December Flowers

Flowering Apricot perfumes winter breezes.

A flowering apricot perfumes winter breezes.

One of the many advantages of gardening in the southeastern Piedmont region of the United States is the relatively mild climate. We get our share of mornings in the teens and twenties in winter to be sure, but the soil rarely freezes, and certainly not for long. By choosing the right plant for the right spot, gardeners in my region really can have blooms in their yards every month of the year.

Both of my just-beginning-to-bloom plants are not native to my region. These ornamentals come from Asia, but neither has ever demonstrated any invasive tendencies. I confess I’ve forgotten the cultivar name of the flowering apricot (Prunus mume) in the top photo. Despite benign neglect on my part, it has thrived for over a decade beneath a canopy of mature loblolly pines. Its fragrance is pleasantly sweet, without the undertones of cinnamon that characterize my other P. mume (Peggy Clarke).

The show looks likely to linger quite a while.

The show looks likely to linger quite a while.

This small tree is sited near my driveway, where I must pass it to retrieve my mail. It began blooming two weeks ago, and I’ve been making a point of stopping on my way up and back from the mailbox to deeply inhale the scent of these delicate-looking flowers. By the number of buds still present, I predict I have at least a month more of flowers from this tree.

January Jasmine beginning to bloom a few weeks early.

January Jasmine beginning to bloom a few weeks early.

Also just starting to bloom: January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). I first fell in love with this sprawling yellow-flowering low shrub when I saw it draped artfully over a rock wall at a local college campus.  The stems are evergreen, but they must not be tasty, because my neighborhood deer have always ignored my specimen despite easy access.

Some folks mistake this shrub in bloom for our ubiquitous forsythias, because the arching branch growth pattern is similar, and the flowers — from a distance — resemble this more common ornamental. But no forsythia I know blooms in December or January, and most years, not even late February. If you live in the Piedmont and see a yellow-blooming shrub with arching branches this time of year, odds are it is January Jasmine.

This shrub will be covered in sunny flowers in another week -- if ice stays away.

This shrub will be covered in sunny flowers in another week — if ice stays away.

January Jasmine needs room to sprawl. Rock walls make excellent supports and also provide a warmer microclimate as the rocks hold on to the heat from weak winter sunshine. I had no convenient rock wall, so I let my shrub form a natural mound that had widened over the twenty years since I planted it. Last year, Wonder Spouse and I severely pruned it back to prevent it from crowding out the daffodils planted near it. This indestructible plant responded by blooming more vigorously than it has in recent years. It will peak in another week or so, as we enter its namesake month. The bright yellow flowers offer no scent, but the flowering apricots more than compensate for that in my yard.

Coming attractions...

Coming attractions…

Last but never least, my other flowering apricot cultivar, P. mume ‘Peggy ‘Clarke,’ will be bursting into rosy-petaled, cinnamon-scented glory any minute now. It always opens a week or two after the pink one, even though both of my Peggy’s are sited in warmer microclimates. I know they are worth the wait, and you do too, if you’ve read my earlier entries here and here.

I read a disheartening article today about the latest gardening trends noted by the horticulture industry in the United States. According to their research, younger generations confine their gardening efforts to a few pots on their patios, having no interest in doing anything more than “mowing and blowing” the rest of their yards.

I hope this isn’t really true. You can’t grow flowering apricots or January Jasmine in pots on your patio. But I promise you, the winter flowers they give you in exchange for a few hours a year of work are worth every drop of sweat and sore muscle accrued on their behalf.

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  1. #1 by pressingflowers on December 31, 2012 - 9:13 am

    Great article as usual ! You have me ready to make a new list for the nursery 🙂
    I too worry about the next generation . My dream is that they will be the generation that digs up the grass and grow their food !
    Life has been crazy for me this year but I have read each blog of yours and it has been great for my spirit this year ! Thanks for sharing your garden .
    Peace & Happy New Year ,terica

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on December 31, 2012 - 9:45 am

      Hi, Terica! I’m glad I’ve helped you expand your nursery list. 🙂

      As for the young folks, I think gardening grandparents out there should make it their mission to introduce the grandkids to the natural world via garden work, garden visits, and sharing gardening/nature classes with them. I know, for example, that the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill offers many classes for children, some specifically designed for child-adult pairs to experience the natural world together.

      I hope the new year brings you a green garden and a peaceful heart.

      Catherine

  2. #3 by swiss flowers on March 27, 2013 - 8:54 am

    Thank you so much for posting your experience regarding “Winter gardening”. Here in Switzerland, as you may suspect winters are far from mild, but we do have a few lone “survivors” to brighten our (long) days. The most famous one being of course the snowdrop, which – as its name indicates – actually pierces through the snow late in Winter 🙂

    Kind regards,
    Mary R.

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on March 27, 2013 - 9:07 am

      Hi, Mary, and welcome!

      I imagine that the Swiss treasure their flowers even more than folks in my area do, if only because they are evident for so much shorter periods of time. On the other hand, your snow-covered landscape is quite lovely too.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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