chucks currently are – but will keep the ideas to myself for the moment. I also like the idea of having some potted hellebores for earlier and protected blooms – ny H niger has completely disappeared since last year… 😦 And I MUST find another spot for the Freckles which I dug out, as yours has reminded how much I love her. Thanks for sharing the lovely photos of your lovely blooms, Chloris

  17. Chloris says:

    Yes, I do love winter blooms and I know you do. I enjoyed your witch hazel pictures and I have been anxious to see if mine were in bloom too. I have been stuck in for a week with flu so it was wonderful to go down the garden today to find they were blooming along with hellebores and quite a few snowdrops.

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