On The Garden Path-Winter-blooming plants complete a garden

Witch hazels, snowdrops and hellebores are essential to a garden.

| February 2009

  • Snowdrop
    The foliage and pearl-drop flowers of Galanthus elwesii snowdrop are eye-catching as they pierce through dried leaves.
    Caleb Melchior
  • Witch hazel
    The flowers of witch hazel ‘Feuerzauber’ look like crepe paper.
    Caleb Melchior
  • Helleborus
    Helleborus ‘Sunshine Strain’ offers a wide range of colors.
    Caleb Melchior

  • Snowdrop
  • Witch hazel
  • Helleborus

It’s February, and we’ve hit those difficult weeks when winter has lost its charm, and the cold has yet to give any hint of giving way to spring. Gardeners are full of dreams and plans, and as the craving for flowers grows stronger, we threaten to do dangerous and extravagant things to satisfy our longings. 

However, there’s a simple solution for the end-of-winter doldrums. Rather than leaving for the Florida coast or a Caribbean island, a wise gardener plants flowers that will bloom in late winter. It seems impossible that any flowers could grow or bloom when the mercury remains steadily in the 20s, but it is possible. There are three flowers in particular, which, in my opinion, no garden is complete without. These essentials are witch hazels, snowdrops and hellebores.


Witch hazels

Witch hazels – Hamamelis – are a group of amiable, small trees that grow to 15 feet high and wide, and bedeck themselves in spidery blossoms throughout the coldest days of January and February. They grow slowly and prefer partial shade, two characteristics which make them highly suitable for suburban landscapes. Two of the most excellent witch hazels are ‘Arnold Promise’, a brilliant yellow that looks gorgeous against icy blue winter skies, and long-blooming ‘Jelena’, which produces rich buff-apricot blossoms. Witch hazels are somewhat difficult to propagate, which accounts for their scarcity, but they’re worth searching for.



Like witch hazels, the most difficult thing about snowdrops is finding plants for sale. Because they dry out easily in storage, snowdrops can be tricky to buy as dry bulbs. To get around this hurdle, choose Galanthus elwesii, a snowdrop that is native to Turkey and is naturally tolerant of drying out. It will only reach 6 inches tall, at the most, but despite its size, this little woodlander bears lovely blooms. Imagine a pearl teardrop earring accented with delicate outlines of green, and you have a pretty good impression of a snowdrop. Although snowdrops multiply heartily, it’s still a good idea to plant them in clumps and drifts. A single snowdrop looks forlorn, and they’re cheap enough that most of us can afford to plant lots of them.



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