The Winter Garden – Winter Flowering Shrubs
After the first frost, all too often one tends to have a clean up and figuratively pull the shutters down to hide the garden; sort of “that’s-it-until-next-summer’ attitude.
But gardens can be attractive in the winter and the best way, I think, to make them so is to create a corner for a winter garden. A sheltered position facing south or south west where early morning sun can be avoided would be ideal if possible. The reason for this is that if any plants do become frozen and are rapidly thawed, they are almost certain to be damaged, but if they can thaw out gradually then less damage will be done. On the whole, winter-flowering subjects are not the gaudy, flamboyant types of midsummer but are mainly made up of clusters of small, often sweetly-scented blooms.
I mention this so that no-one will feel cheated if winter-flowering shrubs do not provide such a mass of colour as we expect from spring and summer varieties. Their appeal in winter is more intimate and cheering. For instance, a warm corner in January with a clump of golden witch hazel (or H. japonica) with a ground-work of pink or red erica is both colourful and cheerful. If the is edged with early- of blue, such as chionodoxa, and clumps of muscari (grape hyacinths) are interplanted amongst the heaths, the interest and beauty of the bed is extended to the stage when early-spring flowering shrubs take over.
Another charming combination is one or two Viburnum tinus (laurustinus), with chimonanthus (winter sweet) and pale pink flowering Vibumum x bodnantense underplanted with varieties of the dwarf Iris reticulata. Under such shrubs, the Christmas rose and erythronium (dog’s tooth violet) will be quite happy too and will give a display well into the spring. The beautiful hardy climber jasminum nudiflorum must not be forgotten and, although mostly grown and trained up a wall or fence, it is very happy growing up an old tree stump either amongst or behind other flowering shrubs. It should not be trained up a straight larch pole as winter jasmine loses much of its charm if rigidly tied; far more effective is to let it scramble naturally over a twisted bough of oak or chestnut.
When planning a garden I like to arrange gardens within gardens so that there is always some interesting feature at every season of the year and not just a feast or a famine. Try to link these different gardens so that they fall naturally into successional flower. Let spring-flowering shrubs take over from the autumn and winter-fruiting shrubs with their colourful leaves and bright berries. There are shrubs with coloured bark, like dogwoods and golden willow, which if cut down to the ground every year will provide masses of young growths which glow almost as brightly as a bonfire in the winter sunshine.
All these plants I have mentioned are especially valuable as they will grow and thrive even in cold northern districts or on the fringe of smoky industrial areas. In the purer air of the country the gold and silver foliage of conifers and the cupressus make excellent partners for winter-flowering shrubs. It needs only a little planning and no more expense to have a garden which is interesting and colourful in winter as well as during spring and summer.
Here is a longer list of plants which will add interest and colour to the garden from November until March: Chimonanthus praecox, Clematis calycina, Cornus mas, Corylopsis spicata, Daphne mezereum, some species of erica, Garrya elliptica,mollis, jasminum nudiflorum, Lonicera standishi, Mahania bealei, Prunus x amygdalopersica Pollardi, Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis, some species of rhododendron including , Vibumum x bodnantense, Vibumum fragrans and Viburnum tinus.
Don’t forget, too, that polythanthus will naturalise in grass just as well as the primrose and will seed and spread. Also that crocus species bloom weeks ahead of the larger vernal varieties. There is no need at all for the garden to be dull in winter.