When most people talk about gardening, they are likely to concentrate on vegetables or flowers, but what about the garden in Winter? Some may talk about it as showing the bones of the garden. The perennials will have disappeared for the season and the leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees; what is left is often the hardscapes. These are a very important element of the garden and one that I have tried to work on, so that the garden takes on a cohesive feel.
But there can be so much more and being in a mild climate means that we really can think about making a region of the garden beautiful over winter. Hats off to the Gardener’s World program produced by the BBC, who showcased a few Winter Gardens and got me thinking about it.
A winter garden exists on several levels, just the same as a garden in any other season. Trees, shrubs, ground cover, accents.
Trees can be important in several ways and both deciduous and evergreen have important roles to play. Deciduous trees can provide incredible bark texture and color. A silver birch creates dramatic white lines that reach for the sky. Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ has bright red twigs that add an element of fire to the garden. Acer griseum, the paper bark maple has dramatic brown and red exfoliating bark. There are many other trees that are suitable for all climates that can create that vertical element of drama.
Evergreens add form and structure that is often almost formal. Picea pungens, the blue spruce forms a blue pyramid. Other conifers may be tall and slender. Green, yellow and blue hues predominate.
There are a few trees that also bloom in winter – perhaps the most notable ones being Camelia and Witch Hazels. The latter also adds a wonderful fragrance. Camelias come in a range of styles, colors, and forms.
There are two ways to look at shrubs – individuals and groups. Groups are often part of hedges that can provide an important backdrop and that in turn can make other aspects of the garden become even more pronounced. Clipped topiaries can also add an important structural element.
Many evergreen shrubs take on winter plumage. Hebe ‘Silver Dollar’ adds bright red to its leaves in winter. Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mushroom’ takes on a bronze coloration.
There are several blooming shrubs that can both add color and fragrance. An example is Daphne, which contributes in many ways. Not only does it bloom, but some, like Daphne retusa have wonderful bark color and form. The winter heather (Calluna) are covered in tiny drooping buds in white through to purple.
We cannot leave out the deciduous shrubs either because they contribute what is perhaps the most famous of all winter garden plants – the shrub dogwoods. These unassuming plants for the rest of the year show off their stem color in winter and these range from yellow to red and every imaginable combination in between. ‘Winter Fire’ is a popular newer cultivar that has both distinct red and yellow coloration.
Many of the plants mentioned have been included. Betula x plettkei ‘Golden Treasure’, also marketed as Cesky Gold and Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’, also marketed as ‘Arctic Sun’, plus Daphne tangutica (syn. Daphne retusa). The trunk on this is chunky and almost Dr Seuss-like and it almost matches the Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ (Lion’s Head Maple) growing on the bank above it. It has it trunk exposed in winter, showing the similarities between them. The Dogwood picks up on the color of the Coral Bark Maple. Two heathers have been include Calluna vulgaris ‘Siska’ and Calluna vulgaris ‘Verenka’.
Many Aloes bloom during winter and into early spring. One that has just been added to the collection is Aloe striata, The Coral Aloe. It should have multiple, branched clusters of coral red blooms. However, for us, we may need to keep it in a pot because it does not like a lot of winter water. A space to put a pot when it comes into bloom is a good idea.
We have placed a number of Sempervivum ‘Red Beauty’ (Hen and Chicks) into the rock wall, that will not only fill in the gaps but provide a softening of the rock.
I have already mentioned a couple of winter garden genera that are good for scent, Hamamelis and Daphne) but there are many others. And the fragrance doesn’t have to just come from flowers. Lavender and Rosemary both provide plenty of fragrance when brushed against and the rosemary is likely to be in bloom as well, with it blue flowers.
I choose Osmanthus delavayi. It has white fragrant flowers, but I am suspicious that it may have been forced into bloom, and that a more usual bloom time is April. That is somewhat out of the Winter Garden timeframe, but we shall see as it settles down. We do have a Viola odorata ‘Comte de Brazza’ that is adding both a little color and some fragrance.
One I would like to add is Edgeworthia chrysantha. I don’t know what this is not more popular in this country and easier to obtain. It has the most magical yellow, perfumed blossoms that hang down from the branch tips. Before opening each flower in the cluster looks like a fuzzy cats paw. That fuzz then extends to the tips of the petals. While I have located one for sale across the other side of the country, it gets to be quite expensive when shipping is involved.
This is one area where we are really lucky. We really do have something in bloom every month of the year and winter is no exception. The Hellebores start in December and go all the way through winter. Whites, reds, purples, yellows and almost black are available these days with many patterns and forms.
Calluna (Heathers) have already been mentioned, and ephemerals like Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver and Pink’ add a little bit of a filler color and leaf texture.
Looking farther afield for plant ideas, the Correa have been blooming their hearts out over the past couple of months. Correa ‘Ray’s Tangerine’ was selected because it matches the color of the Coral Bark Maple and the Dogwoods.
By January and through to March, the first of the bulbs are providing intense pops of color. My favorites are the dwarf Iris that come in some stunning blue, yellow and white combinations. These like to remain dry in summer, so I am thinking about planting some in the path itself. I haven’t done that yet, but remains a possibility.
The top portion of the garden has a dwarf Birch Hedge, which over time should hide the heat pumps a little. I selected Betula x plettkei ‘Golden Treasure’ which should only get to be 4′ tall and wide. That still leaves room for filler plants around the stepping stones and at the far end, where construction is not yet finished.
The deer have already found the garden. Last night they came in and left their mark and decided that they like the Dogwood. The damage was contained to one of them and not too bad, but we may have to give them some protection until they become more established.