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Gloomy and cold as it can be, January is one of my favorite months in the garden.prunus

Blooming trees like this Prunus mume amaze me with their fragile beauty, but sturdy nature–camellia_2

Ditto the camellias.  edgeworthia

My Edgeworthia buds give me something to anticipate.  Very fragrant orange blossoms will follow soon.fern

My favorite evergreen fern, the autumn fern, adds a nice pop of fresh color to the brown and grey woods. 

While  Wintersweet, carpets the yard with patches of fragrance on sunny days. 

There’s no reason that Southern gardeners can’t have something blooming every month of the year.    These are just a few of my favorites.  What are some of yours????


So another field trip yields yet another garden adventure and another awesome investment.  It was Friday afternoon, one of the best spring days so far this season and an early escape from work…A quick rendezvous to meet 2 companions that made this trip so memorable and the adventure began.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been to Chapel Hill. Oh hell, I lived there in college, but something about the trifecta…the company, the weather and garden shopping that made it magical.

So Chris, Megan and I went to Camelia Forest…I thought we were going on some nature walk. Yeah, I didn’t do my usual research.  In fact, it is a nusurey owned and operated by Dr Clifford Parks and family (he taught me horticulture at Carolina, and helped me skip freshman biology).  And what we found there was more than just plants…First of all, they were having a BOGO–buy one get one free, on select plants. One was Chris’s favorite Prunus Mume–Japanese Flowering Apricot…ooh…those were tempting, among many others. So Megan was sort of leading the inquisitive charge, asking the sage Chris…what should I put here and there? Will this take all shade? What about some woodland sun….and then..there she was…Kai Mei Parks…she was decked in her garden gear, ready to lend a hand.  Immediately she recognized Chris–who had been shopping there 25 years or so on her lunch breaks from WTVD.  You know…you never feel that way anymore it seems.  That sense of community, that feeling of being recognized….I miss that.

Anyway, we looked at all the camelias…boy, was that a fantasy to see all in bloom at once.  We looked at a variety of magnolias–one Bay magnolia caught Chris’ eye (hey, it was a BOGO).  We learned about redneck rododenrons(Daphniphyllum macropodum), “William Hunt” Camellia Sasanqua, Leucothoe, Acuba…the list goes on and on.  And then it started…the buying frenzy–Mrs Parks was egging us on…”they need good homes.” Who knew…that became our justification for all our purchases in the end–“they need good homes after all.”

We saw the infamous heat-tolerent primroses, cultivated by Dr. Parks.  Every southerner that longed to grow primroses now can through the hard work and research of Dr. Parks. Oh and they come back year after year…aka plant once enjoy always–my kind of gardening.

Here are the ones I picked out–only $5 a peice, or 9 for $36–I am a sucka for a deal.  But so beautiful.

And then there were the winter witch hazels…we each took home 2 of those, BOGO.

As for me, I got 2 more treasures by the urging of my “partners in crime”–one was a William B. Hunt Camellia Sasanqua, a fall flowering Camellia that is tough as nails.  This is not just a plant, but a symbol of the famous Chapel Hill gardener, writer William Hunt. Chris and Mrs. Parks shared with me the image of Mr. Hunt–wore a bow tie every day, had lunch at the Carolina Inn, did ballet for exercise and could still push up on his toes well into his eighties.  Well…with a story like that, who wouldn’t buy it.

And then the Edgeworthia.  I had never heard of it.  Never even knew I needed to know about it.  Chris mentioned it in passing.  I went to Logan’s last weekend and saw a couple of people pining over them…then I saw Megan’s…in her woodland backyard, all a bloom.  Unique. A conversation peice…ooohhh, and what a fragrance.  So the enabling crew I was with…added it to the cart.  I knew just what to do with it.  Remember the vision of my new path and tropical beds…the one where I say, I need some sort of interesting feature at the end of the property…well I decided on this one-two punch…William B Hunt Camelias Sasanqua–blooms in the fall and has waxy small everygreen leaves, and right in front this–the sculptural Edgewortha that blooms winter to spring.  What a combo! What stories to tell when people come to my house and walk my path.

So that’s it.  The best $100 I ever spent.  Heat tolerant primeroses, 2 winter witch hazels, William B Hunt Camellia Sesanqua, and Edgeworthia…but the plants were only some of what I brought home.  A fabulous field trip with great friends, an encounter with a legend…oh…did I tell you that we almost couldn’t fit all our stuff in the truck.

We laughed all the way home.  That is the best way to shop for plants…with friends, with passionate and wise helpers and credit card in hand 🙂

Camellia Forest is open on weekends throughout the spring…it’s worth it.  You should go there!

Happy Gardening!


Friends are going to get tired of me praising this plant.  But every morning when I wake  up, stagger into the kitchen and look out the window, I see a big  spray of pink blooms against the grey woods.  Prunus mume has been delighting us for about a week and a half now. 

It is so cool even my husband– not a big guy for flower-praise–says it is  so  cool. 

Prunus mume is a splendid plant that blooms BIG when almost nothing else does.  I bought my first one about 20 years ago when I was lucky enough to stumble into Kai Mei Parks at her Orange County Nursery, Camellia Forest.  

I had never heard of Japanese Apricot until Mrs. Parks said–You should grow that–  Fortunately I was smart enough to listen.  Also smart enough–or maybe it was just dumb luck–to put it in a place where I would see it first thing on winter mornings. 

Ok, I have made my share of dumb garden mistakes, but meeting really acompolished gardeners and taking their advice was NOT one of them.   Kai Mei was so right.  I should grow this plant…and you should too. 

I don’t know why it took me 15 more years to add 2 more  Prunus mume, but the newest additions are  a darker pink.  I believe they are Kobai. 

Here’s the link. .  And sorry, Kobai is sold out for the season.  Gosh–that makes me want it even more. 

But there are other varieties–and I have a new path to plant around.  

Yea, I should grow that–More.

Picking January Flowers--Camellia and Prunus mume

Everyone has flowers in the spring and summer–but winter flowers are special.  They break up the grey landscape, bring the outdoors in, and to me they feel like progress–the passing of the season, the coming of more. 

They also remind me of my progress as a gardener.  On this last Monday in January, there are 6 kinds of plants blooming in my garden.  It didn’t start out that way.  I bought the color where I saw it–flats from the Harris Teeter, the Lowes.  I made hundreds of impulse purchases–better make that thousands–before I started building a garden that would bloom for me year around.  

So what’s blooming today? 

Camellias and Prunus Mume from my favorite local nursery, Camellia Forest.  The Parks family (yes, the same Dr. Parks who taught blog-partner Melissa botany at UNC) are geniuses.  Nationally know camellia breeders, they have introduced countless new camellia hybrids to the world.  Their plants are tough, well-grown and handle transplant really well.  In the horrible drought a couple summers ago, none of my Camellia Forest plants died.  The nursery  also offers a number of Asian plants (Prunus mume for one) which are hard to find.    Check them out at if you’re ready to move beyond the limited selection at the big box store. 

Wintersweet– May be  my favorite winter plant.  One–because I grew mine from seed, my first big success.  And two because it lays down these wonderful  patches of fragrance on sunny days like today.   I love my Wintersweet so much,  last year I made a video about it and put it on YouTube.  (link TBA)

Aromatherapy for outdoor chores--Wintersweet on 1/25/2010

Rijnveld’s Early Sensation Daffodils have bloomed as early as January 1st for me.  Because of our cold weather over the holidays, this year’s first blooms arrived last week.  Who doesn’t love yellow daffodils?

Bearsfoot Helleborus–also a long ago purchase from Camellia Forest.  I love green flowers and this one blooms for two months or more. 

Pansies and  Violas–Not a lot of landscape impact this month–they’re too small.  Still–it’s nice to cut blooms for the house and they’ll look like a million bucks in a month or two.  But so will a lot of other flowers.  In January–the dead of winter, every little bit of color stands out.  

So what’s you’re favorite source of winter color?  And another important question for Carolina gardeners–what do you see when you look out  of your kitchen window this month?

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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