Growbag Blog

Plants that put a smile on February’s face

February might hold St Valentine’s Day, but the garden can still be very dreary. We’ve been out trying to find some pops of joy and colour – and just look what we found!

Of course what is now blooming in southern UK probably won’t be thrilling Caroline in the Highlands until the back-end of April, but surely she’s got SOME plants that are looking good now…?


I rather like what the wonderfully-named Joseph Wood Krutch 😳 had to say about February “Spring is too far away to comfort by anticipation, and winter long ago lost the charm of novelty. This is the very three a.m. of the calendar’. Mind you, he was writing about New England, which probably has to wait longer for signs of spring than I do here on the south coast.  Here are my late winter heartwarmers:

Daphne tangutica is a fabulous winter shrub for a sheltered spot. Down here it starts flowering about now, with its deep pink buds fading to almost white, pouring out a scent on the cold air that will make your knees wobble.  It’s evergreen and happy in shade too.

The scent from Daphne tangutica will make your knees wobble………

Hazel catkins are simple and beautiful.  They always remind me of the woods we roamed as children, and their acid-green lamb’s tails stand out strikingly on the dark bare branches of a February day.  Did you know that these are the male flowers?  The female flowers are little vase-shaped buds with red filaments sticking out.  That’s where the hazelnuts will develop if the flower is pollinated by the wind-borne pollen.

Simple beautiful hazel catkins wriggling and waving in the February wind

Tree peony buds.  Okay so this is a bit of a cheat, but these look so lusciously fat and full of promise of the gorgeousness to come.  I also adore the bullsblood red of the herbaceous peony shoots as they puncture the soil surface in February. Jam today AND jam tomorrow! 

Luscious fat tree peony buds – spring’s coming!


It just goes to show that you must take quotes from 19th century American natural history philosophers with a pinch of salt. If Joseph Krutch (it’s rather disappointingly pronounced “krootch” Elaine – I Googled it) had accompanied me to a delightful NGS Open Garden in Cuckfield today he would have discovered that winter had in no way lost its novelty in this corner of West Sussex.

Shirley’s garden
Not only a feast for the eyes, the magnificent Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’ filled this sheltered garden with scent

This gem of garden created by plantswoman Shirley Carman-Martin was a treasure trove of eclectic winter rarities. Leading the field was the most stunning clematis with large, pristine-white, waxy bells, C. ‘Winter Beauty’ which certainly lived up to its name and is our featured picture at the top of the blog.

Another crowd-pleaser was Edgeworthia chrysantha, the paperbush, with amazingly pliable stems which Shirley told us were used in the production of a very durable tissue paper used for Japanese bank notes. Never say you don’t learn fascinating things in our blog!

Edgeworthia chrysantha
This paperbush lit up its corner with oriental charm

Unusual arum leaves and ferns lit up dark corners of this beautifully-curated collection of plants (open again for the NGS, by the way, on Wednesday February 14 – details in the Yellow Book).

Arum leaves
It’s not just flowers that can light up a winter garden – you can use foliage to great effect too. This is Arum ‘Monksilver’ .

At ground level the undoubted stars of the show were the 225 different varieties of snowdrops. I know, I know, last week I was calling them pesky blighters but Shirley is clearly a master at managing them in a mixed border and kindly shared some tips so I left clutching a few pots of different cultivars to experiment with.

Snowdrops in baskets
A clever trick for preventing some of the more vigorous cultivars from running riot is to contain them in a small aquatic basket

So there you have it – there IS a way to make February sing with a louder voice – you just have to put your back into it a bit!


Well frankly I don’t think ‘putting my back into it’ would have reduced the impact of 55mph winds in Scotland this week; the absolutely biblical rainfall and now the very questionable magic of snow. On the plus side, we’ve legitimately extended Christmas port-drinking!.

Salix ‘Mount Aso’ Despite the foregoing, please don’t imagine it’s all uphill in the Highlands (see what I did …) just look at how good my Salix ‘Mount Aso’ looks this week. This plant is simple-stupid to propagate – cut a bit off and stick it in a pot, even I managed it – so please don’t pay a lot for it. For a couple of quid in Tesco, (if they haven’t already killed it) its little pink pussies are moving Krutch’s 3am on at least three hours for me right now.

Lighting up the February glooms – my gorgeous little pink pussies on Salix ‘Mount Aso’.

Hamamelis ‘Diane’ – I’m also giving a horticultural Victoria Cross to Hamamelis ‘Diane’. Like the mousy schoolfriend who becomes Miss World mine has, from nowhere, over-delivered with these wonderfully coloured frilly things – no pomp, ceremony or build-up. If you live in the south you might be lucky enough to grow those bendy-stemmed edgeworthias, but hamamelis (witchhazel) are a worthy and fabulously tough alternative up here.

Hamamellis ‘Diane’ a Merlot-coloured warrior girl in my garden this week.

Viburnum Tinus – The final accolade must go to a viburnum. It took so much effort to dig out my Viburnum tinus in the Autumn, the oohing and aaahing prompted my house guest to rush out assuming I was having a cardiac arrest. In fact both I and the viburnum survived the ordeal and here it is, in its new and more exposed location, none the worse for wear and covered in pretty pink flowers.

Be still my beating heart! (but not too still, no defibrillators here.)

A heart-stopper or what! My cheery evergreen, Viburnum tinus looking great despite the wintery weather.

We’d love to know which February plants are putting a smile on your face in your garden – let us know by posting in the comments section below!

NB Talk about plants that make you smile in February! Look at Louise’s wonderful choice for this week………

Crocus chrysantha with words

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

Despite the wintery blasts this last week, birds are starting to prospect for somewhere warm and cosy to raise a family. National Nestbox Week starts on Wednesday and we think this lovely silhouette nestbox has it all. Built to recommended proportions it will also add just a bit of style to your garden!

Watch as Laura puts one up in her garden, explaining two different methods of doing so.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

14 replies on “Plants that put a smile on February’s face”

Glad that you had a super visit to Shirley’s wonderful garden in Cuckfield……looking forward to visiting several NGS gardens on Thursday.

It was a real tonic Irene! Everywhere you looked there were little treasures that you might have read about but never seen in the flesh so to speak. Visiting NGS Spring Open Gardens should be available on the NHS – I’m definitely looking out for more ☺️ Laura x

Masses of hellebores in flower, plus snowdrops, aconites, viburnum, jasmine, & primroses both plain & fancy, pushkinia and scilla. Plus a few crocus, but without the sun they sulk! We’re in mid-wales, where it’s been a bit wet lately!

Well, that sounds an absolute picture, Elaine! Yes, just about everywhere is sodden, isn’t it – even here in Eastbourne, where we’ve got thick free-draining chalk not far under the surface of most of our gardens. Your early spring plants are clearly revelling in the damp though, and I hope it won’t be long before the sun cheers up your sulky crocus as well. All the best, Elaine

Long ago I saw photos of Japanese Gardens where Edgeworthias were being grown having been plaited into exotic shapes-since they are so vigorous growers perhaps this tames them a bit!They certainly seemed to be flowering well!Can’t remember where the pictures came from sadly..

Hi David, those Edgeworthias sound amazing! I’ve never actually grown them myself – though they are billed as pretty adaptable as to soil acidity, I think they would struggle with my very chalky conditions. You may well be right about plaiting them to control their vigour – just wish that would work with some of our other over-exuberant garden plants! All the best, Elaine

The current top performer in my Edinburgh garden is hellebore Walburton’s Rosemary. It was lovely in a pot last winter, and I planted it out in the spring. Beautiful upright-facing pink flowers have been out since December, and there are now about 30 blooms on it. It has shrugged off never-ending rain, hard frost and high winds. A £10 bargain from B&Q.

Hello Barbara, Laura here, and you are describing my favourite hellebore here.
‘Walburtons Rosemary’ was bred locally to us in West Sussex by the lovely Tristram family of Walburtons Nursery and introduced in 2009. It was named after David Tristram’s wife Rosemary. I first saw it planted en masse just inside the then main gate of RHS Wisley and it was love at first sight. I paid considerably more than £10 for mine so you did well at B&Q! Thank you for reminding what a star of a plant it is! Keep enjoying it for a few weeks yet, best wishes Laura

Amongst the glories of the aconites and snowdrops various are the heavenly Cyclamen coum who are surely the most cheery of all early spring bulbs. It has taken a few years but they are now a carpet of puce and pale pink and white and lighten my every day. Must try to source Hellebore Warburton’s Rosemary – sounds lovely.

Jane, that is a great shout! Elaine here. We all forgot to mention cyclamen coum, and you’re right, a swathe of these beautiful little flowers in early spring is something to sing about – as well as a welcome respite from all the yellow and white! Yes, do look out for H. ‘Walburtons Rosemary’ – Laura is positively evangelical about it. All the best from us all.

Lots of Hellebores and Iris reticulata Primula and yes Daffodils 🌼 Skimmia and of course Daphne (almost over) but we are on the South Coast….even the tulips are well and truly through….an early Spring perhaps 🤔

Hi Angela, Elaine here. Yes, we have it so cushy here on the south coast, don’t we! Even my Coronilla has been flowering for a few weeks – though I hardly dare tell Laura that, let alone Caroline. I don’t know about you but I always get a bit nervous when the garden seems to be waking up too early, when we could still have some terribly icy blasts at the end of February and into March which could kibosh them. Can’t help feeling excited about everything started to shoot though! All the best.

Hello – and thank you for your lovely blog.
For beautiful February smells, I have 2 wonderful fragrant daphnes, growing where they’re not supposed to be happy – but they are. I also have 2 sarcococcas which make me swoon with delight at the beautiful perfume, on stepping out of the kitchen. The lovely Clematis ‘Winter Beauty’ is growing right along the washing line and I haven’t the heart to tell it off. And my Loropetalum really seems to enjoy the winter and looks reet classy against a dark grey wall. Primroses are already out between the snowdrops (a bit early, but very welcome).

Hi Anna, Elaine here. Thank you for writing in. Your February garden sounds gorgeous! Yes, I know you garden in East Sussex but when the weather is so iffy even in the soft south of the UK, it’s a great idea to plant the winter-scented shrubs just where you are going to be passing every day rather than at the other end of the muddy garden (speaking as someone who did exactly that a few years ago….ahem). Interesting that your Loropetalum is doing well against a wall – I have tried with this plant but I might have put it in too exposed a position – I shall try again. All the best from us all.

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