We always know that winter is over for good when the currants start blooming. And this year, after some fairly decent rain in January, they're really putting on a show. Above, pink-flowering currant "Claremont", a cultivar with amazing, 3 inch flower clusters. I planted it in a put because I couldn't decide on a spot, and with a little bit of pruning, it's worked out quite well, I think.
The flower clusters are really dramatically larger than the species, but for that, the cultivar needs more water - much easier to do in a pot than in the ground, where I have several of the cultivar.
A little less showy is Catalina currant (evergreen currant) - the photo makes the flowers look more prominent than they are. But if you want a plant that does well in part-shade to almost full shade and stays green year round, you can't do much better. Dry shade plants are difficult to find, and this currant fits the bill and is very easy to propagate (I usually just stick some branches into the ground in fall and cross my fingers...).
Fuchsia-flowering gooseberry is one of the first bloomers in the winter garden, beloved by hummingbirds and stunning with its strong red color.
A possible drawback are the spines, but I like using the plant as a barrier against dogs (I'm thinking of putting in another plant or two). Compared to the shady currants above, this beauty tolerates sun or shade but might go summer dormant - only to sprout new leaves when the rains come.
New to my garden is golden currant. I fell in love with it when I tasted the fruit in a friend's garden a few years ago, and keep hoping to get just the right combination of sun and a little bit of water so I can eat my own currants one year. In Europe, currants are commonly sold at farmer's markets, but in the US, where grapes with seeds are also hard to find, I've never seen them. I tried to grow the European currant when I first had my garden, but had to abandon the effort - just not enough chill hours at my garden.
But now I know currants are within my reach if I grow native currants. Maybe this will be the year?