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More Winter Flowers


Last month, Sylvia (from England) revealed the winter flowers of her garden. When I found a flower on my ‘Freckles’ clematis one morning, I decided to follow her lead. To me, it’s amazing to find things flowering when, every night, I am draining my pipes so they won’t freeze.

‘Freckles’ (a Clematis cirrhosa cultivar) is pictured at the top. I wrote about it earlier this year, describing it as a winter-flowering clematis. I didn’t know how right I was. Since it’s a selection from the Beleares, where they don’t have much frost, or may not have any: huge, old bearing fig trees are common, some of the rosemary grows well over your head, and almonds have green fruit in March), I thought this clematis would shut down for business once the weather got really cold. It hasn’t. Not only have I got this flower, the leaves are still fresh and green.


All pretty sparse, as you can see, but I’ve had this clematis for less than a year. Can’t wait to see what it does next winter.


Another flower that is gracing my doorstep is the ever-beautiful Iris danfordiae. A small iris, all head and no stem, it has a fresh mild fragrance which you can enjoy more of in the house. I put Iris danfordiae in shotglasses or tiny jars, one or two at a time; they last for a few days. I like to put them someplace handy, like the kitchen table, so I can lift the whole bright nosegay up and sniff it for refreshment. They’re also great for sickrooms, because they’re small enough not to take much room on the bedside table, low enough that someone lying down can really see them, and easy to sniff from a prone position.

Those of us who plant bulbs in containers can bring these treats up close, where we  can see (and smell) every bit of drama as they unfold. Since no porch is big enough to hold all the plants I want to have close to me, I like getting to rotate plants in their prime so that they’re nearer to me. It helps that I plant bulbs in lightweight fiber pots, easier to schlep.

Iris danfordiae has always been an annual for me, but this time may be different. In Janis Ruksans’s well-named book Buried Treasures, I found a possible cure. Ruksans (his name is spelled incorrectly, as I don’t have diacritics in WP –if anyone knows of how to do them, I’d be grateful to know) – Ruksans tells of how I. danfordiae tends to split into tiny grains after flowering. This would explain the disappearance of my bulbs. His solution is to give them a good dose of fertilizer and plant them more deeply, 15-20 cm (about 8 inches), about twice as deep as you’d ordinarily plan a bulb this size.

So I planted my Iris danfordiae deep this year, and next year will tell if that tactic works in my area and in pots.


Violets are great in containers, forming a kind of miniature groundcover which allows other plants to grow through later in the season. Right now, they’re in their own,  coming out in strength. This unnamed passalong variety I got from the yard of my friend and former bandmate, Dan Scanlan. He lives in a twenties-era house which has a lot of plants from the old garden in it, including these violets. When our band rehearsed in his garage, these violets scented the entryway every February. I remarked on them so much that he gave me a few clumps.

I’m fascinated by violet varieties and history – at the beginning of the twentieth century, they were the most popular cut flowers in the U.S.  I’ve bought fancier named varieties, in search of exotic beauties – but this nameless Viola odorata, living on in abandoned homesites and old gardens around our county,  is the one I keep liking the best.


The final flower – and I do mean ONE flower – is even more common than the violets. For some reason, one of my Dutch Master daffodil pots is far in advance of the others. I can’t think why; I planted them all last year (usually, an old, established pot will bloom before a just-planted-this-fall one). And they were all pretty much in the same place, so none got more sun exposure than another. Just another of the mysteries of garden life.


Dutch Master is a common hybrid: too old to be new and different, to young to be antique. Yet when it is blooming on my doorstep in winter, it’s not common at all.
Next post: A letter from Sylvia. All about hellebores.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Frances February 14, 2009, 4:48 am

    Hi Pomona, what treasures you have in the winter garden. The clemmie is a unique creature, blooming now and having those spots, Love it! I have eyed the Iris and will be watching to see if the deep planting method works, but even as an annual, it seems worth growing. And looking forward to Sylvia’s hellebores. :-)

  • Sylvia (England) February 14, 2009, 7:48 am

    Pomona, I love freckles as I think I have said before, I did order it last year but the nursery was out of stock! It will come home with me one day. A few years ago (2005) I bought several pots of iris in spring (plus some more since – I can’t resist) Iris danfordiae never appeared again. Iris reticulata Harmony and Pauline I get a few flowers each year. At the moment I have one Dark purple Pauline in flower, but Harmony has buds on. I. reticulata does seem to be more reliable. No daffodils flowers in my garden yet but I have been enjoying a neighbours for a few weeks.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  • Pomona Belvedere February 14, 2009, 3:23 pm

    I’ll report back on whether the deep planting actually allows I. danfordiae to come back next year. My experience with I. reticulata is that it’s a bit more persistent, but dies out after two or three years. I’m not sure if it’s the same problem or something else. All these rock garden irises are very inexpensive, and it’s such a treat to have them in winter and early spring, I think they’re worth it as annuals, too.

  • Frances February 14, 2009, 3:59 pm

    I. reticulata ‘Harmony’ has been returning for five years now, with larger clumps each year. Keeping the squirrels from digging them up is the biggest challenge. :-)

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