Clematis cirrhosa var balearica - a wild variety with maroon-speckled, white flowers produced in the depths of the Pacific Northwest winter. Photo courtesy of Cistus Design Nursery

Garden designer, lecturer and plantsman Sean Hogan is a busy man these days. Between designing gardens in far-flung places, plant collecting expeditions in foreign lands and speaking for trade and horticutural groups around the globe, it's catch-as-catch-can to find him on his home turf anymore.

There are few designers with more of a passion for winter-flowering plants. Sean's home garden has always showcased winter-flowering plants, from the ever-present winter-blooming Correa on his front porch steps to the winter-blooming blood-red Camellia and flowering quince in his "blood and guts border".

He hunts the globe for uncommon plants that can be grown in our region, equally interested in rare old cultivars and new wild collections that could prove cold-hardy for Portland-area gardens.

I asked him to list three of his current favorite, uncommon winter-blooming plants for our region.

Here are his three top picks - perfect for Portland, right here, right now. 

clematis cirrhosa var balearica, Cistus Design Nursery, winter flowers, winter flowering vine
The finely dissected, evergreen foliage of Clematis cirrhosa var balearica looks beautiful weaving through the branches of a sturdy shrub. Photo courtesy of Cistus Design Nursery

Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream'

Why grow this plant? "Well, for one, it's a winter-flowering vine - that's a good reason by itself! Clematis cirrhosa is a pretty vine with white, maroon-speckled flowers and smallish, glossy green, mostly evergreen leaves, but Wisley Cream (not pictured here) has especially lovely chartreuse to creamy yellow clusters of bells produced in early- to mid-winter, lasting until mid-spring or thereabouts."

Care: It's easy to grow, liking its top in sun for best flowering. Decent drainage is important - don't even try it in swampy soil. The plant is from North Africa and the Mediterranean, so it's accustomed to wet winters and dry summers - it's better to neglect it than over-water in summer.

Tip: Clematis cirrhosa only reaches about 15' tall so it's perfect for small trellises or even for containers. Just try to keep the base of the plant (roots) in shade.

camellia transnokoensis, Cistus Design Nursery, winter camellia, winter flowers
Camellia transnokoensis. Image courtesy of Cistus Design Nursery

Camellia transnokoensis

Why grow this plant? "This is the un-camellia camellia! Not your big red blobby japonica camellia, C. transnokoensis had the delicate leaves of an evergreen huckleberry, forming an upright pyramid with horizontal sprays of foliage. Stems are gold in color, contrasting with new growth that's tinted red. In early winter to mid-spring, depending on the year, it produces the prettiest clusters of white- to blushed pearl flowers that are very fragrant. It reaches 6-8' tall and is about half that narrow."

Care: It's pretty straight-forward: half-sun is best (morning sun is ideal). It comes from southern China, where it receives some summer rain, so water occasionally in summer. Average soil is fine, as long as it drains okay.

Tip: There are a few plants that are very similar in appearance and are virtually indistinguishable so if you see C. transnokoensis, C. transarisanensis or C. lutchuensisfor sale somewhere, grab it! They are all great, notwithstanding the convoluted names. 

Daphne bholua darjeeling, winter daphne, Cistus Design Nursery, winter flowers
Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling'. Image courtesy of Cistus Design Nursery

Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling'

Why grow this plant? "This is a classic "impress-your-relatives-from-Iowa" plant that should go right by your front door so everyone sees it! Daphne bholua is one of the most fragrant of all daphnes, the scent being a bit more custardy than pungent. It's also one of the earliest to bloom, with the first petals sometimes unfurling as early as November. (This year, it's only starting now.)"

Daphne bholua is mostly evergreen, except in the coldest of winters when it can shed leaves. The form Darjeeling (highly recommended by Sean) is a vigorous plant that holds on to its narrow, lanceolate leaves in winter better than some other forms. The plant has a narrow, upright form, reaching around 6-8' tall and 2-3' wide. Flowers are pale pink, aging to white.

Care: Like most daphnes, D. bholua likes good drainage, although, Sean says, its not the fussiest of the group. Half to full sun is best, resulting in the heavier flowers. Shade is okay but the plants offer sparser flowers. Some summer water is best, as it comes from summer rain areas of - not to put too fine a point on it - Nepal through Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam, into Sichuan and northwest Yunnan, China.

Tip: Plant Daphne bholua in a protected spot, such as near the base of a south- or west-facing wall and you'll enjoy earlier flowers that are less likely to be damaged by frosty weather. That means more reliable bouquets all through the winter!

Where to buy:

Cistus Design Nursery, of course, as well as Gossler Farms Nursery, Dancing Oaks Nursery and local retailers such as Garden Fever, Dennis 7 Dees and Portland Nursery.

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