Witch Hazel buds at RHS Harlow Carr in late January

When the weather is cold and grim, we need a reason to get out in the garden, if only for a brief wander round between gusts of wind and rain. It truly amazes me even in cold soggy Cumbria how many flowers there are to be found, say from late November through to late winter. 

My favourites include Mahonia for bright yellow swathes of flowers in early winter, Witch Hazel for candied peel colours, late December and January and Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ for pale pink blossom throughout.

Mahonia is an evergreen of which there are several varieties. Mahonia Media, pictured here is lovely and tall, has good structure and an almost tropical appearance. The flowers are fragrant and prolific.

Early winter colour

Witch Hazels have a variety of flower colours; the leaves do resemble a hazel tree and they are deciduous, with the buds of flowers and new leaves lightly flocked with brown fuzz. A good red flowered form is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, while a popular yellow is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’. There are several shades of yellow around, ranging from the mellow orangey to the acid bright yellow. Some also benefit from good autumn colour in the leaves, but we will look at that in another post, another day!

There are several varieties of winter flowering viburnums, the most well known being Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’. I used to live in the high up, exposed village of Allenheads in Northumberland, and even there this Viburnum flowered regularly through the winter. The flowers are small, but plentiful, white with a pink tinge. 

Iris Unguicularis flowering in March in my garden

There are also a lot of winter flowering shrubs that take a little longer to settle in, and respond well to a slightly sheltered spot. Winter Sweet, (Chimonanthus Praecox) on my wishlist this one! Winter Flowering Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and Edgeworthia Chrysantha ‘Red Dragon to name a few others. They are well worth the effort though! Winter Flowering Honeysuckle is a shrub rather than a climber, and I find it keeps some of the leaves in winter here in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria. The flowers are dainty, white and wax like, with yellow stamens, and as you would expect from the name, scented. 

Winter Flowering Honeysuckle

A really good place to see winter flowering shrubs is the RHS garden, Harlow Carr on the edge of Harrogate, North Yorkshire. There is a stunning winter garden, lots of flowering shrubs as well as coloured stems and bark, underplanted with Snowdrops, yellow Aconites, Iris Reticulata, and I think, from memory even Iris Unguicularis. Loads of treasures and a lovely day out.

RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate 2019.

Written by


Flower grower florist based in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria UK creating florals for weddings, events and locally delivered bouquets.