Winter need not be bleak and blank in the garden: Winter-flowering shrubs and plants can break the white and gray winter landscape with bursts of unexpected color. Although winter flowers are not as common as the blossoms of spring and summer, you can find plants and flowers to bloom in your winter garden in most regions of the United States.
The witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana var.) are "foolproof" winter bloomers, even in cold northern regions of the United States, according to botanist Richard E. Weaver, Jr., writing for Arnoldia, the journal of the Harvard University Arboretum. Witch hazel blossoms resemble small fireworks of pale yellow, deep gold or orange, depending on the cultivar. The flowers are a delightful winter surprise on bare branches of this 6- to 8-foot-tall shrub, blooming in mid-February to late March, depending on the variety and location. The blossoms emit the unique astringent, yet not unpleasant, scent so familiar from household witch hazel or hamamelis water rubs, which are an infusion of witch hazel in rubbing alcohol.
The University of Tennessee AgResearch Research and Education Center reports that the collection of Cornelian dogwoods (Cornus mas) at its arboretum bloom beginning in mid-February, with clusters of small bright-yellow flowers lining its bare stems before the leaves begin to emerge. The Cornelian dogwood is a small tree or shrub, growing to about 15 feet high, bearing bright red summer fruits which the University of Tennessee AgResearch Center advises are cooked into jams and jellies in the plant's native regions of southern Europe and western Asia. The University of Tennessee is attempting to further develop the hardiest of these winter-blooming shrubs which are a year-round asset to a wide variety of landscape designs.
The hellebore, or Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus), is a low-growing shade-loving perennial that was named Perennial Plant of the Year 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association. It flowers for an exceedingly long time, according to Sandra Mason, writing for the University of Illinois Extension Homeowners Column, often maintaining its blossoms from February on into May. It is hardy in most of the United States, comes in a wide variety of rich blossom colors, spreads but is not invasive, and its summer leaves make an attractive counterpoint to ferns and hostas in the shade or woodland garden.