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The Best Winter Flowering Plants for the Pacific Northwest

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Author: Kevin Jinn, 2018

Flowers in Winter...POSSIBLE!

Winter is a season that gardeners often spend inside, away from the ice, cold and snow. However, Vancouver often has mild winters, and so the adventurous gardener may step out into the garden to find that there are some brave plants that put out flowers even in the coldest months of the year. Luckily, there are a number of choice flowers that we have access to here in the Pacific Northwest. Here are five of our favourite picks for flowering plants to brighten up your landscape in winter.

Camellias (Camellia japonica)

A top pick for a gorgeous flower in winter. It has all the qualities of a choice garden shrub: medium height (can reach small tree heights) with lush evergreen foliage that provides four-season interest. This winter blooming shrub has wonderful flowers with large pink or red blossoms, although many more colours and forms are becoming increasingly available in the nursery trade.

Some varieties also tolerate shade, and are often bred with good structure and form. Camellias are also quite low maintenance; an absolute winner for hardiness and disease resistance.

Sowbread (Cyclamen coum)

Sowbread is a tuber in the Primrose family, with hardy flowers in winter and foliage lasting all winter. The almost evergreen leaves only disappear once summer comes and other showy flowering plants can take over. Remarkably, these plants are easy to grow, even thriving in shade, to form nice groundcovers. We love the beautiful pink flowers of Cyclamens, which rival only Shooting Stars as our favourites. Unsurprisingly, they both share the same plant family. No taller than two inches, use these tubers as a groundcover to brighten up your woodland beds with a splash of winter pink.

Hellebores/Lenten Rose (Helleborus spp., Helleborus x hybridus)

These wonderful Eurasian perennials are a great addition in the garden. They display their clump-fashioned flowers as early as February, and faithfully bloom throughout longer than most. Their common name is Lenten Rose because their blooms coincide with the beginning of Lent. Most are evergreen, low maintenance, with some varieties tolerant in dry shade. Also, their cultivation is so advanced that there are Hellebores in almost all shades of color, flower form, foliage, degree of doubling, petal shape and spotting, vigour and height…the list goes on and on. For a more in-depth look at these wonderful garden treasures, head over to our Resources page for a pdf on Hellebores.

“Hellebores, Winter Heathers, Cyclamen and Camellia.” Winter Heathers

There are many varieties of Winter Heathers. They all like good drainage and acidic soil. You will often see them planted en masse throughout the Vancouver region. We like Calluna vulgaris, or Scotch Heather, as it is more unique in flower form. For awesome colour, Ericea carnea ‘Kramer’s Red’ has deep full body red. There are some great purple, cream and mauve color forms that steal the show as well. These plants maintain an evergreen, compact form out of bloom, and rarely needing shrubbing. Use them as accents, or planted as borders in the perennial garden.

Winter Iris (Iris reticula)

Who doesn’t know the blue flowers of the Iris, which have been represented as symbols of royalty for the French, and representing Goddesses of Greek mythology. From the popular Siberian Iris to the wild and bearded Iris, these plants have been a staple in the cultivated garden for centuries. We are lucky to have an early flowering dwarf iris’, with striking shades of blue-purple flowers in winter. Low growing, they are wonderful en masse, forming a miniature show of blue in the winter garden. Originating from the mountainous regions of Turkey, Iran and Iraq, they can be found blooming even as the snow melts around them. Plant them around ponds or water features, where their miniature beauty can be enjoyed. The whole plant soon disappears in Spring, allowing the thoughtful gardener to add companion plants to fill in the gaps. You will commonly find Iris reticula in nurseries, although other dwarf species are available.

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