Check Out These Pages, Too!

"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plants that Thrive in the Winter Garden Part 1

There are some extremely cold hardy plants in my Florida garden right now that are grabbing my attention with greater interest than ever before.

Never a favorite color, or shrub in general for that matter, the Duc de Rohan azaleas have been blooming since early December. In this year's bleak winter-garden fondness is growing for these sturdy rhododendrons that cluster around the entry walk to the front door.

Remember the paperwhites ordered and planted in-ground in November? The frost and radiational cooling has not affected them in the least. I suspect they will come back next year with even fuller foliage. That is if they reappear with the same vigor my neighbor's do. Hers have been in the ground for a number of years successfully returning each winter.

I've actually had thoughts of "how to design every currently freeze-scorched area with camellias". It was fleeting but still ... a thought. What a fabulously versatile shrub! The shiny green jagged-edged leaves provide enough interest in summer time to suit me.

And the abundant bursting buds of winter, not at all fazed by freezing temperatures, have caused me to fall in love anew with this rugged southern ornamental beauty.

An inflorescence spiking up from a passalong Aechmea gamosepala has surprisingly not shown any signs of intimidation from the wintry cold. It is tucked among other evergreens and likely snuggling in their warmth.

Saw palmettos are one of my all-time favorite Florida natives. These beautifully green and palm-like (in appearance) shrubs can take severe drought as easily as severe cold. Wildlife of all kinds make use of the flowers and fruits they produce. When I see them (anywhere) they just say "Florida" to me.

In an ongoing and purposeful effort to increase the numbers of unswerving and hardy plants to my garden it is particularly fulfilling to make note of what has thrived through summer droughts as well as extra-harsh winters.

Zamia pumila Coontie palms are a reliable Florida native cycad. The glossy, narrow evergreen leaves sustain Florida's winters and frost in my garden without damage. I've gradually added many of these robust shrubs over the last few years to maintain a quality display of foundational plants through the toughest seasons.

For the third year in a row Florida has been bombarded with blasts of artic air cold enough to take our tropical plants to the ground and even some of our much loved perennials.

December 2010 is now officially the coldest December on record since record-keeping began with an avg. temp set at 53.2.

At the feet of coonties is Sisyrinchium angustifolium blue-eyed grass in clumps of linear evergreen loveliness. A Florida native that especially perks up with cooler weather and will bloom tiny but sweet blue flowers as winter transitions to spring. This is one that easily divides for spreading its joy throughout the garden.

Another year round performer with wonderfully enduring attributes is the dwarf variety of a Florida native Viburnum obovatum Walter's Viburnum 'Mrs. Schiller's Delight'. Tiny white flower clusters will cover the bush in mid to late winter making it a favorite to the pollinators. I'm using them throughout the garden as specimen plants in a variety of settings. This one placed at the perimeter of the circle garden among complementary variegated aztec grasses, african irises and confederate jasmine on an arbor in the background. Each of these remain shining stars in my post-freeze winter garden.

As I began gathering photos/plant files for this entry it quickly turned into a very lengthy list of plants that have been good survivors for my Florida garden. Many of them not showy in their own right but nevertheless each one meeting a new standard of 1) ability to sustain the garden in our hot and humid summers and 2) to keep performing through sudden and/or frequent dips to freezing.
I'll continue the list in the next post entry. In the meantime, I'd love to know if any of these plants are also on your list of favorites. Meems

Part 2 Preparing the Garden for Every Season
Part 3 Peaceful Hues of Green in Winter


  1. The best thing about reading gardening blogs from the other side of the world is being introduced to plants you have never seen before. For me today the new word is Aechmea gamosepala - and a quick google search found me at least one person growing it outdoors in the UK. Whether or not it survived this freakish winter I do not know. It has gone onto my list of plants to look out for though. Many thanks.

  2. I have some azaleas that don't do so well here. I also have paperwhites but not this variety. Of course I won't see any blooms until spring.

  3. Great post Meems ~ I love reading about and seeing pictures of what you have growing there in your lovely gardens. My azaleas have buds, my paperwhites are up but no blooms yet. I don't think camelias grow this far south. I'd love to have them and the Aechmea gamosepala. We have saw palmetto, and coontie palms too.

    I look forward to the rest of your list and pictures and thank you for providing this info and the wonderful pictures.

    Happy Gardening ~ FlowerLady

  4. It's so great to see those azaleas blooming just when they're color is needed. My azaleas have buds but the leaves are showing signs of stress from the cold for the first time ever. I'm sure hoping they will still give their great show next month.

    Enjoyed reading the list of good all-season plants in your garden. Seeing them "in action" in your garden is so helpful to my own future planning. Thanks!

  5. I to love the azeleas and comellias. I have had to change what I love to something that I can live with here in the winter. It's too heart breaking to see all the tropicals bite the dust or should I say the freeze! Put things in pots that can move to a warmer place I guess. Luckly I have mature azeleas here that are about 27 years old and even they curled their leaves under the cold.

  6. Hi Meems...The plants you posted are definitely perfect for us here in Florida. I've got all of them except the saw palmetto and the paperwhites. I'll have to give the paperwhites a try. I added two new camellias to the garden this winter and they are making me smile. Now, I'm headed to the nursery for a gardenia to fill in a bare spot.

  7. Wow! It's so nice to see something other than the brown that surrounds me! Lovely post, Meems. I couldn't agree more about the saw palmettos. They just say "Florida". The Aechmea gamosepala is absolutley brilliant! I'm wondering if it has a more common name? So glad you have all that wonderfulness (is that a word?) to greet you each winter day!

  8. I just love to hear firsthand accounts of freeze survivors -- I've been compiling a list since last January.(If nothing else, freezes do teach us a few things, which is good!) I know coontie and saw palmetto do well in full sun. I think a lot of the flowering plants you mentioned prefer dappled light. Are any of these sun lovers?

  9. So very, very different from my outdoor reality, Meems, but I can enjoy the wonders of warm gardens like yours via the laptop in my lap...and cultivate the garden of my mind (and houseplants) through our snowy winter. Happy New Year...

  10. AYIMG,
    It is an amazing thing to venture to gardens around the world via our desktop and find plants we can adapt to our climate. Thank you for the visit. It is so nice to have you here.

    The paperwhites are new for me. I've wanted to try them for a long time and never got around to it. I'll be adding more next winter. They are very fun at this time of year.

    Oh, I can't wait to see your paperwhites. I'm kicking myself wondering why it's taken me this long to plant them. Live and learn.

  11. Kay,
    This variety always blooms early and then re-blooms later. I think that's why I originally purchased them(years ago). My Formosas didn't seem at all affected by the cold. I think in the long run they actually like the snaps of cold. For the last two years they have bloomed profusely with the extra-cold winters giving them a boost. We'll see about this year.

    Most of my tropicals, if not all, will snap back with the first warming of the soil. But it is tough to watch them go... even for a while. I'm switching as well to more sturdy plants making up the majority of my gardens... with tropicals protected by tree cover. Container pots do work well for those super-sensitive plants that can be saved by moving them to shelter. Unless they are too big like most of mine. :-)

    You will enjoy the paperwhites. VERY easy so far. I will get more next year! I'm adding more camellias even now. They are slow growers but can eventually get quite large so the right spot is tricky. Gardenias are a great one. I added one last year and I'm real happy about it after losing three very old ones.

  12. Daisy,
    Wonderfulness is one of my favorite words... we just make-up words around here. :-) Don't know another name for gamosepala... heck, I barely know that. So sorry. I'm not good with brom names at all. I'm diligently working on keeping enough green all year long so the winter garden doesn't look devastated.Have a long way to go.

    These last three freezes have motivated me to work harder toward a winter garden that remains appealing even after losing some of my favorite flowering plants to the cold. If I have enough in the foundations that remain green and steady it makes up for the more tender plants lost but that I know will return when the soil warms up. The Walter's Viburnum do excellent in full sun but will take partial. Citrus Park Mall has them (not the dwarf variety) growing as very mature trees in their parking lot. They are covered with tiny white flowers by the end of winter and make quite a show. And the blue-eyed grass does well in full sun. It will look non-descript in summer but in the cooler months it perks right back up. African Iris can take full sun and so can confederat jasmine. Paperwhites prefer full sun (mine get about 4 hours) and some people say azaleas can take it but it is not my opinion. I think they do best with some dappled shade.

  13. Jodi,
    Our laptops will take us around the globe to any climate we care to dream about. In summer it is your beautiful environment I like to imagine. Happy New Year to you! Thanks for popping by.

  14. Thanks to Kristin at "My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia" my first ever link party for Cottage Flora Thursday's is up & running! Inviting you to come over & link a cottage garden post you may have & please advertise "Cottage Flora Thursday's" on your post that you link!! & don't forget to become a follower of my blog !!!

  15. I've been watching the Florida temps and really have been shocked how far south I have to go on some nights to find a temp above freezing. On the other hand, it's been a very mild winter here in Houston so far, but next week we dip down to 30 for the first time. I'll have to cover up everything to prevent freeze burn. Your coonties look lovely. I'm really glad to see that these can take a freeze. I'm going to add a few each year. We can't grow saw palmettos but have something similar. Hang in there and stay warm.
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston :0)

  16. FTC,
    Thanks for stopping by.

    It looks like north TX gets REALLY cold. One thing about the coonties. They CAN get burned in certain situations and temps. I've seen them brown from frost when out in the open and temps drop below 28.They will come back and never die in the ground but fair warning. Almost all of mine are protected by some tree cover so I've never had a problem with freezing.

    Hope you don't get too cold this winter.

  17. Goodness, but it is lovely here!

    Happy New Year Meems!
    Looks like you have big plans for the year ahead.

    My favorite azalea is Sublanceolota, a brickish/ orange bloom that may arrive the latest in Spring. It blooms when all other azaleas are fading. It can be hard to locate. We have Camellias too, some transplanted with a vemeer from houses being torn down. Not all made it, but the ones that did are large--and as camellias grow so slowly, the size of the transplants is a plus.

    My yard looks ragged! A visit to your paradise is inspiring, but a tad intimidating. How much time to you estimate is required per week to maintain your gorgeous garden? Do you have help?

    Am off to view your Picassa stash--I saw from a sidebar link a blue flowered shrub that I have too but I do not know its name--hope to find it there. You are quite a resource, Meems!!

  18. Meems-it amazes me how just a short distance of a few miles can make a difference in a garden.We had quite a bit of damage from those freezes,butof course,nothing like last year.Even the same plants,which are right next to each other,had different degrees of damage.
    Mothe Nature never ceases to amaze,does she?

  19. Aunty,
    My brain is always in a swirl with creativity for the garden. Making plans for removing more lawn and replacing with groundcovers and plants is in view. I'll start soon with this cooler weather. All the prep will be finished when it's time to plant.

    Great find with the camellia transplants. They are expensive large and starting with small ones can be a task in patience. I'm going to look up the azalea that blooms late. Thanks for the tip.

    Maintenance here is not so bad surprisingly. Granted it takes several (read:many more than I'm willing to admit)hours a week but then again it is an avenue for me ~~ helping to heal every ill and to meditate on the goodness in life. For me, I escape the 'real' world when gardening and find being there a place of peace as well as an outlet for creativity. I HAVE to do it. So I am blessed I am able. To answer your other question: I'm the only gardener in the household but Mr. Meems is a steadfast support for every one of my endeavors.

    Not sure which blue-flowered shrub you were questioning. You can always email me... hoe and shovel garden at gmail dot com. Always good to hear from you. Thank you for your thoughtful words.

  20. Chris,
    A few miles can make a difference. I would think the lake would protect you even better where you are. Mother Nature can really pull a switcheroo in each climate for certain.

  21. Meems - your Azaleas make me weak in the knees (one of few plants that translate between FL & IL); it's like a breath of fresh air to see flourishing gardens, even tho I know it's been brutally cold in FL.

  22. Meems, I do love camellias and want to add them to my garden. Do you use special soil or fertilizer and do you have to spray them for fungus? Thank you Janis

  23. Thanks for the "good read" plug up top. I have to study up on my flowers. I saw a purple aster type tiny flower on a pine island that I couldn't say for sure what it was. :^)

  24. Shyrlene,
    Rhododendrons are a wide-spread family throughout the states. It's nice you can grow azaleas, too. It has been cold for us. Maybe it's the new norm?? Trying to adjust to it just in case.

    Camellias would look very nice in your garden and they like partial shade so you have some good spots for them. They are fabulous winter bloomers and they need no special soil (unlike roses). I have not needed to spray them with anything.

    The information you share is quite connected to gardening. So very helpful. Thanks.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

Back Garden: October 2010

Louise Philippe: Antique Rose

Tropical Pathway