WINTER EVERGREENS OF MERIT
The autumn may now be fading into winter and garden flowers are not so plentiful, but now it is the turn of colourful evergreens to brighten up the garden while we wander around on those few bright sunny days. It is quite surprising to see a wide range of plants getting our attention over the winter months, so make sure you find room for some of them. There is still a few with flowers such as the Jasmine, Erica carnea and Mahonia, but berries are very attractive in early winter on the Holly, Pyracantha, Skimmia and Pernettya. Beauty also comes from variegated foliage with Euonymus being one of the best. Some of the heather family of Calluna vulgaris have rich orange and golden foliage which really strengthens after some frost.
Flowers in winter
Although there are not many plants flowering in winter, they are really appreciated when they put on a show after a few days of continuous sunny days, then die away, only to reappear later at the next sunny spell. The ground cover heather Erica carnea has pink flowers (Springwood Pink) as well as white (Springwood White) and both are very reliable, tough, hardy and easy to grow.
Mahonia aquifolium grows to four feet and has brilliant golden slightly scented flowers. The variety Charity is quite superior to the species. The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger comes in many colours, but my favourite is the pure white form. However it has been affected by the unusually cold wet weather so flowering can be very erratic as it thinks late summer is winter and time to flower. I can understand its confusion.
Yellow jasmine is a climber/twinning vigorous plant that can flower all winter. It starts off appearing to be evergreen and although it loses its leaves, the green stems make it appear like an evergreen. Some deciduous shrubs are at their best in winter such as the pink scented Viburnum fragrans and the variety bodnantense Dawn.
The Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis produces numerous weird looking, but very attractive yellow scented flowers in late winter. It also has fantastic autumn colour.
Best of the berries
Cotoneaster frigidus, horizontalis, simonsii and many other species berry profusely. However choose one according to space available as frigidus grows into a small tree. Pyracantha, the Firethorn, also gets smothered in bright red berries that only last until the birds get hungry, but really put on a brilliant display.
Holly is also a small tree but different forms have red and yellow berries.
Pernettya is a dwarf evergreen with large white, pink, red and mauve berries which can last most of the winter as the birds don’t find them very tasty. They will only start to eat them at the end of winter when desperation for any food is at critical levels.
Euonymus fortunei comes with silver foliage, Silver Queen or golden foliage, Emerald n Gold and really impresses with its bold colour when most other plants are dormant and dull. Both are excellent low growing ground cover shrubs. Two other showy shrubs with golden foliage are Choisya Sundance and the shrubby honeysuckle Lonicera Baggesons Gold. Both very reliable and birds just love to nest in the Lonicera. They will grow to four feet, but Elaeagnus pungens maculata, (sorry about that long name) with its golden variegated leaves will reach ten feet in time. Keep checking it for branches that revert back to green and remove them entirely.
Coming back to ground level the Heucheras are now the in plant to grow. For some reason that escapes me everyone is planting them as the latest must have garden plant. I do admit that they are very attractive, but so are many other plants. I only have a modest twelve plant collection.
Lower in height is the black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens, (who makes up these names!!!) It is very different with its black foliage, but perfect as a ground cover around red stemmed Cornus Westonbirt, and with pristine white snowdrops planted underneath, it creates a breathtaking display in late winter.
Lastly, a wee ground hugging succulent is always found in my garden. This purple leaved sedum is a wee beauty in winter in the rock garden, but is also troubled with long name as Sedum spathulifolium purpureum. However we need these long names to make sure we get the right plant.
Plant of the week
Holly known botanically as Ilex aquifolium is always a very welcome sight in December with its bright red berries, as we head towards Christmas. It is a slow grower and not too fussy about soil or position (sun or shade) but does eventually make a small tree so allow it a fair bit of room. However if space is limited it can be pruned annually in winter giving it time to put on some growth that can mature and produce a crop of berries for the following winter.