A very important thing to consider is the structure in our gardens. We build our house, define the boundaries, lay the patio and buy a shed. To blend these all together we need plants. However plants themselves provide structure.
Trees provide an interesting skyline and screen the neighbours. Larger trees like Acer Kelly’s Gold and Sorbus Hupehensis have wide canopies and lovely coloured foliage but lose their leaves in winter time. The conifers like Chaemacyparis Lawsoniana are evergreen with green blue or golden leaves and give all year interest and provide nesting cover for birds. Narrow upright trees like Betula Snow Queen with gorgeous white bark, Prunus Amanagawa and Malus Red Sentinal both flower in spring and are suitable trees where space is a premium.
Hedges can be planted to mark the boundary of your property and are more interesting than fences, providing nesting places for birds and squirrels and a safe haven for a plethora of insects and butterflies. Leylandii gives a quick screen but must be maintained regularly to stop it becoming unmanageable and a bone of contention with the neighbours. Thuya Plicata is slower growing but a lovely colour green with aromatic foliage. Photinia Red Robin, Taxus Baccata Yew and Viburnum Tinus are all good evergreen alternatives to conifer hedges. If you need an immediate taller screen (approximately 3 to 4 metres) plant Carpinus Hornbeam or Tilia Lime trained as espaliers with yew planted below. It is expensive but is a stunning structure in any garden.
Large shrubs can be planted in borders in front of fences and walls to give interest and need little maintenance. Photinia Red Robin with bright red young leaves, Viburnum Tinus and Mahonia Charity winter flowering and Ceanothus and Choisya Tenata (spring flowering) are all evergreen while Forsythia, Cotinus, Philadelphus, Berberis, Sambucus Ivory Tower and Viburnum Opulus lose their leaves in winter but are quick growing and provide extra seasonal interest.
Feature plants used successfully provide points of interest in borders. Taxus Baccata Fastigiata Aurea, Juniperus Virginiana Blue Spire, Berberis Helmann’s Pillar, Miscanthus Karl Forster or Miscanthus Zebrinus, Phormiums or Buxus trained as pyramids are all excellent feature plants giving focal points and structure in mixed borders.
Small top grafted trees which only grow to about 1.5metres do the same. Some examples are Cotoneaster Juliette, Salix Nisiki Variegata, Holly and Euonymus. These can also all be grown in tubs on the patio and can be moved around to change the scene. Standard roses can also be planted in rose beds for height and definition. Something special is Wisteria and Canary Bird Rose trained as standards. Both are breath taking when in flower but interesting shapes for the rest of the year. Bamboo is another superb structure plant. It is evergreen and can be used to accent or screen.
Paths and walkways look more inviting when planted with low hedges. Lavender and Buxus are ideal plants for this but Thyme, Catmint and Heucheras are also recommended. Low walls and rockeries are garden structures that need decorating with plants. The alpines are brilliant plants for these situations because they grow tumbling over rocks in the natural environment. Aubretia, Alyssum Saxatile, Saxifrage, Thyme, Saponaria, Alpine Phlox, Helianthemum and Campanula Carpatica between them give displays throughout the year.
We can also introduce permanent features to give interest. Archways, Pergolas, Sitting Nooks, Rope Walks and Obelisks however ornate need plants. Arches that cover paths and Sitting Nooks need plants with soft stems and perfume that will train easily. You don’t want to be grabbed by rose thorns when you attempt to walk to the garage or sit sipping your Chardonnay! Plant these structures with different varieties of Honeysuckle to make a feature all year. Lonicera Belgica early flowering, Lonicera Serotina late, Lonicera Princess Kate highly scented, Lonicera Hall’s Prolific and Mint Crisp evergreen make the arch a year round interesting feature.
Pergolas being larger will accommodate Wisteria, Clematis Montana, Jasmines and Climbing Roses. Rope Walks are good for Rambling Roses because the rampant growth quickly drapes the posts and ropes. The new varieties like Rose Albright pink and Malvern Hills yellow are exciting because they repeat flowering throughout the summer. Obelisks, the Victorians and Tudors loved them and painted them bright colours. I like to use them to decorate herbaceous borders and to give height in tubs. Planted with perennial sweet peas, hybrid clematis and as in the cottage gardens with runner beans you can achieve another dimension in garden structure.
Finally some structures like the shed can be an eyesore. Cover them up with plants like Polygonum Baldschuanicum, Clematis Montana, Virginia Creeper and Variegated Ivy.
The best structure of all of course is the lawn. It sets off the rest of the garden and keeps the Man in the House amused for hours each week.
It’s January and our Gardening Year begins again.
Here in the darkest winter days there’s a fresh enthusiasm and plans to be made for the garden in this whole new Gardening Year.
Venture to the Garden Centre and you will see some of the delights that could be colourful and exciting in your garden even in the middle of winter.