For many gardeners, the months preceding winter can be a depressing time. At this time of year, whilst there is the beauty of changing leaves and the excitement of planting bulbs for next spring, a lot of garden duties are clearance. Dying leaves, withering stems, the last fading flowers dropping their blooms signals an end to the year and a draining of garden exuberance. However, winter can offer some magical qualities for the garden, and not only is this time of year perfect for transplanting and putting in new shrubs, but pick the right plants and you can have fantastic interest throughout the colder months of the year.
Winter, perhaps more than any other season, is about creating drama in your borders, pots and green retreats. Spring brings the tender new leaves of plants, and summer is about a deluge of blooms and vigorously flowering borders, but the colder months offer the chance to create visual flair against a dark backdrop. Any hint of green will draw the eye, any eruption of colour will stir the senses, and it is for this reason that I adore the winter period.
Depending on your garden size and shape it’s important to consider planting possibilities. A dozen or so cyclamen or clumps of snowdrops can make a dramatic impact if placed in borders of a small garden. However, spread them through a larger garden, or around corners which cannot be seen from the house, and the visual impact is instantly lost. In you can’t afford to buy in bulk, consider planting containers on your patio or pots on your porch instead. And though planting winter window baskets is lovely, unless you have additional colour in your garden to pull your interest, your eye will go no further than the petals in your window boxes.
It’s not all down to blooms however, and some of the most visually stunning plants for winter offer not flowers, but fruit and stems. Cornus (Dogwood) comes in a various number of coloured stems including orange, red and yellow, and whilst plants can be monotonously green throughout the year, their branches become alive with colour during the colder months. This is especially true when set off against the browns, blacks and whites (snow prevailing) of winter. You can use these species in your garden for winter interest, planting two or three specimens together to offer islands of colour in your borders. The vibrancy of hues keeps for a long time even on cut off stems, and if you don’t have any plants but are lucky enough to know someone who does, see if they have some pruned twigs to spare. These can be pushed into the ground throughout borders or even pots to create colourful drama and you may even find that a few push out roots when the spring weather arrives.
If you have silver birches in your garden, cut down any obscuring foliage so that you can see the glistening trunks in full view. Meanwhile, leave pruning of plants producing red berries such as pyracantha, cotoneaster and holly until very late winter when birds will have taken most of the colour away. Callicarpa is an additional plant which offers luminous berries, this time of purple, and is a great winter season garden addition.
There is no need for winter gardens to be dull and soulless. Whilst you may not be spending much time in your oasis, adding colour in view of windows will draw your eye out into the garden through the long cold months. And whether you plant up visual containers, scatter winter beauties through borders, or offer some architectural elegance with vivid stems, the drama can be just as magnificent as at any other time of year.
This post was written by Geoff Wakeling, author of the popular gardening blog; The Guide to Gay Gardening