1. ‘Onyx Odyssey’ Hellebore
Name: Helleborus hybridus ‘Onyx Odyssey’
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
Size: 12 to 15 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide
Conditions: Best in partial sun; tolerates a wide range of soils, including clay and sand, but not waterlogged conditions
“Sexy,” “intense,” and “alluring” are perfect ways to describe the dark double blooms of this hellebore. ‘Onyx Odyssey’ is my favorite seedling strain, which covers a color range from maroon saturated with black to deep charcoal dusted in blue. The long-lasting flowers are often complemented with dark-purple-blushed new foliage. They are perfect for combining with cream, silver, or gold variegated foliage or pale-colored early flowering bulbs like snow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus, Zones 4–8) or winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis, Zones 5–8).
2. Algerian Iris
Name: Iris unguicularis
zones: 7 to 9
size: 12 to 15 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide
conditions: Full sun to light shade; well-drained soils
The first bloom of Algerian iris is always a treat. The rich lavender-blue flowers glow in the winter landscape with a few days of perfect floral glory. Fortunately, the buds open over a long period of time, so there always seems to be at least one flower open or on its way to opening through even the worst of winter. I grow mine under the eaves of the house, so they are close at hand to enjoy and less likely to have rain mar their open blooms. Don’t forget to pluck a few blooms to bring inside to enjoy their sweet fragrance.
3. Rebecca™ Winter Daphne
Name: Daphne odora ‘Hewreb’
Zones: 7 to 9
Size: 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide
Conditions: Light to dappled shade, no hot afternoon sun; well-drained organic soils, best in sandy soils
Winter daphnes are essential for the garden. Their delightful fragrance, evergreen foliage, and ability to tolerate shade have made them a popular choice for years. Rebecca™ winter daphne is an awesome improvement over the typical form. The variegated leaves of Rebecca™ have a bold, bright creamy yellow edge with a consistent, clean look that surpasses other variegated forms. The variegation is set off by the leaf’s unusual subtle blue-green center, unique to this selection. The profusely produced flowers are richly fragrant with deep red-purple buds opening pink, then softening to a blush. As an added bonus, it grows with a more compact habit than most other selections, giving the shrub a full, lush appearance.
4. ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ Daffodil
Name: Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’
Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 12 to 15 inches tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil
Northwest winters can be very rainy and gray, so ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ daffodil is an especially welcome sight. It is the earliest of the trumpet daffodils to flower, with the first blooms often arriving in early January. The large, golden yellow trumpet blooms are like a beacon of sunshine. The hardy flowers will tolerate frost without being damaged and can often last four to six weeks, much longer than any other daffodil. Like many other daffodils, ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ forms robust clumps quickly that will provide a spectacular show for many years to come.
Richie Steffen is curator at the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle.