Tropical islands, endless summer - it always sounds a dream come true. The reality is endless heat, stickiness and bugs that bite.
There are lots of things to be said for living in a cooler climate with seasons; one of them is being able to enjoy cool climate plants and especially those that flower in the winter garden.
One of the stars of the winter garden is the camellia, yet puzzlingly, these days it is almost unfashionable. These amazing plants produce masses of pink (unfashionable again), white and red blossoms over a long season in winter and early spring.
Camellia sasanqua thrives in quite cold climates given good drainage (wet frozen feet will kill almost anything), and its flowering period can be measured in months not days.
C. 'Elfin Rose' has dainty, clear pink flowers, 'Star above Star' is a perfectly formed very pale pink, 'Fairy Blush' has dark reddish buds opening white, and 'Mine-no-Yuki' is pure white. 'Showa-No-Sakae' has pink, almost shaggy blooms, while pale 'Plantation Pink' is often espaliered; 'Moshio' is deep red with dark stamens and 'Yuletide' is a single red with a shaving-brush boss. There are many more.
Another stalwart of the winter garden is the hellebore. The winter roses are justifiably popular with their attractive foliage and weatherproof flowers.
Most commonly seen are Helleborus x hybridus (or H. orientalis). These come in greenish to pure white, spotted pinks to deep maroon and almost black. Attractive forms are keenly sought and many, often expensive, named varieties can be found. It's fun to let them set seed and see what comes up in the spring!
Remove the old, tatty foliage before the plants start into growth in mid winter and the flowers seen more clearly and the whole look of the plant vastly improved.
H. 'White Magic' is a hybrid with pure white flowers held above the dark foliage, it is often not as robust nor flowers as freely as H. orientalis and its hybrids. There are other hellebores that are definitely worth acquiring. H. argutifolius (syn. H. corsicus) has large soft green, serrated leaves and large clusters of pale green flowers with a maroon tinge.
H. foetidus stands tall to over 1.0m and carries a similar cluster of pure lime green flowers over deep green, very divided leaves.
The witch hazels, Hamamelis sp., are invaluable for flowers and scent, as they unfurl their strange tattered blooms they make a splash of winter colour. Choose from clear yellow H. mollis, 'Pallida' and 'Arnold Promise', paler 'Primavera' and reds such as 'Jelena' and 'Red Cascade'.
As a bonus all the hamamelis have spectacular foliage colours in autumn.
Camellia s. 'Fairy Blush'
Hellebore orientalis, remove old leaves for the best display
H. 'White Magic'
The subtle charm of H. foetidus
Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise'