In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2006
Regional Report

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The hot pink, vibrant blue, bright yellow, and blazing red in this bed of primroses remind me that spring isn't too far away.

Outstanding Winter Bloomers

On my first nursery sweep of the New Year I found a single display of primroses at a local garden center. Their bold, vibrant colors were like magnets to me, and I loaded up my shopping cart with the little gems.

Primroses are impervious to rain and cold weather, boldly blooming from January through April in our region. The leaves are bright green to emerald green (depending upon soil fertility) and highly textured, so even when they're not blooming they add interest to nearly any garden.

Primroses have a compact growing habit and are perennial, but I treat them as annuals in my garden, spacing them shoulder to shoulder to get concentrated pockets of color. The close spacing doesn't affect their performance at all.

Perfect Primroses
Thickly massed primroses make a bold and beautiful statement, whether spilling from a planter or filling a bed from border to border. I plant them near the front entrance to welcome guests, which is also a benefit to me -- they're the first things I see when I head out the door. Their bright, cheerful faces always improve my mood. Even though I'm a primrose purist and like planting them alone, their textured, sometimes wavy-edged foliage is a perfect complement to ornamental cabbages and kale. When sharing a communal bed, primroses are congenial enough to move aside ever so slightly when early crocus and Dutch iris begin to sprout. With all these virtues, no wonder I think primroses top the list as the first harbingers of spring!

Reliable Pansies
Winter-blooming pansies are available in a variety of bright colors, including red, yellow, violet, and blue. They flower when the weather is mild (above 45 degrees F) but stop when really cold weather hits. However, once it warms up, they're flowering again.

Gorgeous Ground Covers
You can count on Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis), a native of Greece, to brighten up a winter border. It's a ground cover for a sunny spot, and it thrives in poor, dry soils. The lavender-blue flowers have a honeysuckle scent that's especially noticeable when you cut them and bring them indoors. Another reliable ground cover is the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). I love the drooping white blossoms against the dark green foliage.

Winter-Blooming Shrubs
In my garden, winter-blooming shrubs include witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), which produces fragrant, bright yellow flowers; and various cultivars of heath and heather. My heathers are mounding, about 24 inches tall, and bloom every three to four months throughout the year. The 6-inch spikes of lavender, purple, white, and pink blooms make attractive additions to fresh flower arrangements.

Including a few of these reliable winter bloomers in your garden will surely brighten even the stormiest winter day!


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