Winter Garden Jobs
In previous pages on this site we’ve had a look at the different types of location and soil required by garden plants, at ways in which to plan beds and borders in relation to the size and shape of different types of plants, and at the immense range of colours and textures available among, , and shrubs. Here we consider all these matters in the context of time: how to organise work in during winter.
There is no reason why December should be the bleak, flowerless month it is in many gardens. There is a number of winter-flowering plants that deserve room in any garden. The sculptured white blooms of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), sometimes tinted pink, and its interesting, hand-like leathery leaves make a wonderful winter show. The plant may be slow to settle down, but given semi-shade, a richthat does not dry out, and a taste of manure in the spring, it will respond. The green corsicus (H. argutifolius), with clusters of dangling cups, the and purple H. atrorubens, and the Lenten rose (H. orientalis) hybrids are enchanting when seen nodding together.
Yellow sprays during mild spells from autumn to spring. This is a willing grower needing rich soil, shelter, and regular tying in.
And, finally, give a thought to the winter heathers. Erica carnea (syn. E. herbacea), the mountain heath, is low-growing and excellent ground cover. Varieties such as rose-pink ‘King George’ are smothered in bloom from December to March. Other good ones include ‘Springwood Pink’ and ‘Springwood White’, of slightly trailing habit, suitable for furnishing a dull bank, while ‘Celia M. Beale’ is one of the earliest and largest of the whites for its size. Erica X darleyensis (one of the E. carnea hybrids) is seldom out of flower from November until the spring. Most ericas tolerate a moderately limy soil provided they are given a diet of dampand a place in the sun.
unguicularis (syn. I. stylosa) from Algeria is another flower that no garden can afford to be without. Its foliage is untidy, but the lavender flowers that hide themselves in the tufts are beautiful. If picked in bud when they appear, resembling tightly rolled umbrellas, they will give a magic performance when brought into the warmth of a room. This should be planted at the base of a sunny wall where it can stay undisturbed; poor soil discourages flowering.
Another candidate for the winter garden is the climber,, providing gay yellow sprays during mild spells from autumn to spring. This is a willing grower needing rich soil, shelter, and regular tying in.
And, finally, give a thought to the winter heathers. Erica carnea (syn. E. herbacea), the mountain heath, is low-growing and excellent ground cover. Varieties such as rose-pink ‘King George’ are smothered in bloom from December to March. Other good ones include ‘Springwood Pink’ and ‘Springwood White’, of slightly trailing habit, suitable for furnishing a dull bank, while ‘Celia M. Beale’ is one of the earliest and largest of the whites for its size. Erica X darleyensis (one of the E. carnea hybrids) is seldom out of flower from November until the spring. Most ericas tolerate a moderately limy soil provided they are given a diet of damp peat and a place in the sun.
Among other winter-flowering shrubs are the winter(Prunus subhirtella varieties), with their white and pink blossom, the golden-ribboned Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) and the heavily scented maroon and yellow winter sweet (Chimonanthus fragrans). Garrya elliptica possesses intriguing green-grey catkins that arrive in February; they are particularly long and decorative in the male form. This shrub thrives on a north or east wall in a sheltered position. Finally, there is the shrub Corylopsis spicata, with fragrant, primrose flowers.
Take the opportunity of mild spells to prune leafless shrubs in need of attention. Also plant late-arriving shrubs and plants if the ground is not too wet and sticky: if it is, heel the plants in together in a well-drained spot until conditions improve. Tidy established borders, lightly forking over the soil among the plants. At the same time mix in oldmaterial, and add a dressing of manure if available. Feed with bone meal established and areas planted with . Border plants, such as Japanese anemones, perennial anchusas, and border phloxes, can be propagated from root taken now.
This is usually the coldest month of the year. Conditions are frustrating for the gardener with many left-over jobs from December waiting to be done. If new plants arrive when the ground is frozen or very wet, heel them in temporarily in a ‘warm’ corner of the garden or put them in a frost-proof shed while the cold spell lasts; but they must be kept moist.
This is often thought of as a completely colourless month in the garden, but there is quite a number of plants that bloom then. The winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is generously spangled with bright yellow blooms that are continuously produced whenever the weather is mild, and some cultivars of winter-flowering heathers (Erica) are smothered in tiny blooms, shining even through the snow. In milder areas Garrya elliptica is hung with its long, silver catkins to give a charming display,( ) have appeared in many gardens, and unguicularis opens its lilac blooms throughout the winter months.
Towards the end of January, winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) begin to flower in the sun-shine to provide a touch of sparkling yellow in sheltered spots. More colour is provided by the bark of some trees and shrubs, none more eye-catching than the brilliant crimson young shoots of the dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), while the coloured-leaved evergreens, such as the variegated hollies (Ilex) and ivy (Hedera) and the golden, create an impression of sunniness even on overcast days.
Aconite (Eranthis), the winter-flowering ‘buttercup’, with an enchanting green collar, heralds the snowdrops, early this month.
Happily, the cold fails to deter the witch hazels (Hamamelis) or Daphne mezereum from opening theirnow. The winter-flowering heathers continue to bloom profusely, regardless of frost and snow, while the winter-flowering jasmine and Viburnum x bodnantense open a fresh crop of flowers as soon as each cold spell passes. The first dainty blooms of the dwarf orbiculatum often appear this month and the yellow winter aconites (Eranthis) get into their stride if it is sunny. The scented strings of pale yellow Mahonia japonica flowers open at the shoot tips, and the first winter open wide in any warming ray of sun. The dwarf yellow Iris danfordiae and blue I. histrioides ‘Major’ come into flower.
Retread the soil around newly planted trees and shrubs to firm it again when it dries out after heavy frost. Check posts, pales, trellis, and wires used asand replace or tighten any that are broken or loose before the plants break into new growth. The end of the month is the time to prune those cultivars of Cornus alba grown for the bright winter colouring of their young shoots, to encourage a new crop the following summer. This is the time, too, to prune all clematis plants except the small-flowered ones, such as , that bloom early.