Monday, August 8, 2016

Achimenes and Colias eurytheme

Achimenes
This was to have been the summer I built a wall to test out some gesneriads as garden and rock wall plants. Earlier I acquired dozens of Achimenes in nominally five varieties  from an on-line source. They were alive,  growing and full of promise when received. Now that they are beginning to bloom, the rest of the story has emerged. So far, none seems true to name. Most of the plants which have bloomed so far are like the one in the image above. That might be the old,  well-known variety 'Purple King' (but that's not the name under which it was received). Whatever it is, it makes a handsome plant.
The butterfly in that image is an orange sulfur, Colias eurytheme; I found it dead on the sidewalk at an interstate rest stop. I was in such good condition I collected it.
Another plant has bloomed in white - but it's not the promised 'Ambroise Verschaffelt'. And another has bloomed with bluish flowers which are very handsome - but again the name does not match the flower.
A group of Sinningia speciosa has produced the same result: handsome, lusty growers and beautiful in bloom, but not a one true to name.    

Friday, August 5, 2016

Amorphophallus konjac Konnyaku

Konnyaku: Yam Cake 


The botanical name konjac should be pronounced kon-yak: what looks like a "j" is the symbol used in botanical Latin to represent the "'ya" sound. See the attached image where the name is given as konnyaku. 

The flowering of the titan arum at the U.S. Botanic Garden has brought on a tizzy of chatter about its smaller relative, Amorphophallus konjac. This can be grown as a garden plant here, and it usually survives the winters here without problems. 

In the  image above you will see a package of what's called "yam cake" - it's made from the starch derived from the corms of Amorphophallus konjac. This plant is widely grown in Asia as a field crop (forget shade!) for the starch derived from its corms. I've even read about a small production effort going on in California.   

Years ago I dug some corms in the fall and stored them on a shelf in the basement. Months later, in the middle of the night there was a loud crashing sound in the basement. I thought at first that a raccoon had gotten into the house and was knocking things down.  I went down to investigate and found nothing suspicious. And then I saw it: one of the large corms had started to sprout, and it had pushed itself off the shelf making the crashing noise as it came down.

The really repellent odor of the inflorescence comes from the spadix (the thing sticking up in the middle of the "flower" . Cut that off and you can enjoy the spathe (the calla lily thing) indoors without the odor: just what some might want for a goth wedding. 

Everyone calls these and the "flowers" of the titan arum flowers. Actually, the true flowers are tiny little yellow bumps on the base of the spadix buried deep inside the spathe. In this case what we call the flower is actually the entire inflorescence. But then, a daisy is also an entire inflorescence and not a true, single flower; and we all call it a flower. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gray tree frogs: the urban batrachoscopist


video


The urban batrachoscopist
Video: Wayne E. Crist
Text: Jim McKenney

In his spare time, the urban ornithoscopist  keeps eyes and ears out for other activity. Here’s a great frog report: gray tree frogs singing in numbers in response to the day’s rain storms.

The rains we had last week brought out the tree frogs in numbers. It’s not unusual at this time of year to hear one calling – and sometimes being answered – in the evening; but on Saturday evening, July 30 and into Sunday July 31 they were really partying at a pond near the Grosvenor Metro Station.
I probably left Wayne’s place at about 10:30 P.M. Saturday; as I passed the pond area I opened my car window to hear if there was any amphibian activity. There sure was: they were goin’ to town. When I got home I called Wayne to alert him. Once he realized the level of activity, he got a flashlight and his camera (a camera which records videos with sound) and headed out. What you see here is the result of that, videos made in the first hour of the new day. To make the videos (there are others), he held the camera in one hand and a flashlight in the other. 

These are the frogs which generations of herpetologists knew as the gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor. The taxonomy of these frogs is now much more complicated – and not yet resolved. Have too many cooks spoiled the soup here? At first glance it seems that way, but Google the various online accounts and see for yourself. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tricyrtis formosana 'Spotted Toad' and Gentiana 'True Blue'

Tricyrtis 'Spotted Toad' and Gentiana 'True Blue' 


Tricyrtis formosana 'Spotted Toad' 
Gentiana 'True Blue'

I binged on Tricyrtis this year, ordering about a dozen and a half sorts for trial. The idea was to have a border of these combined with some of the easier gentians for autumnal interest. But here it is the eve of August, and some of the Tricyrtis and gentians are already in bloom. It's hard to believe that there will be much left for the autumn.
So I'll change the plan and enjoy them while I can. 

Sinningia speciosa

Sinningia speciosa 
Sinningia speciosa 
Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' 


The Sinningia speciosa are starting to bloom. The white-flowered one, the cultivar 'Carangola', was the first to start, several others in the red-purple range have also started to boom. Except for 'Carangola',  these were acquired by mail order earlier in the year. They don't look anything like the pictures in the catalog, but they are still beautiful. They have been outside since the danger of night frosts passed. They are growing well, and the plants themselves are bigger than I anticipated.

These were acquired as part of my "gesneriads as rock garden plants" experiments. Gorgeous, aren't they? And maybe too much so for the rock garden, even in the dog days of summer. This species in not winter hardy here, but the corms are easily dug and stored dry. They were to have been planted in a new rock wall, but the wall has yet to be built. I've learned one important thing so far: they seem to perform well in our summer weather. The one time I tried them, African violets, given the same treatment, did not do well as summer garden plants here. Once the heat kicked in, they quit blooming.



Friday, July 29, 2016

Hosta clausa

Hosta clausa 

Hosta clausa 

I'm not a big hosta enthusiast, but the genus Hosta does include a number of forms which do interest me. The hosta crowd seems to be focused on the leaves; I'm focused on the inflorescence and the individual flowers. In general, any plant which has a cluster of leaves low to the ground from which a comparatively tall inflorescence arises appeals to me.
The species shown here, Hosta clausa, fits that description well. Flower color in most hostas is their weakest point: all of those washy pinkish lavender colors do nothing for me. Some of the white-flowered ones are good: I don't think I'm off the mark when I say that Hosta plantaginea is the best flowering plant in the genus. There is a small range of species and hybrids which share an appealing color with Hosta clausa: H. ventricosa and H. venusta come to mind right away.
Some, maybe all, of the forms of Hostas clausa are stoloniferous and left to itself it will form a very natural looking clump.
It gets it name from a peculiarity of its flowers: they do not open. Latin clausa means closed.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Pelargonium peltatum 'Contessa Burgundy Bicolor'

Pelargonium 'Contessa Burgundy Bicolor'

I binged on geraniums this year: I've now got a good starter collection of zonals, scented-leaf sorts and a few of the creeping/sprawling ivy-leaf sorts. That's what's in the image above. These plants have the reputation of not performing well here during the summer, and I don't see them around much at all. But I've got several square yards of window space where they will be spending the winter - and I hope putting on a good show.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Arils from the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Seed of Iris kirkwoodiae × Iris iberica elegantissima


What you see in the image above are seeds from the hybridization of Iris kirkwoodiae and Iris iberica elegantissima. I was hoping there would be more of them, and that I would be able to offer them to the seed exchanges. But the eleven seeds you see there (and two more I found on the ground later)  are all I got.
The structure at one end of the seed which resembles a pale brown, misshapen  donut is the aril; irises of this group are often called arillate irises. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Buddleja davidii Butterfly bush season

Butterfly bush blooms


On the breakfast table 

Butterflies are not the only ones who love them; I do, too! And some of the modern ones are a big improvement over the old ones. 'Buzz Magenta', seen above with 'Black Knight', is both floriferous and compact.
To get the most out of them, the spent flowers have to be removed. If you have the time to do that, you'll get flowers right through the growing season. If you don't have the time to remove the spent flowers on all of your bushes, concentrate on one.
Their fragrance reminds me of honey.
These plants are easily propagated from cuttings.
For generations the name was spelled Buddleia. I'll bet most people in the English-speaking world were shocked when the spelling Buddleja appeared. But you have to remember that this word Buddleja is not simple English (although based on an English family name): what looks like the letter "J" to us in not that letter at all. It's in fact the semivowel form of the the Latin letter "I" (which, to continue the confusion, is pronounced "ee"). Since the eponym's name, Buddle,  was probably pronounced to rhyme with "puddle", and since the semivowel is pronounced "ya", a sensible pronunciation is "BUD-ul-ya".  Well, at any rate, that's sensible to me.
Note from early evening: this post was written in the morning when I brought the bouquet in from the deck outside. After the bouquet had been inside for a few hours, I began to notice that the scent is very free on the air - it had filled the kitchen and was noticeable in nearby rooms. The very pleasant scent reminds me of that of a meadow in full bloom. More, please...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Exacum trinervium 'Kandy'



Exacum trinervium 'Kandy' 

Exacum trinervium 'Kandy' 


Wow! Wow! Wow!
The color on this one is hard to believe! And the images above do not do it justice. It reminds me of the color of some Tibouchina.
What is it? It's a species of Exacum which will be new to most of us. The genus Exacum has been represented in gardens for a long time by the tender winter annual Exacum affine . This was grown (as a winter window plant) for its light blue flowers and sweet scent. It's native to Socotra, a relatively isolated island now a part of Yemen.
Exacum trinervium on the other hand is native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and some wikipedia accounts suggest that it is threatened in nature.
These plants are members of the gentian family.
The cultivar name 'Kandy' will probably suggest "eye candy" to some people, others will probably assume  it's one of these annoying misspellings which attempt to be cute, but I'll bet it is a pun on an ancient name of Ceylon: the Kingdom of Kandy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Eyed verbenas

Eyed verbenas 
I was tempted to call this post "auricula-eyed verbenas", but I'm not sure if these modern eyed verbenas are identical to the ones called "auricula-eyed" more than a century ago. In doing a Google search, I also learned that there are modern seed-grown strains of sweet williams which are called auricula-eyed. I'll be on the lookout for those.

Verbenas in solid colors are handsome as bedding plants, but for cutting I prefer these with the white eye. The eye gives them an old-fashioned charm lacking in the ones with solid colors. Those in the image above are probably two of the modern Quartz strains.  

Monday, June 13, 2016

Poppy in search of girl



Does this poppy flower remind you of anything? It does me: I can't look at it and not be reminded of Vermeer's painting Girl with a Red Hat. Here's a link to the Vermeer painting - see for yourself!

http://www.essentialvermeer.com/catalogue/girl_with_a_red_hat.html#.V18S8RFVgoI

Poppies like this were well known in Vermeer's seventeenth century Delft.

This poppy is one of the ones often sold under the bogus names Papaver laciniatum and Papaver paeoniflorum; in fact, it's one of the many cultivated garden forms of the opium poppy. Unlike the more familiar corn poppies, forms of Papaver rhoeas, these garden opium poppies produce comparatively huge flowers - the name paeoniflorum, which means peony flowered, is no exaggeration. On the other hand, unlike the corn poppies, they have a very brief season of bloom, and the individual flowers are not likely to last more than a couple of days in our climate.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Tall bearded irises: a painterly view



Tall bearded irises May 2016

The sensory overload in my gardens now is almost overwhelming! The sense of exuberance provided by the abundance of new growth, the colors, the fragrances - it's almost too much. Thousands of rose buds are beginning to open, tall bearded irises are in full bloom. At home, the noisette roses on the south side of the house are providing an avalanche of soft yellow, sweetly fragrant blooms.
I'm taking lots of pictures, sometimes a couple of dozen in a few  minutes. Working that fast is an invitation for mistakes, and a fascinating one occurred the other day.
When I got home and downloaded that day's images, I had a couple of apparent duds. I almost deleted them, but one in particular caught my eye: it's definitely a keeper! That's the one you see above: I've already got an 18" x 24" print out hanging on the living room wall. From a few feet away, it looks like a painting, not a photo. It reminds me of the color plates sometimes seen in early twentieth-century gardening books. To my eyes this image has wonderful qualities of color and composition. And that's not self-praise: I had nothing to do with it. It was pure serendipity!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pansies


Frizzle Sizzle pansies 
This year of all years I'm glad there are pansies in the garden. They are the most cheerful thing in the garden right now. Week after week of rain has not marred their cheerful faces. If anything, they are better this year than they usually are.
This has been a rough year for some of the early bloomers: the tree peony season this year was mostly a flop: the buds developed during a period of drought and the earliest flowers were small and sometimes misshapen. And then the rains came: one by one the buds swelled with the water and then began to flop and rot. The early herbaceous peonies had the same fate.
The arillate irises would have been ruined but for the improvised rain shelters which did their job well. Last night we had hail during one of the thunderstorms: the thunder and pounding of the hail woke the dog and me up.
Early roses, day lilies, kniphofias, late herbaceous peonies  and bearded irises are blooming now, and so are cornflowers and corn cockle. When the sun returns, the first corn poppies should open.  With all the rain, the coming rose surge should be spectacular. If and when the rain ends. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Lychnis viscaria

Lychnis viscaria "splendens 'Feuer' " 


This handsome old-fashioned flower is largely neglected in our gardens now. It reminds me a bit of lavender, and a mass of it in full bloom must be striking. The one in the image above is that sold by Jelitto as "splendens 'Feuer' ". I'm beginning to take a more serious interest in the genera Lychnis and Silene: lots of charming old-timers go around under those names. 

Iris iberica elegantissima

Iris iberica elegantissima 
A few days before Iris kirkwoodiae bloomed, Iris iberica elegantissima bloomed. How's that for an embarrassment of riches?
The name of this iris might be confusing to most modern readers. It has nothing to do with the Iberian Peninsula of modern geography. The name refers to the ancient kingdom now usually called Caucasian Iberia. According to the Pacific Bulb Society wiki, this species occurs in Turkey, Iran and Armenia. 

Iris kirkwoodiae

Iris kirkwoodiae 

Iris kirkwoodiae 





Iris kirkwoodiae 
In March 2012 I posted about one of the great gardening experiences during my 20s: the flowering in my garden of Iris susiana,  the famous mourning iris. If you don't know the plant, take a look at that post to get an idea of what the excitement is all about:
http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2012/03/iris-susiana-legacy-slide.html

Now, forty-five years after Iris susiana bloomed in the garden, one of its close relatives (perhaps one of its parents) bloomed up at my community garden plots. Ever since I learned about it years ago, I've been on the hunt for a reasonably priced rhizome of this one, Iris kirkwoodiae. It's very similar to Iris susiana; in fact, that long endured longing for the mourning iris  is now largely assuaged.



Monday, April 25, 2016

The seed game

Zinnia 'Sombrero' from seed purchased in 1996!


I acquire a lot of seeds, and most of them end up in the refrigerator. The seeds of many plants seem to retain their viability indefinitely if they are stored cold. I used to think "cold" meant frozen - some seeds stored in the freezer do remain viable for decades - and that's from my own experience. But seeds stored in the refrigerator at temperatures above freezing also last and last.
In the image above you see germinating seeds of Zinnia 'Sombrero' : those seeds were purchased in March 1996. That makes them over twenty years old (and they were probably a year old when packaged).  As you can see in the image, they are giving good germination. And they germinated quickly: it took only four days for them to show signs of life.
Some of you might be horrified by the potting medium. I use unsterilized soil mixed from whatever is available. The pots stand outside in the fresh air and sunshine, exposed to whatever weather occurs. Fresh air and sunshine keep the bad guys in check. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Like a pansy in the velvet of its medium scale...



"Like a pansy in the velvet of its medium scale..." is the way early twentieth-century soprano Geraldine Farrar described the voice of Amelita Galli-Curci.
Other flowers with this velvety quality are the roses 'Tuscany' and 'Tuscany Superb'; if you like this quality in flowers, look for the Latin word "velutinus" in old lists.

This posting marks a milestone: this is the seven-hundredth post I've published since I began blogging in July 2007. 

a favorite pansy

Pansy Frizzle Sizzle Yellow/Blue Swirl

Pansies which combine blue/purple with yellow/bronze are my favorites - they remind me of some of the old breeder tulips and especially of some of the broken tulips in this color combination.  A similar strain of pansies  which does this color combination very well (and without the ruffled petals)  is Karma Blue Butterfly - in fact, I think I like the color balance in the Karma type even better. 
These are the sorts of pansies I like to have in a cold frame during the winter.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lilium 'Muscadet'

Lilium 'Muscadet'
This one is here because of the story behind it. The bulbs were purchased in the fall of 2014 and then put in the refrigerator. I ignored them until sometime late in 2015. When I checked them in the refrigerator, they had grown a 30 inch pale green sprout. I brought them out and placed them outside in a very shady place to give the foliage a chance to green up. And then a sort of waiting game began: what would they do next? What they did was to get back to the business of producing an inflorescence as if nothing unusual had happened. By the time the first frosts arrived, they were showing signs of flower buds. I brought them in for the winter and watched the slow development of those buds. It took a long time but they finally began to open last week. The scent is great!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Narcissus 'Topolino'

Narcissus 'Topolino'

This one has grown on me over the years, and now it's a firm favorite. When the flowers are freshly picked they have a delicious scent. It's not the smallest daffodil in the garden by far, but it's still well within the cute range.
Topolino is the Italian name for Mickey Mouse. Be sure to check out the wikipedia page for Topolino: that little guy has had quite a career.

Daffodils say Hello!


Daffodils greet both spring and visitors!

A group of daffodils in a Chinese pen holder greet visitors at our front door this week. 

The Orcs among us

Anti-vine hysteria wins again 


Why do people do this? Who's teaching people that it's OK to do this? Will they vote for Trump?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A dog and frog duet

Biscuit gets her main meal of the day at about 1:30 P.M. She spends most of the morning keeping her eye on me or snoozing nearby if I'm working at my desk. She can tell time: you would not know that she is nearby most of the morning, but as 1:30 approaches she becomes more alert. She will come nearby and quietly sit there looking at me. If that does not have the desired result, she will make a soft growl. If that does not work, she will begin to bark.
Once I get the signal, we go off to the kitchen to get her meal ready. Usually that means something goes into the microwave oven. She barks while the food is warming up.
Today she had some company in the barking. Each time she barked, the wood frog in the garden pond answered. Biscuit barked, the frog croaked - over and over. It got me laughing! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Crocus tommasinianus, the amethyst and pewter crocus

Crocus tommasinianus "amethyst and pewter' 
The crocuses in the image above are Crocus tommasinianus in one of its many forms. This crocus is sometimes seen naturalized in lawns here in the greater Washington, D.C. area. If I could have only one crocus for this season, this would be the one. 
In particular, I would want what I'm calling here the amethyst and pewter form, the ones with a marked contrast between the pewter colored outers and the vivid amethyst inners. I would not know where to send you to buy these: the named forms of Crocus tommasinianus such as 'Baur's Purple', 'Ruby Giant', 'Whitewell Purple' and so on don't show this pattern to advantage if at all.  And if you order something called Crocus tommasinianus you won't know until they bloom if they are the more delicate wild forms or simply a mixture of these named, cultivated forms. 
The ones naturalized in the garden here show this amethyst and pewter combination to varying degrees. My favorites are the ones shown above where the contrast between the pewter and the amethyst is strong. 


Colchicum hungaricum, a colchicum for late winter bloom

Colchicum hungaricum 'Valentine'
If you are new to this group of plants, you probably associate the name colchicum with plants which bloom in late summer and early autumn. But there are some which bloom very late in the autumn, and some which bloom in late winter. Here's one of the late winter bloomers: Colchicum hungaricum. I grow two of the forms now making the rounds: 'Valentine' (seen above) and 'Velebit Star' (which has white flowers). These are smaller plants than the big late summer blooming hybrids, but at this time of year they have no competition from those big ones. 

Geese on the move

Geese, probably Canada geese, on their way northward. 


One of the really thrilling sounds of the season is that of geese on the move.While working out in the garden the other day, I heard them off in the distance. They flew over me before I actually spotted them - lots of them., way up there. There are about ninety geese in this chevron. This photograph was made on February 29, 2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Rana sylvatica has started to call

Rana sylvatica, the wood frog, started to call this evening from the garden pond. Last year I made recordings of the calling, and I'll try to post one later. This species is very cold tolerant: I've seen them walking on frozen ground. I have not yet heard peepers this year. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The robins did it...



On February 2 of this year, the heavy snow had started to pull back a bit and under shrubs and near walls bare spots appeared. When I looked out the front door that day I noticed that something had scattered dead leaves on the sidewalk. It wasn't hard to figure out who the culprits were: they were still at work around the yard: a flock of robins had flown in and they were busy scratching up bare spots in search of food. I suspect these early arrivals are on their way north: a few days after their visit, the number of robins in the yard seemed to drop suddenly.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hylocichla mustelina The suburban ornithoscopist, no. 2: wood thrush





The suburban ornithoscopist
Under the title given above I’ll be posting some of the interesting, brief natural history videos Wayne has made. Most of these will be videos of birds. These posts will be numbered and marked “video: W. Crist;  text: J. McKenney”.
Hylocicla mustelina The suburban ornithoscopist, No. 2 wood thrush
Video No. 2 was made on May 23, 2015 in Waverly-Schuylkill Park about two blocks from my home. 
The song of this bird, which sometimes reproduces to an uncanny degree of accuracy the timbre of a flute, is one of the most easily recognized and highly esteemed songs of any native bird.

Each year recently Wayne and I have tried to pay attention to the last date on which we have heard a wood thrush. This neighborhood is thick with wood thrushes; I sleep with my windows open, and during the season hear them daily until the first week of August. This year, Wayne heard one on August 6: that’s the latest date we have records of their singing here. What’s the significance of that? Does it mean that all of the wood thrushes have left the area for the year? Does it mean they are out there but not singing? Does it mean that the ones we hear in late July are migrants from farther north, and that our local wood thrushes left before that? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.  But I do know that once they quiet down for the year,  it will be another eight months before we hear them again. 

The suburban ornithoscopist, No. 1 is here:

http://mcwort.blogspot.com/2015/08/haliaeetus-leucocephalus-suburban.html

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cipolline finally! Someone gets it mostly right.

cipolline, not cippolini

cipolline, not cippolini

For years these little flat onions have been marketed as "cipollini". If you know Italian, you're probably not going to like that name. The Italian word for onion is cipolla and it's feminine.  The diminutive form is cipollina, and its plural is cipolline, not "cipollini" or "cipollinis".Remember, the initial "c" is pronounced like "ch" in church: so cipolline is pronounced "chee-po-LEE-nay". The label on this sack also gives the "double plural"  "cipollines".
Oh well, finally, someone has gotten it mostly right! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

× Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’


× Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’

I was reading an article about houseplants recently, and among the plants recommended were agaves.

No, no, no: agaves are armed with potentially dangerous spines at the tip of their leaves: if a child or pet walks into one, it might take out an eye or make a serious puncture wound.

Yet there is a way to get the agave look without the rigid leaves tipped in sabers. In the image above, you see × Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’; it’s a cross between plants which are nominally members of the genera Agave and Manfreda. It definitely has the agave look, but the leaves are oddly rubbery, and what look like spines at their tips are relatively soft and flexible.

Once the weather moderates in the spring it goes back outside. This plant can take freezes without harm, but I bring it in for the winter. While inside it gets no water – it remains turgid and attractive, and the lack of water prevents the production of soft, new growth in the poor interior light. It’s about as care-free as a houseplant can get.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The flowers of New Year's Day 2016

With a bit of help from the cold frames, the garden had a lot to offer on New Year's Day 2016. In addition to these photos from my garden, a friend reports the beginning of bloom on Edgeworthia chrysantha (one of the red forms) and Loropetalum chinense, Crocus imperati and tommies in full bloom.
Iris cretensis

Iris unguicularis 

Jasminum nudiflorum and plum yew 

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' 

Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper' (or is it 'Jacob'?)' 

a garden hellebore home-raised from seed

another garden hellebore

Mahonia bealei 

Magnolia stellata almost in bloom -  sorry for the poor quality of this one! 

Camellia sasanqua home grown from seed planted on October 16, 1973

Galanthus elwesii elwesii  in the lawn: the monostictus sorts bloomed weeks earlier. 

The next five are favorite plants for winter foliage:

Arum italicium 

Rohdea japonica 

Smilax smallii

Smilax pumila 

Smilax laurifolia 
A corner of one of the cold frames with primulas and Cyclamen persicum from the grocery store: these will probably hold up well for months! The primulas sell for $2.50 each, so how could I resist?
Here's a Christmas cactus doing its thing right on schedule; that's winter jasmine behind it.