Ta da! Ladies and gentleman, I present the first paperwhite blooms in my garden in over 10 years. Ever, actually. This story could be a garden oops (goops). I forced the bulbs indoors one year over a decade ago, and then, following Elizabeth Lawrence's advice, I planted them out in the garden. They sat wimpy and bloomless in the lean soil by the driveway at the old house site for 5 years. When we moved the house I moved them into the big perennial bed hoping the richer medium would give them a boost.
The bulbs' numbers had trebled but they were small bulbs. The narcissus continued to look wimpy, not helped by the fact that every. single. year. I mistook the foliage for weeds and yanked the leaves off. In my defense, the weak foliage strongly resembles grass that grows in the garden in winter. I figured the fact they never bloomed was a combination of my gardening ineptitude and the fact that according to Scott Ogden many modern paperwhite bulbs will increase and increase and not size up. Last year I managed to refrain from weeding them and this year, viola! Flowers! I've never forced any more paperwhites because DH is a hater and they hadn't done anything in the garden before now. I actually like the fragrance, even with the mothball undertones. Hopefully this year's flowers were not a fluke and they will bloom again.
Elizabeth Lawrence wrote that in her Raleigh garden the first flower of winter was the paperwhite narcissus. In winter her presence as a garden muse is closest to me than at any other time of year. Her A Southern Garden was written about her garden in Raleigh, just 30 miles from where I live. Both she and Billy Hunt (who deeded the land to UNC where the NC Botanical Garden is now) were champions of flowers in the garden year round, and writes "ever since I first shared Billy Hunt's enthusiasm for winter bloom, I have been collecting January and December flowering plants for my garden. I still have that buttery list that I made as we talked and lunched, and I pictured myself as living henceforth in a sort of Hesperides of perpetual spring, perfrumed with sweet olive and gay with camellias ~ both Sasanqua and japonica ~ winter heath, winter heliotrope, and in particular the white cowslip, Saxifraga ciliata."
In the section on "Winter-Flowering Trees and Shrubs" she writes of wintersweet and the Asiatic witch hazels and states that "loveliest of all is the Japanese apricot, Prunus mume, so called because the delicately colored and delicately scented almond-like blossoms are prized by the Japanese for winter flower arrangements".
Our Japanese flowering apricot is about half open. Sometimes it flowers in December, sometimes in January, sometimes in February, sometimes in waves, and sometimes all at once, depending on the weather. The tree is covered in buds and flowers in varying shades of pink and the perfume is so sweet. Yesterday bees were buzzing all over it. The 25th of December felt more like the 1st of April, with temps in the mid 60's.
Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is also blooming. It's the other winter stalwart in our garden, often blooming from late December until April. I noticed the first flowers on Christmas. Fragrantissima is a good descriptor of this plant, as the flowers are hugely fragrant, up close and far away, sweet and sharp with a strong lemony tang.
The witch hazel has been blooming for at least 2 weeks. Ugly as sin covered as it is with rough brown leaves but also sweetly fragrant, kind of like Fruit Loops but with a little bit of a clean antiseptic edge.
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and the native winter-flowering witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) are lacking from my winter garden repertoire. Yulan magnolia has been a great winter performer at the JC Raulston Arboretum but I'm not sure I want to add another tree.
I think violets bloom almost every month of the year here. I always loved blue violets and wanted them in my garden. Now they are practically a weed in the garden next to the house but I am happy they are there. They make a fine ground cover and the ground is paved with purple flowers in the spring. My grandfather used them the same way in his Indiana garden.
So those are our Christmas flowers. I hope you had a merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year!