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Winter flowers.

Winter is a time of rest and renewal for gardens and for gardeners. As the year draws to a close, outdoor perennials lie dormant under their blankets of mulch or snow. Last summer's annuals have long since finished their life cycles. In warm areas, new annuals can be grown in winter, but the rest of us will have to wait until next season. As the old year wanes, gardeners turn inward, too, and consider the results of the past year's efforts.

But winter is a time of beginnings as well as endings, and even the bleakest of winter days has its joys. Seed and nursery catalogs begin to arrive, and countless hours can be spent lost in their pages dreaming of spring. Soon it will be time to start seeds for plants to set out in the garden in spring.

Winter has flowers to offer us too, even in the North. Outdoors there are flowering shrubs all season in the South (such as camelasmine and winter honeysuckle) and along the West Coast as well (camellias, viburnum, daphne, heaths, and witch hazel). These mild climates also allow winter flowers on primroses, cyclamens, violets, and other cool-weather perennials. In the North, late winter brings the earliest bulbs and shrubs. Except in warm climates, the earliest outdoor plants to bloom are usually thought of as early spring flowers. But the flowers that open in February and March in the North are in bloom several weeks before spring weather arrives, so I consider them late winter flowers. Bulbs that bloom in mid- to late winter can be planted in a garden of their own or with early-blooming shrubs. The early bulbs are a special delight, cheering gardeners' hearts with the sight of flowers blooming outdoors after the long winter. Bulbs should be planted in drifts under evergreen or deciduous shrubs, among perennials in beds and borders, in woodland gardens, or in patches of lawn left unmowed until the bulb foliage dies back in late spring. One caveat is to avoid crocuses in woodland areas-they need a lot of sun to put on their best show.

Most of the early bulbs are small and inexpensive, so you can plant many of them. The hours spent planting the bulbs in fall will prove well worthwhile when the flowers burst forth as winter begins to ease its grip.

Indoors in winter, our homes can be full of color and fragrance from the bulbs we started forcing in autumn. Other houseplants also bloom in winter. So do plants started from cuttings taken from last summer's outdoor annuals. And winter brings such holiday specialties as poinsettias and holly.

Indoor Gardens

Indoors, a whole palette of colors is available to winter gardeners. Flower g houseplants, forced bulbs and branches, and annuals grown from seeds or cuttings can be chosen and combined in practically any color scheme you like. If you started some annuals from seeds or cuttings last summer or fall to have indoor flowers in winter, many color combinations are possible in your indoor garden. Consider, for example, China asters in rosy red and pink, with pink impatiens and purple browallia. Another red-and-pink combination is red hibiscus with pink geraniums, or you might like to display pink camellias with cyclamens in deep rose and soft lavender. Pink geraniums and violet exacums are another unusual-and handsome-pair.

African violets in shades of red-violet, pink, and white offer a colorful but simple combination. Growing cultivars with different flower forms, as well as colors, adds even more variety. Mix sin le- and doubleflowered types, ruffled flowers, and picotee flowers edged in white, such as the Geneva cultivars. Rosy red, pink, and purple streptocarpus can make their own show in a cool room.

A simple and cheerful reminder of summer is a window sill full of wax begonias in shades of red, pink, and white. And you can add some pink and white geraniums for height. A charming multilevel grouping might include cascading pink and cherry-red petunias in hanging pots, with impatiens and fairy primroses in shades of pink, freshened with a white-flowered planting or two.

Amaryllis is a classic winter flower. Try it in soft shades of pink and salmon, with the small, fragrant trumpets of freesias in purple and creamy white. Pink and white amaryllis, white cyclamens, and hanging pots of trailing red flowered aeschynanthus can fill an entire window.

Tall white calla lilies look lovely displayed behind rose and white cyclamens. For a red-and-white theme, you could try grouping red-berried ardisia with red kalanchoes and white fairy primroses.

An unusual and fiery combination mixes scarlet, red, and orange snapdragons; orange and yellow freesias; and yellow dwarf marigolds. A cool, sunny window can host pots and hanging baskets of nasturtiums in shades of mahogany, red, orange, and yellow. Omamental peppers with red-orange fruits, put behind a window box full of dwarf marigold in bright yellow and orange, might bring back memories of a summer vegetable garden.

If you are forcing bulbs, try showing off blue, violet, and pink hyacinths

with cream-colored

daffodils and paper white

narcissus. For a

taste of spring, group

forced daffodils and

narcissus in golden

yellow, some with orange

centers, and crocuses

in white, gold,

and purple. A dish

garden of blue-violet

Iris reticulata and a

dwarf narcissus forced

into bloom at the same

time can dress up a

table or a countertop. s If you love fragrant

flowers, you'll enjoy

a heavenly scented

grouping of paperlavender, yellow, and white freesias; and sweet olive. Or you can pair sweet olive with the similarly scented jasmine, Jasminum polyanthum.

For the holidays, red amaryllis makes a fine display with red, pink, and white poinsettias. Or you could combine Christmas cactus in shades of magenta, rose, pink, and white.

For a blue-and-white scheme, the traditional colors of Hanukkah, try blue and white poppy anemones with white China asters, camellias, or chrysanthemums from the florist. A

Making Bulbs Bloom Early

The bulbs you potted up for forcing in autumn will be ready to bring into bloom at various times during the winter. When bulbs to be forced have been in cold storage for the required length of time, you should bring them from the dark, cold storage place into bright light, but not direct sun. Clean any dirt from the outside of the pot, and cover the top with tissue paper for a few days to make the transition to light gradually.

When the shoots have grown to a height of two to three inches and turned bright green, put the pot on a sunny but cool window sill. A cool environment is important. If the temperature is too warm, the bulbs may not bloom but will only send up leaves. Give the plants as much light as possible to get the sturdiest growth. Dim light will cause the stems to grow lanky and floppy.

Water your bulbs when the soil (or other potting medium) dries out. You can judge this by the weight of the pot-dry soil is significantly lighter than wet soil. Another way to test for dryness is to tap the outside of the pot: a hollow sound means the soil is dry; a dull sound means it's moist. When it's time to water, use room-temperature water; cold water will shock the plants and slow their growth. Unless you plan to discard the bulbs after they bloom, don't stop watering the plants when the flowers fade. Continue watering for a month or two more to let the foliage grow and nourish the bulb. Then gradually taper off watering and let the foliage the back. You can then store the bulbs until it is time to plant them outdoors or begin to force them again, if that is possible (such as for amaryllis).

As the plants grow, turn the pots often so the stems grow straight. Stake plants that need support to keep the stems from bending over. Keep the soil loose and aerated by gently stirring the surface occasionally. Many bulbs need no added fertilizer if they are planted in a good soil mix.

To get the longest life from the flowers when they do bloom, put them in a cool-but not cold-place at night and keep them away from drafts. When flowers fade, clip them from the plants.

Bulbs forced indoors usually cannot be forced a second time, but they can be planted outdoors if they are hardy in your area. The bulbs should bloom again outdoors the following year, although it may take a couple of years for the bulbs to regain their full vigor.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on bulbs; indoor gardening
Author:Halpin, Anne Moyer
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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