What’s blooming on December 19th? You’d be surprised!

Traditionally, many people in the Northwest don’t think of December as a time of year for gardening. The days are short, it rains all the time and everyone who still doesn’t hate Christmas (judging from Facebook, this seems to be a growing trend) is busy with Christmas plans. Late fall, it is assumed, is when the garden goes to sleep so we don’t have to think about it until spring. If your garden looks ugly and dead by December, by which time we have usually had a few hard frosts, no one will judge you for it.

But after they see this garden on Whidbey Island, perhaps they will. (Is that how I wanted to start this paragraph? Maybe not.) Let’s put it this way. Hummingbird Hill garden, which we visited over the weekend, shows us how one can achieve excellent success creating year-round interest in the garden right here in the Northwest. It was created by the late Bob Barca, with a great deal of assistance from his family who continue to maintain it. Sadly, Bob passed away unexpectedly a couple years ago.

Mostly the photos below highlight the plants that are in bloom now. Of course, creating year round interest also involves making good use of interesting evergreen foliage and structure. That could be another whole post. For now though we’ll take a look at what actually blooms at this time of year around here, that more people should be growing. I think you may be surprised!  You’ll notice that Grevilleas are kind of a big deal.


View to the residence. I feel that a couple large Olearias and/or Leptospermums may have been removed from this area, but in a garden like this, who’s counting them?



A fine specimen of Grevillea miqueliana subsp. moroka greets you as you pull up.



Adjacent the front gate is Grevillea victoriae ‘Marshall Olbrich’.



Grevillea victoriae subsp. nivalis ‘Murray Valley Queen’ is truly one of the best Grevilleas. It is a prolific bloomer from October through April and sometimes longer, and hummingbirds love the flowers.



Grevillea lavandulacea ‘Penola’ isn’t quite blooming yet, though it’s budded up.


This is a newer cultivar selected by Xera Plants, Grevillea x ‘Neil Bell’ with good hardiness and large flowers.


It’s now been so long since I’ve worked in conventional nurseries that I can’t remember what this is. But hey, it’s blooming.


Melianthus major, not blooming, but it looked so great I had to include it in this post. Melianthus generally grows in winter in nature, and looks best when the weather is cool.



Arctostaphylos rudis, native to southern California, but it does fine in milder Northwest gardens.


Grevillea ‘Poorinda Leane’. Bob bought several of these from us (along with quite a few other plants) and they have all flourished, surviving below 10°F when they were much smaller (in November 2010). It is one of the hardiest and easiest Grevilleas to grow.


Grevillea victoriae subsp. victoriae, not as floriferous as ‘Murray Valley Queen’, but hardy and dependable.


Ooh it’s winter blooming heather. OK, not that rare, but it fits the theme.


Another manzanita, which is almost certainly the cultivar ‘Austin Griffiths’, a known December bloomer. If those flowers look an awful lot like that winter-blooming heather, well they are in the same family!


Grevillea x ‘Audrey’. This blooms nearly year-round in the Northwest.


Acacia boormannii, not blooming yet but in full bud. This isn’t actually hardy, however, and was certainly planted sometime after the aforementioned winter of 2010-11. Acacia pravissima, also not really hardy but tougher than this species, was in full bud as well. These should start opening up around mid-January or so.


Abutilon megapotamicum.


Grevillea x gaudichaudii, OK, it’s not blooming, but it looks so cool that we don’t mind.


Thanks largely to the nectar-rich Grevillea flowers, hummingbirds seem to really like to hang out in this garden!

So that will have to wrap it up and I hope you enjoyed the tour. I suppose I had better mention that we have most of these plants for sale at any given time, or at least similar items. If you want a garden with cool stuff that blooms in winter, you know where to find them.

Also as this is my last post of the year, let me say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We wish all the best to you and your family.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgeinbandon,oregon
    Dec 21, 2015 @ 21:01:15

    great post. amazing what all those grevilleas (and the manzanitas, too) can do at this time of year but they are a year-round presence in the garden with form and foliage and the grevilleas continue blooming through much of the rest of year as well. have you planted any penstemons in your garden? mine are still blooming after starting in late may. great photos. great garden. Merry Christmas to you and your family.


  2. Shelagh Tucker
    Dec 21, 2015 @ 23:34:23

    Cool photos. Thanks!

    Merry Christmas Shelagh Tucker

    Sent from my iPad



  3. Loree / danger garden
    Dec 22, 2015 @ 20:36:13

    Excellent! Of course I must share that we spent a lovely afternoon at Jo O’Connell’s Austalian Plant Nursery just outside Ventura, CA. Have you been? I’m thinking it’s the next best thing to actually visiting Austalia, which I will do, someday…


  4. Ian
    Dec 22, 2015 @ 23:56:11

    George, we do have a few Penstemons, generally the native ones, fruticosus, scouleri, cardwellii etc. which are not repeat bloomers. But I would like to do more. Which do you have that are blooming now?

    Shelagh, glad you liked it.

    Loree, no, I have never been to Jo O’Connell’s nursery. It has been on my list of destinations I would like to visit for many years. I’d better hurry up!!


  5. K
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 23:39:28

    This is inspiring. I would love to visit your Whidbey Island garden while it has its down-under bloom on. Is it open to visitors? Thank you so much. I think I bought a smaller Grevillea from you a couple years ago at the Rh Species Garden sale–in the Weyerhaeuser parking lot? So sorry I killed it.


  6. Rich Mathes
    Feb 06, 2016 @ 23:04:57

    Ian – when are you open, or what sales will you be at in 2016?


  7. Ian
    Feb 23, 2016 @ 21:53:27

    “K” — glad you liked the pics. The Whidbey Garden is not mine; we were just visiting. I probably shouldn’t post the contact info here, but if you e-mail me at mail@desertnorthwest.com I can send it.

    Rich, some sales are still up in the air, but I’ll be producing a tentative list of sales in early March, as is my custom. We’re doing a lot of the same ones as before. First will be the Sequim Garden Show third weekend of March, then Heronswood on 4/2. We are doing “Hortlandia” this year after skipping last year. Open house days will be first weekend of June and last weekend of July, and a weekend in Sept (undetermined at this time).


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