Winter-Blooming Grevilleas

Grevillea 'Robyn Gordon'

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

The bright flowers of a few select perennials and annuals are called upon this time of year as an antidote to slate gray skies and assorted winter doldrums.
“Border” is a word with special meaning for gardeners, especially those who favor the English garden style. A border is a band or strip of ground, be it wide or narrow, filled with a variety of flowering plants. Generally, a border is located in full sun. It is commonly planted along a driveway or sidewalk, in front of a fence or at the edge of a lawn. The challenge is to create a border that has interest throughout the year, even in winter.
Grevillea is a plant genus native to Australia with several species that bloom in pink, red or scarlet during the winter. Grevilleas subsist on a scant amount of water and should not be fertilized with phosphorus, which is toxic for them. The scarlet grevilleas that you see in the nursery this time of year will serve admirably as garden accents on overcast days.
Grevilleas crave a fast-draining soil and grow well with other Australian natives such as Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos) and Australian fuchsias (Correa). Australian natives, much like California natives, are more often killed with kindness than neglect. It is all too easy to give them too much water and fertilizer for their own good.
Yellow is a color that, as it reinforces the heat of the sun, is often kept out of the Valley summer garden. Winter, however, is another story. In this season, yellow is surrogate sunshine as well as a contrast to every color from red to blue. There are several different kinds of yellow, each represented by a winter bloomer. First, there is sunflower yellow; it is seen in the blooms of the euryops daisy, a shrub also noted for its lacy and lustrous green leaves. Second, there is a glowing pale yellow revealed in the petals of the marguerite daisy, a shrub that is more compact than the euryops daisy and densely covered with flowers, almost like a large version of the chrysanthemum. Third, there is an incomparably silky and buttery yellow color seen in yellow pansies.
No border or flower bed should be without yellow pansies this time of year. There is a freshness and glistening quality to this yellow – often referred to as crown yellow – that can cheer up any winter garden and bring a smile to any garden visitor. It contrasts well with royal blue pansies and cherry red dianthus, creating a radiant display of primary colors.
To bring the brightness of these annuals to an even more intense level, add white stock (Matthiola) to the mix. The white in white stock is as brilliant a white as you will ever see – matched only, perhaps, by the white flowers of the candytuft (Iberis) ground cover that will be blooming soon. In addition, stock is spicily fragrant.
Winter-flowering plants will bloom all the more if their flowers are detached as soon as they pass their prime. Most gardeners are well aware of the necessity of pruning faded roses to keep rose bushes blooming; if faded roses are not pruned, the energy needed to produce more roses will be siphoned off into the production of rose hips. In the winter, when sunlight is less abundant than at any time of the year, even winter-flowering plants need every encouragement in order to continue to produce flower buds. Pansies, unless they have their faded flowers snipped off – a procedure known as dead-heading – will quickly cease to bloom. The same is true of dianthus, stock, Iceland poppies and primroses.
Royal blue plumbago, a perennial that would be a nice complement to scarlet grevillea and yellow euryops daisy, is a recent addition to the pantheon of winter bloomers. While the pale blue plumbago has been a staple of freeway embankment planting for years, the royal blue cultivar has only now begun to be planted in Valley gardens. Royal blue plumbago, which resists confinement and spills generously over its designated boundaries, imparts an air of carefree opulence to the winter border.

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