The garden is coming to life and there are signs of spring all around this garden. I grow lots of different ornamental pear trees and ‘Winter Glow’ is almost in full blooms, despite the fact that it’s just losing the last of its leaves. Others like the Manchurian pear and ‘Chanticleer’ have swollen grey hairy buds and the Manchurians buds are starting to pop.
To me the test of a good garden is one which has colour and interest in it all year round. It’s easy to have a good-looking garden in spring however having one looking good in winter required a bit more planning and choosing some good winter bloomers. Here are some of my favourites which are looking great at Sophie’s Patch now.
Flowering Quinces or Japonicas (Chaenomeles)
These hardy, old fashioned waterwise shrubs produce a mass of flowers on bare stems creating a very striking effect. Most flowers are single with a central boss of golden yellow stamens, although there are a few semi-double varieties. Flower colours range from pure white, through shades of pink and salmon to red, and after flowering they produce a small, sweet smelling, quince-like fruit which can be used to make quince jelly. I use them as specimen plants 1.5 to 2 m tall, however they also make a great hedge and can even espaliered against a wall. Their flowers attract nectar feeding birds and just a few springs in a vase make striking flower arrangements.
Red hot pokers or torch lilies (Kniphofia species)
While not a shrub, its height makes it relevant with mediums sized plants. The old fashioned, winter flowering forms of these striking evergreen perennials from South Africa that are without a doubt my favourite. They produce upright stems to 1.5m high with a terminal spike of vibrant orange or red flowers that is again a hit with the nectar feeding birds. Their foliage is long and strappy, and they can spread to form clumps over 1.5m across.
Wulfen Spurge (Euphorbia wulfenii)
There are a number of perennial spurges, however this remains one of my favourites, producing large heads of lime green to yellow flower bracts in winter and spring, above blue-green foliage. It grows well in sun or semi-shade and the flowers are colourful from now till December. They do self-seed, so you need to manage that by removing the old flower spikes before the seeds ripen, but take care when handling them as they contain a milky sap which oozes from all parts of the plant and is an irritant to the skin and eyes.
Winter rose (Helleborus species)
Hellebores are a must for shady areas under deciduous trees. They look fantastic when mass planted and provide colour and interest for many months in winter and spring. Once established they are tolerant of drought and root competition. There are many different types and cultivars available and most have deeply divided, dark green foliage to 60cm high, and stems of flowers that resemble single rose blooms. The colour of the down-facing, bowl-shaped flowers range from soft green and pure white, through every possible shade of pink, to deep plum purple, and almost black. Inside the flowers, there are often markings such as prominent darker veining and delicate spots.
Other Winter Colour
This year, 2021, has been a wetter winter meaning we haven’t had as many frosts as normal, and they certainly haven’t been so severe. Plants that would normally have been cut by the frost still have leaves and I might even get to see others like the winter flowering Aloes (like this Aloe ‘Tusker’) and velvet groundsel (Roldana petasites syn. Senecio petasites) flower, so that is one bonus.
I also have Wallflowers, French lavender, Rosemary ‘Blue Lagoon’, Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus), Euryops pectinatus and the old fashioned single white Marguerite daisies in bloom.