|Petunias on a rainy winter morning|
I used to think that winter bedding plants were tacky, but eventually I realized just how useful they can be if used carefully. They've really grown on me. You could swear it's springtime at Hagan Ace in Orange Park. While the sky was steely gray and drizzling, the cheery bright displays of violas and dianthus were unrelenting. Most annual displays around town seem to be a mishmash of contrasting bright colors in random arrangements, but I like to combine similar colors or just keep it monochromatic: Purple petunias and johnny jump ups look much more soothing with lavender alyssum, ornamental cabbage and dusty miller.
|Ajuga, or bugleweed|
|Heuchera, or coral bells|
The term 'winter color' usually brings to mind temporary displays of bedding plants, but there are long lasting alternatives that can be left in place all year long. Hurricane lily and other lycoris species might bloom in fall, but they keep their deep green leaves all through winter, looking similar to mondo grass but with a white stripe down each leaf. Mondo grass and border grass also stay green in winter, though they tend to flop over until spring.
I was really excited when I found Hagan Ace's display of deep purple hued Ajugas and silvery Heucheras, plants that I never appreciated enough as winter color before. Their unique colors and textures would look terrific with ornamental cabbages, neoregelia bromeliads or just about anything else that could contribute to the quilt of colors and textures.
Primroses and Alstromeria were two perennials that I have never grown before, but rest assured that they came home with me that day. Alstromeria are typically grown in California where they don't have to deal with the humidity, but I am nothing if not adventurous. Besides, the grower is located here in Florida. The Primula was also new for me, but I was sold when the nursery manager told me they tolerate shade. Even though they aren't supposed to make it through our hot summers, it will bring my balcony happiness until spring.
There are more to winter blooming shrubs than camellias, though they're certaintly the best place to start. My live oak canopied neighborhood is home to some of the tallest and most impressive camellias I've ever seen, and they're definitely the highlight of my winter walks. A close second goes to Mandarin orange trees, with plump orange fruits dangling down and begging to be plucked. I have shown restraint, at least so far.
The unusually warm winter has brought us redbud blooms in January, but far more common are the fragrant flowers of Ligustrums. Along with alyssums, they can make an entire garden smell like honey! Some azaleas also bloom in three seasons including winter, so they're definitely worth a look. 'Madonna' and a few others were blooming at the garden center during my visit.
Vegetables and Herbs
A surprising amount of veggies and herbs thrive in our cool winters. Salad greens, lettuce and collards can sit alongside carrots, potatoes, peas and onions. With all of those exciting crops, wonder if Florida vegetable gardeners even have to worry about seasonal affective disorder. How can anyone look at the vivid red and green leaves of swiss chard and feel anything else than pure joy?
Herbs love this weather as well, and Hagan Ace's herb selection was a feast for the senses. Strawberries hung from the arbor over fragrant rosemaries, mints and blooming calendulas. I was forced to buy a 'Lilliput' thyme and a "Lemon Lime' thyme, but I just couldn't help myself. I'll just look at it as grocery shopping!
Feel free to add your own favorites for winter color in the comments below! Oh, and if you're a naturally curious gardener like myself, be sure to join Christopher Tidrick for Linnaeus Day on the 23rd of each month as he explores the mysteries and history of the world one plant at a time. I can't wait to see what he has in store!