Glorious winter planting
By garden designer Charlie Bloom. It’s coming to the end of the season and September is the month that hails a goodbye to full summer and hello to the onset of autumn. It is also the ideal month to plant out winter interest plants and bedding schemes as the ground is still warm and frosts are still a few months away, this gives the plants some time to establish before winter. Here some of my favourites.
Most gardens literally close down during the winter months, but it doesn’t have to be the case. Winter has its own majestic charm and illuminates the fundamental structure of a garden, its bare bones. We can enhance this with winter bedding schemes, winter interest plants and a few added structural gems.
Winter strips the foliage off the majority of our plants, leaving their structural bodies bare and illuminating their shape, colour and form. As such, Prunus serrula is one of the most stunning examples of a winter specimen, with deep metallic copper bark, an absolute gem, which grows into a small to medium sized tree.
When it comes to flowering specimens, the early flowering Magnolia stellata, is an absolute star, being a small Magnolia, it can be planted in any garden and is a joyous, star burst of white flowers in late winter, it also contrasts well with the divine sun bursts of Hamamelis mollis (Witch hazel)
Another top favourite stunner is that of the ever dignified Garrya elliptica, typically a small tree or shrub, dependent on how it is allowed to grow, it bares tassels of flowers and carries itself with an air of old fashioned majesty, another great specimen plant for a garden corner.
Flowering and interesting Shrubs
Contrary to the general believe, there are many flowering shrubs during the winter season, often with highly scented flowers, subtle in colour and form Daphne odora is by far the queen of the winter flowering shrubs. Due to their slow growth and difficulty in propagating, they are expensive, especially the variegated forms, but one prize specimen shrub in a large pot, would be more than enough.
Winter colour and foliage interest can be found in the ever hardy Euonymus fortunei '‘Emerald Gaiety’ and Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ and in the traditional Hedera helix (Ivy) and Ilex aquafolium sp. (Holly).
Structure is a fundamental part of the winter garden, this can be obtained by the use of arranged statues, pots and ornaments, but also by the use of plants, as form. The use of ornamental hedges and simple topiary brings much needed height and depth into the winter garden.
The traditional structural hedging plants are Buxus sempervirens (Box), Taxus baccata (Yew) and Ilex aquafolium sp. (Holly), all of which are evergreen and can be pruned into formal shapes, in contrast Carpinus betulus (Hornbeam) and Fagus sylvatica (Beech) turn a deep copper and drop their leaves in the spring, so create hedges of golden foliage. Obviously formal gardens of topiary and Beech hedges aren’t open to all. But considering using one of these plants when planting a new hedge or screen, will determine what effect is created during the winter season. On the small scale, box balls and small topiaries can be planted into large pots as individual specimens or as a group.
On the completely informal side there is the chaotic and vibrant Cornus sp. (Dog Wood), bursts of intense yellows, oranges and reds run riot in the winter garden. The added advantage being they are also an attractive spring and summer shrub and can be hard pruned (coppiced) in the spring to encourage new full colour shoots for the following winter season.
Flowering plants ideal for pots, troughs and winter bedding schemes
Even the most modest garden, courtyard or window box can planted up for a winter display. Under planting with late winter bulbs and corms; Crocus tommasinianus and Galanthus nivalis (snow drops) Note: best planted green, so buy in flower and containerised, combined Cyclamen persicum and Cyclamen coum, give a punch of pinks, purples and magentas.
Devine and sublime woodland Eranthis hyemalis and Primula vulgaris combine well with the happy faces of Viola sp. To create delicate late winter colour without the all too gaudy colours of hybridised Primulas.
Last but by no means least, the King of the winter flowering plants, the Hellebore.
The Hellebore comes in many guises, Helleborus orientalis, Helleborus niger, Helleborus foetidus and Helleborus x hybridus. The Hellebore is diverse in its colour, structure and form and will readily self seed and hybridize in your own garden. An absolute beauty.