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Winter Garden Delights

Winter Garden Delights

Christmas doesn’t need to be just about the traditional decorations for your house.  If you look hard enough, there’s a wealth of delightful plants that will also add a festive feel to your garden during the dark weeks of December.

There’s a whole rainbow of coloured berries from the red of Holly and Cotoneaster, yellow of Viburnum Xanthocarpum and Pyracantha Soleil D’Or, orange of Pyracantha Orange Glow to the extraordinary purple of Callicarpa.  Then there’s the crisp white flowers of Helleborous Niger, the fabulous yellow scented sprays of Mahonia and the glamour of winter flowering Camellias.

Here's a closer look at some of my favourite winter garden delights and ones that any garden shouldn’t be without.

Sarcoccoca Winter Gem, the Christmas Box simply must have a place in any garden. It is a small shiny leaf evergreen that starts producing small pure white highly perfumed flowers from November through the entire winter months. Grow in a tub and put next to the front door when the perfume will greet you every time you come home. It grows well in JI soil with extra compost.

Skimmias are evergreen shrubs native to the Himalayas, China and Japan.  In the spring they bear small clusters of sweetly scented creamy white flowers that are much loved by bees but, even better, in the autumn and winter the unopened flower buds can be deep red in colour and look like clusters of small berries contrasting well with the deep green foliage.  They are an ideal container so plant with ericaceous compost their preferred growing medium.  If grown in borders they look great with Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias.  Depending on variety Skimmias bear either male or female flowers but only the female plant produces red berries if pollinated by a nearby male.  They are best grown in dappled or deep shade but the variety Skimmia Kew Green will flourish in full sun.

Varieties of interest include Skimmia Rubella male, red buds, S. Perosa male with variegated leaves, S. Nymans female, with berries, S. Reevesiana female, compact and free berrying and S. Veitchii female, large red fruits.

Camellias are majestic evergreen shrubs native to Japan, China and Indonesia.  Their glorious rose peony like single or double flowers range from deep reds to pink, yellow and white and can bloom any time from September to April depending on the variety.  They like to be planted in ericaceous soil in a semi shaded place but they are good when grown in a container.  With container grown Camellias it is best to move them into a pot 5cm deeper and 10cm wider every couple of years because a too large pot will cause the roots to remain in too much wet soil in the winter.

Winter varieties tend to be single in flower shape like Camellia. Susanqua pink shades from September to December and C. Yuletide with a compact habit with small red flowers and yellow stamens from November to January.

It is worth noting that all Camellias dislike prolonged freezing at the roots in severe winters so move the pot to a sheltered position during excessively cold weather protecting the pots with bubble wrap and any open flowers with fleece.

The Christmas Rose, Helleborus Niger is a hardy low growing woodland perennial with brilliant white flowers during the Christmas period.  Naturally found in the cold Eastern European countries and the Alps they were popular in the Middle Ages when they were thought to have magical and curative properties.  Nowadays we grow it for its compact, shiny foliage and the pure white five petaled saucer flowers with yellow stamens.

They prefer shade or semi shade in any open moist friable soils where they make good companions for Heucheras and Ferns. They also look great in pots or troughs and can be brought indoors when flowering to brighten up a festive windowsill display alongside Christmas flowering Hyacinths.

If we only think of red Holly berries as Christmas decoration we are missing out on plenty of other inspiring berried treasures for the winter months.  Pyracanthas with their evergreen foliage, thorns and berries make a good meal for our hedgerow birds and mammals while Cotoneasters are a great alternative if you don’t like spiky plants.  Cotoneasters also come in lots of different sizes from the dwarf, ground hugging C. Damerii and compact C. Horizontalis to the larger upright C. Cornubia and C. Lacteus.

Sorbus Mountain Ash is a popular tree with lots of interest and has berries in late autumn and early winter of many colours from white, pink, yellow and orange.  One of the best varieties is S. Olympic Flame with bright red berries.

Also look out for the red, pink and white berried ground cover Gaultheria aka Pernettya and Callicarpa Profusion, a medium sized shrub with light purple berries.

Last but not least Erica’s, or winter heathers, are essential at this time of year when they come into their own producing evergreen carpets with brightly coloured flowers and are low maintenance ground cover.  The species E. carnea and E. Darylensis can be grown in both acidic or alkaline soils as long as it is well drained and open, such as a mixture of peat free and a soil based potting compost. The flowers range from white to pink from purple pink to dark red.

Rosalie is pink and grows 15cm by 59cm while E. White Perfection flowers on stems 40cm tall by 70cm wide. E. Kramers Red has cracking dark red pink flowers with blue green foliage and is 35cm high and 65cm wide.

                               MILTON ERNEST GARDEN CENTRE

                              Would like to wish all our readers a

  VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS and an even better NEW GARDENING YEAR.
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