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"Give the Gift That Keeps on Giving – A Live Plant," by the Whistling Gardener

If you are looking for a gift that will keep on giving year after year, then why not consider a winter blooming plant? Each year at the same time, they will come into bloom and decorate your garden at a time when the days are dark and long and the hope for another bright spring is still far off in the future.
Camellia. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t receive yet another email listing the top 25 gifts for gardeners,” which invariably includes a whole host of garden gadgets like kneeler pads that double as stadium cushions, “Swiss Army” gardening knives that have a plethora of attachments, bird feeders that propel squirrels off into space, pruning shears that are so tough they can be used to cut open the combination lock you forgot the combination to, and so on and so forth. 

These are all wonderful gifts (some of which I have to confess, we probably sell at our retail gardener center) that may indeed last a lifetime, but for the most part once the shine has worn off, will be relegated to some dark corner of the tool shed. 

If you are looking for a gift that will keep on giving year after year, then why not consider a winter blooming plant? Each year at the same time, they will come into bloom and decorate your garden at a time when the days are dark and long and the hope for another bright spring is still far off in the future. Here are some of my favorite winter blooming choices…

Camellia sasanqua — Winter blooming camellias start blooming as early as November and continue on through late winter. I have two “Pink-A-Boo” varieties in containers flanking my double garage door that are smothered with buds as we speak, many of which are starting to crack color - it is such a cheery sight to drive up to after a hard day’s work at the office.  “Chansonette” is a double dark pink variety that is currently in full bloom at the nursery and a real showstopper.  There are lots of other wonderful varieties to check out too.

Skimmia japonica — This is an evergreen shade-loving small shrub that only grows about two to three feet tall with dark green leaves that form a nice, tight mound. The flowers on the male selection are quite showy this time of year and the female version sports bright red berries in the winter.

Arbutus unedo compacta — Known as Compact Strawberry Bush, this relative of our native Madrona is a total winner with its white bell-shaped flowers, round, bright orange fruit, glossy evergreen leaves, and exfoliating bark - all of which add up to a real winter standout.  It will form a large shrub or if limbed up, an attractive multi-stemmed small tree.

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun — This relative of our native Oregon grape is a tough-as-nails winter bloomer that is a total hummingbird magnet with its bright yellow blossoms. The foliage is coarse (I prefer to describe it as texturally attractive) and a bit prickly, which makes it a good candidate to plant under your teenage daughter’s bedroom window. 

Pieris japonica — All forms of Andromedas are landscape workhorses for northwest gardeners.  They start showing their buds in late fall and will color-up as early as January or February - the flower colors range from pure white to dark pink and red. The newer forms like the Tiki series from Monrovia are more compact and better suited for our smaller gardens.

There are other winter interest plants that will brighten up a garden in the dead of winter that can be found at your favorite garden center in December. They will be artfully arranged for your viewing pleasure and inspiration. Consider a live plant as a gift this year, it is truly the gift that will keep on giving. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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