What’s Blooming in January?

by Seattle Landscape Architect Brooks Kolb

When we think of a garden bursting into bloom, we automatically think of spring, and in the Pacific Northwest that means March and April. However, that doesn’t mean that no plants are blooming in January and February, when the garden still appears to be mostly dead. In addition to the lovely purple and yellow Crocus bulbs that everybody is familiar with, not to mention the Primroses and Cyclomens found in every supermarket’s flower shop, here are some fantastic selections for winter blooms, and three of them are fragrant to boot!

Sasanqua Camellias are a species of winter-blooming Camellias, with many named varieties. They come in white (‘Setsugekka’ and ‘White Doves’), light pink (‘Apple Blossom’); dark pink (‘Tanya’) and red (‘Yuletide.’) If you’re lucky, the latter selection will bloom at Christmas-time.

Witch Hazels (Hammamelis) are a large species of small trees or tree-form shrubs with fragrant, confetti-like flowers that twist all the way along their up-reaching branches in shades of bright yellow to deep orange. And they’re fragrant besides.

Tall Sarcococca, called “Sweet Box,” is a delicate low hedge of glossy green leaves featuring white to cream-colored flowers partly concealed in the leaf joints. These perfume the air with a vanilla-spice fragrance. Sarcococca ruscifolia has small red berries, while the virtually indistinguishable Sarcococca confusa has small black berries resembling currants or huckleberries.

Pink Dawn Viburnum (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn’) is a tall, upright shrub with lovely, Daphne-like fragrant pink flower clusters that bloom on the bare wood.

Hellebore Hybrids (hybrids of Helleborus orientalis, also known as “Lenten Rose”) offer downward-pointed, cup-like flowers in shades ranging from white to chartreuse to pale pinks, mauves and purples on a low-growing evergreen shrub or tall ground cover. These are flowers that I always think of as painted in water colors rather than oils. You can select a variety for a desired color or just purchase randlomly mixed hybrids and enjoy the resulting color rainbow.

If you had all 5 selections in your garden, January would not be a dead month in the garden after all!

Helleborus orientalis hybrids 

Hamamelis ‘Arnold Promise’

Great Plant Picks for Winter


Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albus


Arnold Promise Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’


Star Magnolia – Magnolia stellata

I always tell my clients that a Seattle garden should be designed with winter in mind.  If a garden looks good in winter, it’s almost guaranteed that it will look really great in spring and summer.  Above are three great plant picks that are are certain to lift your spirits in winter:  Snowberry, with its white berries on bare winter twigs; Arnold Promise Witch Hazel, with confetti-like yellow flowers in January, and Star Magnolia.  The photo shows Star magnolia blooming in the spring, but in the winter, its fuzzy, pussy-willow-like buds are a lovely promise of spring to come.  The larger Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana) has equally gorgeous winter buds.

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