Little December Things

Today is Bloom Day, the 15th of every month where garden bloggers trek out to document what is in bloom. Not so much going on in mid-December for me, but it did prompt me to take notice of not only blooms, sparse as they are, but berries, bark, birds and little things.

I have always loved wild hedgerows filled with changing color, berries galore and branches I might come and forage through for holiday bouquets. While my hedgerows are a work in progress, the berries of this Berberis jamesiana provide that same feeling of bounty mixed with sturdy evergreens. This is just outside of our bedroom window and every year as it gets larger I spend more time staring in its direction.

Where the wood chips are, so are the mushrooms. At least right now.

Carex testacea, New Zealand sedge adds warm orange tones throughout my garden. While it looks good year-round, in cold months it stands out and I swear gets oranger. Is that a word? In any event Itea v. 'Henry's Garnet' (behind) adds to the warm palette and will hold its leaves right through until spring in most cases.

Boo hoo! A would-be fabulous fig harvest thwarted by bad-weather timing. None of these beauties are ripe, nor will they ripen and sweeten before they fall to the ground. Pretty to look at, however.

Sarcococca confusa berries in the shade garden. An outstanding evergreen shrub for dry shade, it also has fragrant flowers prior to the berries.

In the spirit of Bloom Day, I did take a couple photos of the last lingering calendula, an abundant annual throughout my vegetable garden. They color shift as they cross pollinate resulting in all manner of yellow, gold, orange, peach and pink colors. I started with just two - Calendula 'Strawberry Blonde' and C. 'Radio' (bright orange).

Foliage of Rosa gymnocarpa, one of our native roses, has held on to its brilliant shades of cranberry and orange all season.

Edgeworthia chrysantha buds that will hopefully ride through winter into one of the first flowers of late winter. This is a fairly young plant, larger ones are spectacular multi-stemmed shrubs covered in cheerful yellow (or orange) fragrant flowers well before spring foliage kicks in.

The autumnal color palette continues through December around here - Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' is nearly a four-season deciduous shrub. It holds onto these autumn leaves well into winter and is only a bare shrub for a matter of a couple of weeks before new foliage emerges. It is a super-easy and rewarding plant in my garden.

Berries of Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' add interest and a little shiny sparkle.

While not in bloom yet, the buds of this Arctostaphylos pumila (gray form) are not far off and will be included in some future post.

Right now I have to hunt for my small specimen of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' to admire its berries. A small deciduous shrub right now, it will hopefully grow to a nice large size in the hedgerow along the street.

Unusual (old) flowers of our native coyote bush, Baccharis pilularis. An evergreen shrub that grows to 4 - 8' tall and is pretty forgiving. I have mine in full sun and do not water it in summer. Pollinators are all over it in late summer to early autumn.

In the "I can't believe you're still blooming" category are several penstemons in my garden. This is P. 'Rich Ruby' - another few still blooming are P. 'Firebird' and P. x chiapas 'Hidalgo' and P. 'Raspberry Wine'. Granted, they are simply one or two flowers here and there, they still make my heart sing.

Grevillea 'Neil Bell' is pumping out the blossoms - most are at this stage but I'm hopeful they will open up soon and the hummingbirds can reclaim this evergreen shrub. Right now in the bird world, the spotted towhees, dark eyed juncos and white crowned sparrows are calling this shrub a favorite hang out.

Interesting observation - while the lion's share of autumn color is gone, what does remain are (primarily) native deciduous shrubs. This is Physocarpus capitatus, our native ninebark and although not spectacular, it is pretty and reads as a lovely golden color from a distance.

Twinberry, our native Lonicera involucrata, also has a lovely golden glow to it, as does cascara or Frangula purshiana, (syn. Rhamnus purshiana) and a few Ribes sanguineum, flowering currant.

I love interesting bark and although most of what I've planted with this characteristic have a long way to go, the simple lichens and moss on this coral bark maple are pretty cool.

Arctostaphylos in general have lovely exfoliating bark, this is A. 'Sentinel'.

Another rose with glowing foliage, the appropriately named Rosa foliosa and its arching branches looks great against dark greens of Polystichum munitum or sword fern. This is tucked into a wild-ish area of the garden.

Flowers of Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus'

Grevillea lanigera 'Coastal Gem' is an evergreen prostrate grevillea for sun and poor, well-drained soil. It is just beginning to bloom like its cousin 'Neil Bell'.

While wild birds are abundant right now in the garden, they move so quickly that it is challenging to photograph them in low light this time of the year. Barely visible are a pair of white crowned sparrows living in this Berberis darwinii whose berries are long gone and a favorite of birds.

Parting shot of a piece of the berm garden where there is still a lot to see despite the time of the year.

So it seems December does have beautiful moments in the garden after all, admittedly every month does in varying colors and textures. As the garden matures and its structure along with it, the more interesting it becomes to me. The bonus this time of the year are the wild birds, berries, the little things. Add to that cool bark and evergreen plants, I'd say that's plenty to keep me happy. I'll take it.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we do love hearing from you! Happy Gardening everyone.


  1. Anonymous8:33 AM PST

    Those quiet moment in the winter garden are special. Wandering around, I get to focus on things don't usually get much attention. I see you have mushrooms too... they pop up in all kinds of unexpected places and are fun to discover.
    About the Sarcococca berries: they must be last season's as mine are only now gearing up to bloom.
    Carex testacea do seem to get oranger (!) in cold months. Especially with younger clumps, some blades take on an astonishing hue of neon-orange. As much turn to mush, this is priceless.
    Thank you for concluding with my personal inspirational photo: the Jerusalem sage.

    1. Hi Chavli! Winter is certainly a time to slow down and reflect. Mushroom discoveries are like finding a treasure - some kind of fairy land. Yes, the sarcococca must be from last year, it's funny I don't notice them until now. Did you ever find a Phlomis russelliana (Jerusalem sage)?

    2. Anonymous9:25 AM PST

      I was too slow to get going this fall, so I'll be looking for Phlomis in nurseries next season.

    3. If you can't find one locally I have a bunch in 4" pots. I would be happy to send you one!

    4. Anonymous7:57 AM PST

      You are amazing and generous, thank you. I'll let you know.

  2. There's a lot of color in your garden despite your colder temperatures. (We're experiencing an unusually cold spell right now too but I suspect we've nothing on you.) I really need to find a spot for a Sarcococca confusa in my garden.

    1. Sometimes cold weather changes colors to more intense hues - like Chamaecyparis 'Heatherbun' - for example. It gets weird purple-ish tones. It's interesting and definitely adds to the excitement. Do you think Sarcococca (confusa, ruscifolia, etc. or there are a lot of other great species) would grow in SoCal? If so, I find it a super valuable evergreen for dry shade. Slow growing but fabulous!

  3. Great photos. All the variation in foliage textures and plant origins pays dividends at this time of year.

    1. Oh, they do, don't they, Hoover Boo? Big dividends. I think that foliage textures and colors excite me more than flowers, if I'm honest. And plant origins - certainly something to be aware of at the very least. For us it's primarily the Pacific NW and California, American SW, Australia/NZ and a little Japan thrown in there too.

  4. Any colour in December is a gift and there still is so much in your garden. There is something quite special about wandering the garden in the winter months. Lots of details that in gaudier times of years get missed. As ours is tucked in under a white blanket right now I enjoy the various seed heads and grasses that are still standing upright.

    1. There is something special about the winter garden, Elaine. I totally agree. "Gaudier times of years" - I love that! Great description. Happy holidays!

    2. Best of the season to you and yours. Hoping for an awesome growing season in 2023.

  5. So many comforting textures and colors. The older I get, the more I appreciate them. Our native Baccharis is a favorite of mine, though not many people seem to appreciate it. Glad to see it getting some recognition. Is there some secret to Carex testacea? It has not been very long-lived in our garden - just seems to die out slowly over a few years. I missed bloom day this month, though your shots echo a lot of what I see out in our yard.

    1. Me too, Jerry regarding appreciating color and textures. Also glad you noted the Baccharis - I am hoping to give it a good name, it's such an easy and rewarding plant. No secret to the carex other than more sun gives better color. If I pay close attention it may be that it goes on year after year due to seedlings. It seems I've yanked out a few dead-ish looking plants while allowing seedlings around it to grow where they will. I also think this particular strain is excellent - I've had others in different parts of the garden that die out rather quicky as you describe. Give me your address and I'll mail you a seedling from this bunch in spring.


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