Wacky winter weather paves way for new plants

January is the time of year when the garden looks kind of droopy in reality, but in the mind of a gardener, it is all in bloom.

Almost every week a new set of seed or bulb catalogs arrives, along with the wonderfully exciting new plants awaiting discovery in the catalogs of the many mail-order nurseries.

With the arrival of each one, a gardener asks, “Where can I find room to plant one (or 100) of these enticing finds?”

Perusing these dream books, it seems that more and more nurseries are offering a tantalizing selection of rare plants.

Many now carry Arisaemas, when just five years ago they were almost unheard of, and almost all nurseries now have plants with dark leaves in a myriad of shapes and sizes.

Begonias boast multiple, constantly blooming displays with variegated leaves of fantastic design, and Veronicas now are available from 4 inches tall to 3 feet tall. Even the lowly but lovely petunia now comes in a variety of sizes and colors replacing the large-flowered pink, dark blue-purple and white selections that were the only possibilities just a few years ago.

The stressful winter we are experiencing this year will undoubtedly leave a few holes in most gardens as pampered plants are eliminated by cold or wet, giving us places to try new plants.

If trees have been lost in the garden, light patterns will change and plants that are happy in shade will need to be moved, come spring, if they will now be living in bright sunshine.

At the same time, it gives us a chance to improve plantings that aren’t quite making it by replacing plants that are too weak with ones better chosen for the soil and light available. Now is the time to consider reworking the soil, adding the amendments we always intended to incorporate.

As spring approaches, we can look forward to the excitement of emerging bulbs. Along with daffodils and tulips, many gardeners have started to experience the joy of small bulbs. Lovely white snowdrops or bright yellow winter aconite bloom even in melting snow, as do delightful crocus. Soon after, the earliest of the daffodils bloom at about the same time as the early Frittilarias and the large, Dutch crocus. Tiny bright blue Scilla or pale blue Pushkinia trim walkways and make delightful small bouquets and bloom about the same time as enchanting ‘Wanda’ primroses, making wonderful companion plants.

Fabulous selections are available for the gardener who starts from seed. New hybrid vegetables and flowers, bred for disease resistance or size or bounty emerge every year. Many companies now offer heirloom seeds, too. If you are a truly passionate gardener and want to try your own hybrid creations, these are the seeds to start with, as they are reliable genetic replications of their parents. Don’t expect success on your first try, but it can be an exciting hobby to try and “create” a new color in a flower or a new taste in a vegetable.

So settle down with your favorite catalogs, a warm cup of hot chocolate and a sketch pad to determine just where you can squeeze in that alluring Hellebore or where you can redo an area to have a riot of yellows, blues and reds in the fall. Maybe a more fragrant rose or some Carolina jasmine by your favorite bench needs to be chosen.

Or maybe you need to just sit back and dream of your garden in bloom.

Linda Urbaniak can be reached at

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