One of the things we are most often asked for at Accent Garden Designs is to design a garden with all year interest. We’ve become rather good at it if I say so myself; adding grasses and shrubs that add texture and structure can really provide a focal point to an otherwise dormant winter garden. For winter colour, shrubs with berries or interesting bark or coloured stems such as the wonderful Cornus add a interesting twist.
This year though, what with it being relatively mild until recently, we’ve seen some plants flowering out of season, even roses in the depths of winter. Roses in January and although it is a shame that once the real cold weather hits they immediately die back; it did get me thinking. Usually the addition of winter interest in a garden is limited to primarily what I mentioned. Shrubs and trees that flower and produce interest throughout the rest of the year but in winter lose their customary trappings to reveal ornate barks, stems, berries etc, but what if you just have a hankering for flowers? A lot of people think winter is simply a no flower zone, after all, everything is asleep and not thinking too much about reproduction. Pollinators are similarly dormant, so there is little point putting on a show to attract them. However, nature is a crafty old fox, and while most pollinators are scarce at this time of year, they are not completely absent, which means there will always be some plants willing to make use of them.
For those that love climbers there are a number of varieties of Clematis that are covered in winter flowers from late autumn right the way into spring. Clematis Cirrhosa has some lovely cream coloured flowers from November through to March (look out for ‘Wisley Cream’, while its cousin varieties Balerica and “Freckles” will give add more colour with crimson and violet blooms respectively. Clematis armandii is a personal favourite with its virginal white petals and delicate scent.
As I mentioned before, shrubs may be the go to for winter flowers as well. Abeliophyllum distinchum adds both white flowers and a heady scent, while Daphne Mezereum delivers a burst of dark red/purple that would look great against snow again with the wonderful scents that the Daphnes offer. For more long lasting flowers, Elaeagnus pungens “Maculata” produces wonderful silvery white flowers that will stay from late October right the way to January. My favourite though has to be Hamamellis, the fascinating, spidery flowers come in yellows, bright oranges and reds, a vibrant and intriguing addition to a winter landscape with some of the best scents you will get at any time of the year. The can’t hold back. As soon as we have a sunny winter’s day, there is an explosion of scent throughout the garden.
If you want more scent, Sarcacocca confusa is another of the more common small shrubs that gives both flowers and a powerful scent to the garden at this time of the year. Last but not least, good old border plants can work wonders, creating a sudden patch of colour in the bleak winter light. A good all-rounder is the Bergenia; the winter flowering varieties come in shades of pink and white that actually evoke a sense of spring long before the bulbs start coming through. For more colour you could add some Irises, bold lilac colours and a long flowering season will see you right through to the warmer months. Iris unguicularis is the most common with its mid-blue flowers. ‘Mary Barnard’ is a deeper violet-blue. A really useful plant in the garden.
It’s always the case with gardening that from the littlest curiosity can a great new idea form. As a student, I started out wondering if there were many plants that flowered during the dormant season and I ended up with a garden bursting into flower in the depths of winter. Something that has proved most useful throughout the years in designing planting plans for our Client’s gardens. Still at the moment, it is a bit wet and chilly going out to enjoy it but hey you can’t cheat the seasons completely.