photograph by yanf/getty images

Each spring and summer, colorful flowers put on a show across North Carolina, but for Nancy Goodwin, owner of the historic Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, sparer winter foliage allows her to really “see the bones” of her garden. “The thing about winter flowers is that there aren’t many of them, so they’re special,” she says. Every year on Christmas day, she walks through her garden and makes a list of everything that’s in bloom — and she’s sharing a few of her favorites.

Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)
Rather than blooming in spring, the Christmas rose is a winter-blooming species with white petals, yellow stamens, and vibrant evergreen leaves. It’s a wonderful choice if you have a shady garden, and also tends to be deer resistant, Goodwin says. 

Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) photograph by emer1940/getty images

Winter Iris (Iris unguicularis)
This evergreen species of iris is “a really joyous plant,” Goodwin says, with purple petals feathered with white. Its strong fragrance is a lovely greeting as you walk into your garden, and grows best in plenty of sun.

Winter Iris (Iris unguicularis) photograph by johnandersonphoto/getty images

Daffodils (Narcissus jonquilla)
At Montrose Garden, there are daffodil species that bloom from October to March, but Goodwin often finds some varieties of jonquil blooming in January, too — the “old-fashioned” kind with the bright yellow trumpet that most people picture when they think of daffodils. Plant bulbs in a sunny spot in the fall and enjoy the cheerful flowers later.

Daffodils (Narcissus jonquilla) photograph by magicflute002/getty images

Early Crocus (Crocus imperati)
This sweet-smelling little crocus with purple petals that turn yellow at the center likes to grow in full sun with well-drained soil.

Evergreen Clematis (Clematis cirrhosa)
With evergreen leaves and “a really gentle flower,” this woody vine is always a happy sight for Goodwin. Plant it in a sheltered place in your garden with lots of sun.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
This low-growing plant has a bright yellow, daisy-type flower, and should be grown in well-drained soil with plenty of moisture. Be prepared for some surprise blooms, though: “Aconite spreads and comes up in expected and unexpected places,” Goodwin says.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) photograph by pejft/getty images


Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
You may notice wintersweet’s lovely spicy scent before you see the shrub itself. Look closely and you’ll see the little cups of the flowers growing right along the branches of the plant. Grow it in a sunny spot with well-drained soil.

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) photograph by yanf/getty images

Snowdrops (Galanthus)
There are many species of snowdrops growing in the woods at Montrose Garden, which means that some variety of the flower is always blooming from fall through winter. Snowdrops are a small, dangling, pure white flower with green markings on the petals that vary tremendously from one species to another. The petals normally hang down, but “when it’s really sunny, the outer petals lift up like ballerinas,” Goodwin says.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) photograph by muzka/getty images

Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra)
Though this plant does not flower in January, Goodwin loves the variety of cast-iron plant she has growing at Montrose because of its vibrant green-and-white striped foliage that adds brightness and interest to a January garden.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)
The blossoms on the Paperbush shrub are small and grow in tight clusters, but this understated elegance is part of why Goodwin loves them. For her, they are a promise and a reminder of the coming spring.“The flower always looks like it’s about to open,” Goodwin says. “It’s sort of a wonderful thing.”

To read Nancy Goodwin’s Christmas flower list and to keep up with what is growing at Montrose Garden throughout the year, check out her website: Join the mailing list to hear about events like Garden Open Day or a Snowdrop Walk, and contact about coming for a private tour.

This story was published on

Shaw was a fall 2019 editorial intern.