The Winter GardenAlison Marsden
Even though autumn held out well into November this year with some fabulous leaf colour in the sunny days we saw between the rain, December is indisputably Winter. And whilst that means less colour in the garden, there should still be plenty of interest albeit a bit more green and with more reliance on structure and texture.
It is easy to reach for dense evergreen shapes to fill garden voids in winter with Box balls, Yew hedges and Conifer pillars. They certainly look spectacular with an icing of snow in photographs of formal country house gardens. But there are plenty of other choices for evergreens to suit smaller gardens where every bed and border needs to look good all year round. You do not even have to stick to plain, dark green. From the lime green Griselinia and Skimmia japonica, yellow Choisya, white or yellow variegations on Euonymus, Elaeagnus and Aucuba through to purple Pittosporum, coloured leaved shrubs will complement your summer flower colour schemes and stand out as statement plants when the flowery fluff has died down.
Now is a good time to mention Holly. Traditionally used to decorate the house at Christmas with its bright red berries, Holly is one of only four evergreen trees native to the UK, along with Yew, Scots Pine and Juniper. This has been a bumper year for fruit and berries on all sort of trees and shrubs and Holly is no exception. But it would be a shame to limit our gardens, and Christmas decorations, to the native green Holly when you can have variegated foliage, no prickles and yellow berries too (not all on the same plant!).
One thing to note when choosing is that Holly bears male and female flowers on different plants and you need a female form if you want berries. Several of the named varieties have confusing names so reading the label is always wise. Don’t ask me why but ‘Golden King’ is a female form with yellow edged leaves and red berries, while ‘Silver Queen’ is a male form with cream edged leaves and purple stems. All Hollies can be pruned to the desired size and shape and are totally hardy.
Remember that deciduous shrubs can provide a different visual treat in winter. Many Dogwoods (Cornus alba) and ornamental Willows have red, black or green bark with the best colour on the youngest coppiced stems. Look out too for the white trunks of Himalayan and White Birch, smaller trees than our native Silver Birch so suited to domestic gardens. If you want shiny, deep red or flaking bark then consider Acer griseum, the Paperbark Maple or Prunus serrula, the Tibetan Cherry. Sometimes the sculptural shape of a leafless tree makes a focal point and Acer palmatum, the Japanese Maple, is a good example. Either upright and multi-stemmed or a weeping umbrella they are covered with a lacy network of twigs.
Finally take a look at what architectural features you could add to your garden for height: an archway or pergola over a path, an arbour or gazebo containing a bench, decorative obelisks instead of bamboo canes for climbing plants. Then just sit back and wait for a sprinkling of snow for the magic to happen in your garden this winter.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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