The winter garden can be a stark place, with nothing growing, just a monochrome colour palette of bare twigs and dead vegetation. However, with a bit of forethought it does not have to be like this.
Colour and interest in the winter garden can be supplied by many different species of plant. Evergreens, whether, tree, shrub, perennial, grass or climber provide many different shades of green foliage and many different leaf shapes. A few also have interesting bark and a number flower through the winter and early spring, providing colour and often amazing scent. Winter flowers and scent can also be provided by some winter flowering deciduous shrubs, with their flowers being born on bare branches like brightly coloured jewels. The colourful bare stems of shrubs such as Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ can create a bright blast of red and orange in a bare border. The dried seed heads of many herbaceous perennials and grasses can be left through the winter months to help provide continuing interest and structure in the borders. This dried out plant material also provides useful overwintering places for insects and other invertebrates, so is best left in situ until the warmer weather in the spring when it can be removed as the new green shoots appear.
In early spring herbaceous perennials such as hellebores can provide a welcome array of flowers in subtle colours and these combined with early narcissus and crocus can cheer up the dullest corner of any garden. They also provide an essential early nectar source for pollinating insects such as bees.
When drawing up planting plans for clients I always do a separate plan just for spring bulbs. It is worth having a discussion about these at the very beginning when the planting plan is in its infancy. Although the bulbs will be planted later in the year once all the other plants are in, it is important they are selected for colour, height, scent and growth habit, to compliment the rest of the planting scheme. Once in the ground they can be forgotten until they emerge the following spring to brighten up even the coldest days.
Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Winter Gem’
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’
Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’