Ann Wright: A Colorful February Garden


With spring weather, vibrant winter colors appear in the garden. Some favorite winter colors come from the shiny anemone (Anemone corinaria) which is part of the large perennial buttercup family. Also known as poppy anemone or windflowers, these soft little flowers add hues of hot pink, lavender, purple and rose to the meadow. Growing from bulb-like bulbs (a strong stem structure covered in leaf scales), these late winter/early spring plants can be used in small cut flower arrangements or enjoyed as they stand among the grasses of close. Winter flowers are also often seen from Lenten Rose, or Helleborus orientalis, with pale pink or cream-colored flowers among dark green foliage. Helleborus also belongs to the Ranunculacea family, grows in zones 2b through 10, and blooms in winter.

In my yard, under some of the oak trees, Bergenias (Bergenia crassifolia) bloom with bright pink clusters surrounded by large, waxy evergreen leaves. Bergenia belongs to the Saxifragaceae family, thrives in shade to partial shade in zones 1 to 9 and blooms in winter. Bergenia needs moderate water during summer and fall, but has survived recent very dry seasons.

The white flowers of Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) open in the rockery and appear somewhat like popcorn among areas of green grass and large moss-covered rocks. The taller, bushier Globe Candytuft will follow later with several clusters of lavender flowers.

There are a number of native plants that provide winter color. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) is plentiful this time of year. With fleshy, round, bright green leaves, Miner’s lettuce is edible. These leafy greens taste like lettuce and are a storehouse of vitamins C and A as well as iron. The word in the garden is that during the days of the gold rush, miners ate the green to prevent scurvy – hence the common name. In addition to the colorful green leaves as a backdrop, Miner’s lettuce has small white flowers that bloom from February through May or June.

Manzanita species are native tree-like shrubs that grow in our area; at lower elevations some varieties can be seen in flower now. The smooth white-leaved manzanita (Arctostaphylos viscida) has rounded to oval leaves, with gray-green foliage and smooth, red bark. The small, urn-shaped pink flowers hang in clusters attracting hummingbirds and bees. This species tolerates clay soils and adds a showy contrast in the understory of oak or pine trees.

Western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis) is a perennial herb found in the western United States and Canada. The flower can be seen in open grasslands, forests, and other generally flat areas up to an elevation of 7,200 feet. One of the early blooming wildflowers in our local South Yuba River State Park, buttercup is bright yellow, providing a source of pollen and nectar for bees and other early pollinators.

There are a number of good reasons to add native plants to the garden, particularly because they are adapted to our local climate and soils. Many are drought tolerant once established and require little fertilizer and maintenance. Native plants have a large color palette – with striking colors throughout the year. The natives attract butterflies, birds, small mammals and of course honey bees. Having adapted to local growing conditions, native plants help restore nature’s balance.

To learn more about the beauty of native plants, join Nevada County Master Gardeners for a two-part workshop, “Native Plants Bring Beauty and Benefits” presented on Zoom today, February 19 at 10 a.m., with the second part to be presented on Zoom at 10 a.m. on February 26. This live broadcast will show two very different native plant gardens, illustrating various approaches to native plant gardening. Presenters will share tips on design, plant selection and achieving gardening goals. This presentation will be informative for gardeners new to the area as well as those with experience growing native plants. The Zoom link and list of references are available on our website at

Upcoming workshops include “Functional Irrigation” on March 12, “Totally Tomatoes” on March 19, and “Gardening for the Birds” on March 26. Both workshops will begin at 10 a.m. and location information will be available on our website.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener

Smooth White Leaf Manzanita offers color to February gardens and landscapes.
Photo by Keir Morse from Calscape (

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