Winter Garden Delights In December

In the depths of winter there are still some treasures to be found to brighten the dull grey landscape in our gardens. The evergreen backcloth is vital to give structure and form but there are also some flower and berry delights.

Viburnum Lilla Rose is an evergreen that produces creamy pink buds in late autumn which open to fragrant cream white flowers from December to spring. It is a valuable winter plant for sun or shade and a useful source of nectar for pollinating insects. It is easy to grow with low maintenance and is equally good in a tub, grown as a clipped hedge or associated with variegated Euonymus with crocus snowdrops or dwarf Narcissus planted underneath.

Cotoneaster Microphyllus is another ground covering evergreen with bright orange red berries from autumn throughout winter to spring. It is a great source of food in December and January for Blackbirds, Thrushes, Redstarts and Fieldfares. The herring bone fan shaped branches are best displayed when it is grown against a wall or fence. Grow in a sunny place with Lavender or Christmas Box planted at the base.

The variegated evergreens with their bright shiny leaves are really colourful additions. Eleagnus Gilt Edge whose bright golden leaf margins will lighten any winter border makes a good grouping with Choisya Ternata, Physocarpus diabolo and Brachyglottis Silver Waves. It can also be grown in a tub and trained as a small standard tree. It is hardy and easy to grow with white flowers in summer and red berries in autumn.

Another shrub with brightly coloured leaves is Holly, Ilex Madame Briot or Ilex altaclerensis Lawsoniana are good examples. Both varieties will produce pillar box red berries if pollinated by a male type and both also have bright yellow leaf margins. They are versatile and can be grown as hedges or trained as a standard to grow in a tub. The foliage makes lovely Christmas decorations and the birds of course enjoy the berries.

Mahonia Winter Sun is a quick growing evergreen with gorgeous brilliant yellow upright flowers that are richly perfumed from November until March. An architectural plant for sun or dappled shade which makes a lovely grouping with Hellebores, evergreen Ferns and Brunnera, the variegated perennial Forget me not.

Hamamelis Arnold Promise, Witch Hazel is a fascinating plant that bears bright yellow orange spidery flowers on bear stems from December to April. It is a hardy plant and grows well in a large pot in ericaceous compost. Feed with a sequestered iron. The autumn foliage colour is vibrant and looks dramatic if planted with white stemmed Birch and coloured bark Cornus under planted with Christmas Roses.

Winter flowering Clematis is one of the few climbing plants in flower at this time of year. They need a sheltered place probably against a wall or fence with the support of wires or trellis. They can also be allowed to wander over other shrubs or even as ground cover. If grown in a large pot with an obelisk support this must be put in a sheltered place protected from severe weather. They are a great source of winter nectar for bumble bees. Clematis Winter Beauty is evergreen with small creamy nodding flowers from October to February, Clematis Balearica also has cream flowers with maroon markings on the inside of the petals followed by fluffy seed heads which are great when sprayed gold for Christmas decoration.

The Christmas Rose, Helleborus Christmas Carol, is a truly Christmas flowering plant. The glistening pure white waxy looking single flowers have lemon yellow stamens from December to March. They gradually turn pinkish with age and are a welcome source of nectar for the pollinating insects. It can be grown in a pot and brought indoors along with the Christmas Tree from mid December for the Christmas period but must be hardened off in a sheltered cool place before returning to the garden afterwards. The Snow Rose is a cross between Helleborus Niger and H. Corsican. It is very hardy and produces lots of flowers from December to March. Some good varieties are H. Mahagon Snow, creamy pink, H. Ice and Snow pure white and the amazing H. Barola which is garnet red.

So here are some useful additions to the winter garden. These brave plants all put on a great show in spite of our grey cold winter days.