With unpredictable weather at the beginning of the year, any shrub that blooms in January needs to have flowers that are tough and frost-proof.
What better to brighten a gloomy January day than Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’? Plant it against a dark background and the flowers really stand out, even from a distance. My garden is a hundred feet long, but against a wooden fence painted green (Cuprinol ‘Forest Green’ is we are name-dropping), this makes a bright display in the most dismal conditions. Unless the weather before Christmas is particularly cold, this always comes into flower for me in the second week of January. There are also varieties with bright yellow, orange, or red flowers, but to my mind this one is the best. And what do you put behind orange flowers to make them stand out? A glaucous conifer perhaps?
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ doesn’t flower prolifically every year in my garden. If the previous year has been particularly dry, it doesn’t seem to set flower buds, which are visible from autumn, and open in January. This can be grown as a free-standing shrub or, as here, trained against a wall. It will take sun or part shade – here it is against a sheltered east-facing wall, so you don’t have to worry about early morning sun on the flowers after a frosty night (unlike camellias).
I never notice the flowers on Christmas box (sarcococcas) until the scent hits me. The flowers are small but highly scented; the perfume from just one bush will fill a small garden. They will take dry shade in their stride once established (one of mine is growing under a yew hedge), and can be pruned immediately after flowering if required. Sarcococca hookeriana var digyna is possibly the best, with red stems on the younger wood.
If I had to choose eight shrubs to take with me to a desert island, viburnum tinus would be the first one I picked. Evergreen, not fussy about soil or position, and flowers for six months, starting in October. Left to its own devices, this will get to ten feet, but ‘Eve Price’ is a more compact form, with white flowers opening from pink buds.
You wouldn’t necessarily think of rosemary as a winter flowering shrub, but the bush beside my front door, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessops Upright’, is in bloom on New Year’s Day every year. As the name implies, this is a more upright grower, although it does attempt to sprawl from time to time. A deft and timely use of the secateurs lets it know who is in control.