Winter Garden Favorites

Martha Washington geranium (Pelargonium x domesticum)

Martha Washington geranium (Pelargonium x domesticum)

In Los Angeles, plants that bloom in winter, although recurring, remain somehow surprising annual delights. In the midst of winter’s pale, they arrive as unexpectedly as an undeserved new year’s bonus. Yet because our climate is Mediterranean – wet winters followed by long, dry, hot summers – we see many plants flower in midwinter. Plants native to climates such as ours must flower, pollinate and reseed themselves before summer weather begins, which can be as soon as early spring.
Gazanias, ice plants, geraniums and birds of paradise head the list of plants from South Africa, where the coastal climate mimics our own. These feel at home in our part of the world and bloom heavily in winter. None of these plants do well when watered much in summer, which is meant to be their dormant season. In addition, watering Mediterranean climate or California native plants more than once or twice a week, or watering them at night, leads to stem canker and root rot diseases.
Martha Washington geraniums (Pelargonium x domesticum) really hit their stride in January. These least-planted geraniums suffer the fate of many seasonal bloomers. In Los Angeles, where the mantra in so many areas of life is “gotta have it all – all the time,” Martha Washingtons are ignored because they tend to restrict their bloom time to the winter months. But their flowers, which are scintillating pinks, reds, lavenders and purples, are far showier than those of the longer-flowering and more common zonal and ivy geraniums.
One of the less seen, but more desirable, South African ground covers is the African daisy (Arctotis x hybrida). The other day, I saw a wine-colored variety in full flower, but it is also available in pink, yellow and orange. At first glance, you might mistake arctotis for gazania, except that arctotis grows taller and its flowers are larger than gazania blooms. The wine-colored arctotis would be a nice complement to the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) trees that are also blooming at this time. Everyone loves saucer magnolias, whose many varieties bear wine-colored flowers – be they claret, burgundy, bordeaux or pink zinfandel- of one vintage or another.
Hellebores (Helleborus species) are subtle winter bloomers that will never get the press they deserve. Hellebore flowers are typically pale green or yellow green in color, though reserved tones of red and purple appear in selected varieties.
Hellebores are excellent companions to clivia, whose orange and yellow flowers light up shady corners of the garden at this time of year.
TIP OF THE WEEK: This is an excellent time to plant a giant weeping tree rose. This plant is created by grafting a heavy-blooming polyantha or Meidiland rose onto a sturdy, 5-foot-tall understock. Once it has grown out and established itself, it will require a 6-foot metal or rebar frame for support. You can acquire giant weeping tree roses by special order from nurseries, from rose growers, or from Web sources such as

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