Living With Limitations: Oh! The Possibilities

Adonis amurensis Fukujuka

 The Possibilities

Only the first week of February, but already a spring preview has arrived in my hillside garden. The calendar says winter, but local weather tells me we are well above normal temperatures with plants responding accordingly.  I have shaken my holidays’ absence from gardening and this spring preview is the medicine I need to begin another garden season. All that is required of me is walk the paths, pause and appreciate, breath in all the expectation and excitement; the fresh beginning.

Moss in bloom on stone


Being a shade gardener I am appreciative of mosses, having several species in my garden. For me, they are the true harbinger of spring gardening. While winter still tries to hold on and spring is awakening mosses shift in color. Like a magic wand has been waved they give up their drabness and become a beacon of shiny, emerald-green. I am always reminded of landing at an airport in Ireland, seeing why it is called the Emerald Isle. In the garden they form eye-catching cushions decorating both stone and aged logs; enhancing, softening.

Adonis amurensis   

This plant is used to celebrate New Year in Japan, blooming only a few weeks later I my garden. I have several cultivars in the garden blooming with semi-double, double and species petals in varying shades of yellow and orange. Emerging first, and long lasting, only extreme weather is unkind to the blooms. As the blooms fully open a collar resembling an emerald-green feather boa hugs the base of each flower. The foliage is frilly and fern like in that same eye-catching green. They will go dormant soon after bloom is completed.

Winter Aconite adding some sunshine to the winter garden.

Winter Aconite

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)is a minor bulb resembling a dried out much wrinkled raisin that are transplanted shallow in the soil, so they can be arranged over other perennials and bulbs. I also find they are most excellent producing seeds that help fill while forming drifts. There are two species common to bulb catalogs, both blooming in a bright yellow with tending leaves of bright green beneath each open bloom. After setting seed the plant goes dormant until next late winter.



Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, red-pink bud and bloom.

Several books have been written on hellebores. This winter blooming perennial has an almost, but not all, twelve month presence in the garden. (A very few species go dormant in winter) The evergreen leaves are bold and of heavy substance often with serrated edges. Heavily hybridized, the bloom can be double, semi-double or species five-petals. Blooms come in a multitude of shapes and can be hanging bells or upright roses. Colors come in a very wide range and flowers are some of the longest lasting of any perennial. They also are easy to find, simple to grow and maintain. Look for H. niger, H. foetidus, H. x garden hybrids.

Snowdrops in bloom with old Hellebore foliage


Galanthus, or snowdrops, are another almost indestructible winter blooming bulb. There are numerous species and a long list of cultivars and hybrids to collect. Foliage resembles garlic or onion with deep green slender leaves coming in many lengths, some with variegation. On separate stems bulb hang like, well, snowdrops at the end. There is a row of petals that open to reveal inner petals usually marked with bright green. Any of the species and cultivars I have grown multiply quickly to form drifts and seeds do get around (but nearly as much as I would like.)


Jelena Witch-hazel in full bloom. will last into last of March.

Hamamelis, or Witch-Hazels are small trees or multi-stem large shrubs that can reach 15 feet across and a bit more than that in height. Bloom time can be a bit weather dependent, but I count on them from December through April. Blooms are strap-like, opening and closing with the weather. A multitude of bloom are on stems, and I have yet to see a damaged bloom. Some shade of yellow and orange are common colors available, but I also see purple and red available.


In my design I began with a witch-haze blooming in yellowish-orange. Next up Hellebores of choice became the prominent plants arranged with some extra spacing between them. Weaving in and out of the hellebores drifts of snowdrops and winter aconite are companions. They, in turn drift to the front of the bed joining Adonis and more snowdrops. All beneath a canopy of color, reflected back to the soil.

See you in Madison Wisconsin this weekend, 8th and 9th.