When flowers bloom in winter

In the gardens of Dennenlohe Castle as elsewhere, very little blooms in winter, but what does is all the more beautiful. On the bare, greenish shoots of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), golden-yellow flowers often appear as early as Christmas. This small shrub originally comes from China and now climbs up to a height of three metres on the iron fence of the castle courtyard.

The pink dawn viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense) blooms at the beginning of the year and the longer the flowers last, the lighter the colour becomes. We have two different varieties of witch hazel in the garden: Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica) with red-brown flowers and the yellow-flowered Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis). In addition to the interesting, spidery petals, witch hazel also delights with its strong scent. Although it grows slowly, over time it can come to occupy an appreciable space and reach a height of up to five metres. Because it doesn't like being transplanted when mature, its precise location - essentially near to a path on account of the scent - should be well considered.

I am particularly fond of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) with all its varieties and hybrids - since my wife discovered her love for this plant, her collection of over 50 varieties beautify the garden during the time between Christmas and spring and lasts until long after Easter together with the daffodils in the landscaped park. It should be noted that the Christmas rose, also known as the "black hellebore", is poisonous and all my animals avoid it like the plague. In the past, it was also used in medicinal preparations. My son, who is presently serving in the German Army, recently informed us over breakfast that the leaves and roots of the Christmas rose have been used to poison entire rivers in order to incapacitate the enemy. Thank heavens that people prefer to put these flowers in vases nowadays...

Strictly speaking, the Christmas rose flowers aren't really flowers at all, but bracts or petals of the stem. That's why they last so long and, although the colour fades a little, they maintain their shape and therefore appear to bloom forever. Incidentally, care must be taken when harvesting the seeds. It is better to work only wearing gloves, as blisters can often result if the seeds are not quite ripe, are inadvertently crushed and the juice gets onto the fingers. Marigolds would be helpful in this case, but they don't grow until the summer …

Whereas the Christmas rose tends to be rather small, we have brought hybrids from England that can easily reach a height of 60 cm. This is also thanks to the large amounts of horse manure that I spread on the beds from November onwards. This plant grows best at the edge of slightly damp coppices or in semi-sunny locations. I also find the ideal planting time advantageous – from late autumn to late spring – when very little is otherwise being planted. Helleborus is however not for impatient gardeners – from germination to the first flower takes three years – but the reward is then annual blossoms for the next 20 years.

Through cultivation and coincidence, a huge number of coloured Christmas roses is available today, the one more beautiful and interesting than the next. Bordered, serrated, light-coloured, black, speckled, pastel-coloured, deep red, lime-green – an unbelievable variety that can become addictive.

Baron Robert von Süsskind
VIKING garden expert

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