2016-02-18 / From The Garden

Color Brightens Winter Gardens

By Cynthia Gibson


The Lenten rose can be planted in a shaded or partly-shaded bed and makes an excellent ground cover under trees. The Lenten rose can be planted in a shaded or partly-shaded bed and makes an excellent ground cover under trees. Snow has finally fallen on Aquidneck Island, but nothing can stop the harbingers of spring.

Any color in the garden during the winter makes you feel as if spring is right around the corner. For example, snowdrops, with their green leaves and pretty white flower heads, are no-fail bloomers and look amazing poking up through an eight-inch layer of snow.

Another winter bloomer is the Lenten rose, a far more attractive name for the species known as hellebores, which produces a very exotic-looking flower that blooms between February and March, often when there is still snow on the ground.

Skunk cabbage starts emerging with its dotted purple flower by the beginning of March in damp lowland areas. They love shade, marshlands and living near a pond. While it is a “wild” flower, you will find them in your gardens thanks to birds and other small animals leaving seeds behind.


Skunk cabbage grows in wet areas and is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. Skunk cabbage grows in wet areas and is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. Winter aconite, yet another fantastic winter flower, is also referred to as jester’s collar. It bears a very bright yellow flower surrounded by a collar of small sword-shaped leaves. If allowed to grow, it forms beautiful blankets of yellow across your landscape. It is a great bulb for underplanting, as it loves both semi-shade and sun. It is also considered one of the most poisonous plants in the garden, so pet owners beware.

Pheasant’s eye, or Adonis amurensis, is the most delicate of all. With purple sepals and yellow flower, it has fern-like leaves that somehow find the strength to work their way up through snow. It is at its showiest when planted in a rock garden. It loves the spotlight!


Pheasant's eye blooms midsummer and grows in full sun to partially shaded areas. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Pheasant's eye blooms midsummer and grows in full sun to partially shaded areas. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Among the latest winter bloomers is the crocus. On Aquidneck Island, we are fortunate that so many homeowners have discovered and planted this charmer in borders or in large groups. They produce the most impact when planted en masse. Purple and yellow are the two most popular colors; however, once you do a little research on this late winter flower you will find there are striped varieties and miniatures as well. What they all have in common is that they are a most welcome sign of the approaching spring.

While many of these bulbs and plants are familiar, the hellebore or Lenten rose is the most unique (there are only about 15 species of hellebores, a small number for almost any flower). Other than the pure white blossoms and those tinged with pink, it is rather somber – but one not to be ignored.

A caveat for those with pets who spend time outdoors: With the exception of the crocus (which deer and rabbits love), all of these winter plants are poisonous or contain certain levels of toxicity.

This is especially true of the hellebores. These flowers naturally clump – as wide as 30 inches in diameter – and grow to be almost three feet tall. Once you have established clumps, wear gloves when handling them. Their leaves stay green all year long. However, in late February new stems, flowers and leaves will start coming up, so pull off the old leaves and discard them.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

Midwinter tips for indoor cultivation:

. Plant vegetable seeds within the next two weeks. . Plant annuals this month. . Use a light potting soil. Never use outdoor soil; you will only bring fungus, bacteria and bugs to your new seeds. . Use peat pots. They will disintegrate into the soil once planted outdoors. . Use large plastic trays to water your seeds and seedlings from the bottom, forcing their root growth.

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