If you see winter gardens as drab and lifeless, you may need to adjust your thinking (or your garden!). In the still, quiet wintery world, evergreen foliage, bark and seed pods become as interesting as flowers are in spring. The colour palette changes to a more subtle beauty. Winter hardening burnishes the browns, silvers and bronzes of grasses and succulents.
Deciduous trees surprise by displaying unexpectedly interesting skeletons.
Berries, glossy red or pale amber, decorate leafless branches.
The few flowers stand out like gems and any fragrance they may impart, is an unexpected luxury.
I’ve been doing some research and listening to some very capable local gardeners, looking for ideas on how to jazz up my winter garden. Here are some plants which add beauty to cold climate gardens in winter, on the east coast of Australia. Trees and shrubs are long term projects, but bulbs will provide a quick return on investment and may be more likely to survive our summers during their dormant period.
Osier dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’), unremarkable in their summer greenery, lose their leaves and reveal brightly coloured twigs.
Grey Euphorbias, biding their time as more interesting plants capture all the attention during the summer, grab the limelight with their masses of vibrant yellow-green flowers.
The glossy leaves of evergreen shrubs such as Aucuba and Skimmia, remind us that there is life aplenty in the depths of midwinter.
Aucuba- it does very well in my Mudgee garden, looking oddly tropical year-round.
The paperbark maple (Acer griseum) provides colour and texture through its display of deep red-brown bark. Chinese elm bark is also richly beautiful in colour and texture.
Ruby red rose hips linger and provide a lovely counterpoint to delicate frosting as the earth chills.
There are some lovely fragrant winter-flowering plants. Often the flowers are insignificant- I suppose the fragrance attracts enough attention. The tiny flowers of winter boxes (Sarcococca species), hidden among the glossy evergreen foliage, are richly perfumed.
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is another forgettable looking shrub, but in June its small, beeswax-coloured flowers, give off a delightful fragrance. I’ve had a small wintersweet in my garden for a few years, and I’m eagerly awaiting first flowers, which, I’ve recently learned, may be a few years off yet.
Wintersweet flowers and bud
Bulbs begin to emerge from the mulch of grey, weathered autumn leaves, from the winter solstice (21st June) onwards. Galanthus and Eranthis, pictured below, are lovely.
Then come the hellebores, the “winter roses”, my favourite jewels in my winter garden.
Some of my hellebores
Not forgetting the veggie garden, this year I’ll experiment with planting winter crops in late summer, in the hope of picking a few fresh veggies in winter. I’ve heard that daikon, komatsuna, carrots and turnips are worth trying. Spinach and sprouting broccoli may last until midwinter. The brassicas will resume growth once the days begin to lengthen. My tomato beds will be slumbering under a green manure crop to prime the soil for a bumper crop of tomatoes next spring!
Other jobs to be getting on with in February, include:
• Continue to protect plants from persistent heat
• Apply slow-release fertiliser to give plants a little extra energy
• Prune hydrangeas that have finished flowering (I did mine last weekend)
• Lightly prune roses and other perennials to encourage an autumn flush of flowers (my job for this coming weekend)
• Cut back wisteria and jasmine to keep them under control (a constant battle)
• Watch for caterpillars, snails and slugs which are out and about now (yes, they just ate all the little seedlings that I’d nurtured and planted out when we got a few cooler days. There’s not a trace of them to be seen now!)
At the very least, I’m going to plant some of the lovely bulbs pictured above, in a spot where I’ll be able to see them from the warmth and comfort of my living room, as I sip hot chocolate and read my favourite books, in the depths of the coming winter.
I’m not sure when is the best time to plant these various plants. Please check with an expert before you buy. See Tony Tomeo’s comment below. He is an expert.
Do you have any of these plants?
What do you love in your winter garden?