It’s the New Year So It Must Be Spring

'Dawn' Viburnum blossoms

We sometimes joke that spring begins on New Year’s Day here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest. Given how mild December 2023 was, there’s a bit of truth to it even though the calendar says winter has just begun. Winter gardens are quiet, but if you look around you’ll find things in bloom.

These blossoms of ‘Dawn’ viburnum, Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, are lightly fragrant. They’re on a substantial shrub we planted along the path between our house and my photo studio about eight years ago from a rooted hardwood cutting. On calm days during the winter I enjoy their fragrance on my way to and from my office.

‘Dawn’ started blooming this winter sometime in December, but I can’t recall just when. It will continue to open flowers until March. There’s a cold snap predicted next week, with nighttime temperatures in the low teens or a bit colder. The flowers that are open now will turn brown, but many of the buds that have yet to open will make it through the cold just fine and will bloom later in the winter.

Winter Jasmine blossom

The yellow blooms of winter jasmine, Jasminum nudiflorum, have very little fragrance, unlike many other jasmines that can be intensely fragrant. On the other hand, this one is quite hardy and will continue to bloom for another month or so. It too, will probably suffer from the upcoming cold nights, but new flowers will open once it warms up again.

Winter jasmine isn’t all that exciting to look at when it’s not in bloom since it’s mostly just an unruly bunch of green sticks. It has very few leaves, so it photosynthesizes with the chlorophyll in its stems. It’s a plant that benefits from being planted at the top of a wall where the stems can cascade down. We have it in a raised planter at the front of the house where it shares space with summer-blooming California fuchsias that mostly hide the jasmine stems for much of the growing season.

If you’re looking for a Northwest public winter garden to explore, check out the winter garden at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle.

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