Let’s talk flowers. Har de har har. In January, for crying out loud?

You’re supposed to be browsing garden catalogs, roasting your toesies in front of a roaring hearth fire, sipping eggnog and dozing the short afternoons away.

Admittedly, garden flowers aren’t bursting from your beds and borders like they will be a few months hence. And also admittedly, there’s some planning (and work) involved in getting them.

And, again admittedly, there are some years when there are fewer, rather than more, of them.

But, looking back in my diaries over the last 30 years or so, there have been precious few Januarys without at least a few bits of floral color here and there — note the “bits.”

The pleasing thing about winter flowers is their value, all out of proportion to their size. A snowdrop in January is worth a ton of phlox or roses in July.

Snowdrops, those little really snow-white flowers, peek up on three-inch stems without fail every year.

Most of the time our first snowdrop is in January, but we’ve had a few as early as November and December many years.

I’ve had trouble establishing them in large swaths, but even a few are heartening. Bring two or three into a warm room and you will notice the enticing fragrance they exude.

The problem in establishing snowdrops is their propensity for the little bulbs to dry out if they are long out of the ground.

A few dealers sell them “in the green,” with foliage attached, but they are prohibitively expensive that way.

If ordered with other spring flowering bulbs, that is, in the fall, there will be some failures. However, some will stick and then live on for years, increasing at the root and by seed, though sparingly.

Once a nice clump is established, they can be divided right after bloom and before the foliage has withered. Every snowdrop you can get going will be a treasure for years.

I have seen once, in Nashville, a whole lawn with thousands of snowdrops abounding. It was a sight to savor, and I keep trying, though I won’t live long enough to see it.

Winter aconites are the yellow companions to snowdrops and emerge about the same time. The same conditions prevail in trying to get them started.

My original few came from a large clump in my grandmother’s garden, probably 30 years ago. If they are purchased and planted in fall, there will, as with snowdrops, be failures.

The little bulbs look like black dried peas, and it will help if they are plumped in water for a few hours before planting.

Yellow is a telling color at any time of the year, but especially so in spring. Winter aconites are a harbinger for more yellow right soon.

Which brings me to daffodils. The first to flower in our garden is (rather, was) a the variety ‘Rijnfeld’s Early Sensation.’

This is a fairly recent introduction and bears ordinary (well, they’re not ordinary in January) yellow trumpet flowers much like our “buttercups,” though larger.

I planted 25 or so some 15 years ago, and they thrived for several years, but went down to what I believe was a virus. Anyhow, I am getting more this fall.

We have had this daffodil in flower as early as November and commonly in December and January. At Christmas, on a number of occasions, we’ve had bowls of them on the table.

Incongruous, yes, but they go well with poinsettias.


  From Poor Willie’s Almanack – January is what you make of it, snotty nose and all.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at     642-1162.

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