"Unusual winter flowers"

These blooms attract attention!
Sunday, 19 July 2020     

Phymosia umbellata

I have always had a soft spot for winter flowers, as I admire their courage for appearing in the coldest weather. Their appearance really cheers me up on those awful bleak days we sometimes get at this time of year. They help get me into the garden, as I look forward to discovering new blooms. There are actually quite a lot of flowers out in July (see here for my list); this week I will be exploring some of the more unusual ones in my garden. This year is the first time I have had a profusion of blooms on a really interesting shrub called Phymosia umbellata, sometimes known as the Mexican bush mallow (pictured at the start of the blog). It is quite tall (up to 3 m or more) and it has cranberry-coloured, lantern-shaped blooms in clusters. The large, grape vine-like leaves are quite striking. The whole plant resembles an Abutilon (to which it is related) on steroids. It can be grown as a shrub or trained as a small tree on a single trunk. It is a frost tender specimen, but if grown under the shelter of tall trees, this may offer some protection. It will grow in sun or part-shade, and benefits from some protection from wind, which can damage the brittle stems. I'm not sure how long the flowers continue on for, but I am enjoying seeing them every day.

There are lots of winter-flowering Salvia but some of the less familiar ones include Salvia elegans Purple Form, Salvia rubiginosa and Salvia roscida. Salvia elegans Purple Form (ht 2 m) has long spires of dainty cerise flowers in late autumn, winter and early spring. Its foliage acquires a purplish tinge if it is grown in full sun. It is attractive with the silver leaves of Plectranthus argentatus. I also grow it nearby to Salvia rubiginosa (ht 1-1.5 m), a compact salvia with rich blue flowers accentuated by purple calyces in winter and early spring. Salvia roscida (ht 1.5-2 m; syn. S. fallax) is a late winter-early spring flowering plant with spires of many small soft blue flowers. Usefully, these latter two Salvia cope well with a degree of shade.

Among perennial plants in bloom is rhizomatous Clivia x cyrtanthiflora (ht 60 cm), a hybrid between Clivia miniata and Clivia nobilis and has pale to medium orange flowers in large clusters of narrow, pendulous blooms, mainly from now to early spring, but they can appear at other times of year too. It is probably the most commonly seen pendulous form seen in Sydney gardens and is often referred to as Clivia nobilis, though this species is rarely seen here. Clivia are so handy for dry, shady spots and this one is just that little bit different. I like its soft colour with the blue of Salvia roscida.

The beautiful hellebore hybrids are coming into flower now; some less-common species include Helleborus argutiflorus and Helleborus foetidus. Helleborus argutiflorus (ht 60-80 cm), the so-called Corsican hellebore, is a large perennial with bold, leathery, serrated-edged leaves of a deep green hue, and clusters of many pendulous pale-green exquisite cup-shaped blooms which open in late autumn and last until early spring. It will grow in sun or part-shade, as long as there is good drainage. Helleborus foetidus (ht 50 cm) has attractive, finely dissected leaves. and bunches of pale green, bell-shaped flowers in winter and early spring. My favourite cultivar is 'Gold Bullion', with golden new leaves in spring and gold-infused bell-shaped flowers; foliage and blooms tend to be more chartreuse in part-shade. I'm enjoying my specimen with a background planting of a creamy-lime Syngonium with creamy-lime leaves and the lime-gold foliage of Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold'.

Some winter blooms are distinct because they are a variation on the usual flower colour of the plant. I really like my white-flowered Daphne, the white version of Tulbaghia simmleri and a creamy-white poinsettia, all in bloom at the moment. Other flowers are unusual simply because they are appearing out of season at the moment! Why on earth do I have four heads of Echinacea purpurea, a spire of Campanula rapunculus and unfurling buds on Eranthemum pulchellum?

 Reader Comments

1/9  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 July 2020

I have Tetradenia riparia (Nutmeg/musk bush) flowering now. This rather unassuming plant (Lamiaceae family) has two redeeming features; the incredible smell given off in the warmer months, and the purplish flowers in the winter. I have two forms of this plant; perhaps they are actually two different species. The one I got from the Sydney Botanic Gardens has the stronger smell, but the one I got from a garage sale has the more attractive flowers. I used to have that plant - I must find it again! Thanks for reminding me of it! Deirdre

2/9  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 July 2020

The first of the daffodils are flowering. Magnificence (or Magnifique), all yellow and Ptolemy, white petals and lemon trumpet. They must look lovely, Pam. Deirdre

3/9  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 July 2020

My E. pulchellum has buds and one open flower too. It's so early. Normally it is around mid-August that they start to bloom! Deirdre

4/9  Noeline - 2081 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 20 July 2020

My Clivia x crytanthiflora are so colorful this year.... the first of the jonquils have appeared at the same time as the pansies...it will not be long till the spring, but I am really enjoying the flowering of the winter natives and succulents the colors are so welcome against the foliage. Lovely to have all those blooms. So many native flowers come out from now on. Deirdre

5/9  Ian - 2506 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 21 July 2020

I have become interested in growing Syngonium and find the new one Gold Allusion most attractive with its golden leaves and pink veins. Will grow on a piece for you Deirdre. Thank you so much, Ian. I also have become very fond of them. I have a small-leaved silvery-white one that I particularly adore! Deirdre

6/9  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Tempting us again with these beautiful unusual plants! LOL! Thanks, Kerrie! I have always had a weakness for winter flowers so love to find different ones. Deirdre

7/9  Bernard - 3747 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Saturday, 25 July 2020

I have dotted Kniphofia Winter Cheer over my hillside for years. Some visitors say ' a little loud Mm?' I answer 'Whoopee!' I also love that plant. Mine flowers earlier in winter - around June. Deirdre

8/9  Gaynor - 5044 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Saturday, 25 July 2020

I have just planted a Mexican tree/bush mallow so it hasn't flowered yet. I am looking forward to it flowering, perhaps next year, especially now I have seen such a clear photograph of what to expect. I have also planted tree dahlias (a single pink and a double white) and although I know they can get messy and look untidy, when they are at their best they look spectacular.

9/9  Liz - 5066 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Friday, 21 August 2020

Re tetradenia: the type of display which you will get depends on whether you have a male or female plant. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants in spikes which differ in size and shape. The male flower spikes in profusion create more of the 'mist' effect than the female flowers which tend to be more compact. This is from the Plantzafrica website.

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