Here’s how to grow colourful plants in the Winter months
Brighten up your garden by planting winter-flowering shrubs and perennials. Add scent and colour by using shrubs, perennials and climbers with winter interest.
Once the fairy lights have been put away, what is there to look forward to until spring? January and February can seem very long and grey and there is little to entice you outside. Or so it may seem. Some well placed shrubs and perennials can brighten up the dark winter days and tide you over until the spring bulbs erupt.
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A very useful evergreen shrub with clusters of pinkish white flowers, Viburnum tinus thrives in most places, survives almost anything and can be kept at whatever size you need by pruning. It will grow into a large shrub if left unclipped but will remain compact and attractive if pruned. You will recognise it from car parks etc. as it was over-planted in the 1980s and 1990s but it still warrants a place in the garden because it is versatile and attractive.
An upright shrub that flowers in winter, sometimes from November although more often a bit later. The flowers are tiny and pink, blooming on the bare stems of the plant. Their key feature is the scent – sweet and intense that drifts through the air if a shaft of sunlight warms the buds. Plant this shrub in courtyards, by entrances or places where you will walk past and catch this scent to cheer you up on a winter’s day. It is easy to maintain and responds well to hard pruning after flowering if it gets too big.
Hamamelis – Chinese and Japanese Witch Hazels
Their smell is something to look forward to every year – light and lemony, a delicious hint of summer in the depth of winter. These plants are available in a range of cultivars; some have delicate yellow flowers, others into shades of burnt orange and red. The flowers are clusters of thin petals almost like strands of saffron or tissue paper. The plant forms a lovely shape with attractive leaves and another benefit – glorious autumn colour. They can be a little fickle to establish and are quite slow growing, but if you have space and some time to wait, this is a beautiful plant. The botanic gardens in Edinburgh have a lovely group of mature specimens and when they flower in January/February it is worth making a pilgrimage to see them and just inhale their perfume in the frosty air.
Pretty pale yellow flowers on bare stems. This is a plant that fades into the background once it has brightened up the winter. The flowers are small bells with upturned edges. Only plant one of these if you have space to give a plant that doesn’t do much else for the rest of the year.
There are two species of Daphne commonly found as garden plants. Daphne odora and its many cultivars have sweet scented pale pink or white flowers. Daphne mezereum has stronger red to purple flowers on upright stems. They are pretty and unusual against a backdrop of plants that have predominantly pale yellow or pink flowers in late winter.
They thrive on alkaline soils. A downside is that they have attractive but highly poisonous berries – a dark side to their character.
This evergreen climber has glossy, narrow, dark green leaves that hang down attractively once the plant is established. The white flowers are star-like and scented. Pink hued cultivars are also available. This plant is good for sheltered walls. It needs some support but climbs using tendrils and will use its own stems to support itself, which can make pruning complicated. Avoid windy areas and places where the postman will walk through, pulling it from the wall just as it’s about to flower. Worth it though for the display of twinkling white flowers in late winter.
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A range of perennials that becomes better each year. Originally, hellebore cultivars had drooping flowers and were beautiful but shy. Growers have been selectively breeding out this drooping to create plants that have cheerful, upright flowers. They are incredibly pretty, some are shades of pale green and white, dappled with purple, others have even got a metallic hue. There are filled and simple flowered varieties. The foliage is also attractive and makes a useful ground cover once the flowers have finished. They flower from December through to March and are good in shade. Raised beds are good if you have the ‘shy’ varieties, you can then appreciate the flowers up close. A steep slope or terrace where some can overhang also works to display them.
If you intersperse these late winter lovelies with the other plants in the garden and plant the scented varieties where you can enjoy them, winter will become something to look forward to. Combine the scent and flowers with plants that have other interesting winter features such as stems and berries and you will have a delicate winter wonderland.
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