Grey is the word most use to describe the outdoors in Western Oregon and Washington from November-March. The sky is usually leaden and dripping, and the dark evergreen leaves of the conifers and common rhododendrons, camellias, and ferns further soak up the dull light and darken the landscape even more. However, our mild climate (being close to a huge ocean is a blessing too!) allows the transition toward a brighter season to begin early. Spring in our gardens begins in January and accelerates, slowly at first, until the air and soil warm and dry in July.
There are a surprising array of flowers quite willing to bloom while pummeled by rain and sleet, buried by snow, whipped by dry east winds, and frozen solid. Some, such as the Sarcacocca (Himalayan Boxwood), lure us with powerful fragrance wafting from tiny, inconspicuous flowers hidden among their evergreen leaves. The deciduous Chimonathus praecox (Wintersweet) has harder time hiding its dull-looking, yet powerful blossoms. Other shrubs, such as Camellia 'Yuletide', Mahonia x media 'Charity', Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine), Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn', or Hamamelis (Witch Hazel) vigorously shake our retinas with vivid, long-lasting, showy blooms. Yet more pack a whole variety show into their winter presence. Arctostaphylos pajaroensis (Pajaro Manzanita) exhibits silvery evergreen foliage, candy-pink flowers, and peeling mahogany bark. Grevillea begin their multi-season flowering display this month with otherworldy (not really...just other-hemispherically) flowers held over rich and reflective evergreen foliage.
Perennials and bulbs also play a part in the winter garden. Helleborus are a tough, easy-to-grow, and fairly common winter bloomer. Plant breeders on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have obsessively squeezed every variation imaginable out of the genus, with colors ranging from chartreuse, white, cream, cool red, to midnight blue, and freckles, silvery foliage, flower variegation, and doubled blossoms thrown in for even more snap! Other perennials are not willing to stand on the sidelines. Some Pulmonaria (Lungwort) are just beginning to show. One of my favorites, the surreal acid-yellow and salmon bracts of Euphorbia rigida (Myrtle Spurge), are appearing at the ends of succulent, spiraling, ever-blue stems. Iris reticulata, Galanthus (Snowdrops), Crocus thomasiniana, some Narcissus, and Eranthis hyemallis (Winter Aconite) are bulbs beginning to peak right now.
All the plants mentioned are found at many locations, but especially the Kennedy School, Edgefield, the St. John's Pub, and the Chapel Pub. So when the weather breaks enough to venture outside, the winter show-offs need an audience!