Blooming Buddy

03 Dec 2020

Hybrid plants can add color to your winter garden

By Christine Hall

An evergreen little wonder flourished in our backyard this past year. It had a meager beginning. It had been transplanted in the cold to our yard from another, passed along by a friend who intended on planting something new. I welcomed it to its ‘new home’ without much ado, quickly planting it in the ground to cozy up near the hellebores. There, I assumed, it would find a winter ‘blooming buddy.’ After all, I was told it was a ‘winter orchid.’ It did not resemble any orchid I had ever seen, nor was it for indoors, nor was it in bloom. But being optimistic, I anticipated the terrestrial surprise.

Not long thereafter, I noticed the plant taking heed of its new location. The spindly mound, which had now grown legs, was beginning to turn out soft, spiky, green leaves and alongside were coppery-orange and purple-maroon buds. I was delighted! This ‘orchid’ was not only thriving, it was practically offering me a collegiate salute with the orange and maroon color combination of my alma mater – Virginia Tech. Go Hokies! I placed my favorite stained-glass garden stake by the new plant to signal I was pleased with its efforts.

By February, the little buds were bursting in bloom, offering a canopy of carnival-like color. Its irreverent display of reds, oranges, and purples proved that it was absurdly happy in its scheme. I decided I needed to research this so-called ‘magical orchid of winter’ and find out exactly what it was, and what made it so delightful.

Sorry to say, *spoiler alert,* but this particular ‘winter orchid’ is not an orchid. Nor does it prefer winter. In fact, it is amenable to three seasons, and has nearly survived all four in our yard. It has a hybrid heritage; therefore, it is both designed and destined to please.

This ‘winter orchid,’ which has the botanical name Erysimum, and resides in the cabbage family Brassicaceae, was named such because of its flowers’ orchid-purple hues. It is part of a new series of 21st century wallflower created by crossing many different species. The output of the hybrid botanical enterprise produces plants with longer and more vibrant flowering, among other desirable attributes. This wallflower’s pedigree extends beyond its dashing looks. The hybrid produces fragrance to boot.

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