Hertfordshire gardens: Winter beauties

PUBLISHED: 14:57 07 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013

Hellebores brighten up winter days

Hellebores brighten up winter days

Colour and interest in the garden are not confined to the warmer months of the year. Philippa Pearson looks at how flowers, foliage, coloured stems and bark can brighten dark winter days...

Im a great fan of planting a garden for all year round interest. Winter gardens neednt be dull and boring and with a bit of planning and good plant selection, you can have a colourful and even flower-filled landscape to view from your windows. The silhouetted shapes of shrubs and trees add structure and focal points in borders whilst this is the best time to appreciate coloured bark and stems of some plants. Winter flowers are precious jewels and there are plenty of choices available to brighten up corners and containers. Dont be too tidy in cutting down some of your plants in autumn, either, as seedheads add architectural interest especially with a touch of snow or frost on them.

If you have room, add some interesting trees in your garden. Our native Silver birch, Betula pendula, has a creamy bark but other finer selections in the family include the Himalayan Birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, with its stunning white bark that glows in the low winter sun. Maples are known for their stunning autumn foliage display and some have ornamental bark. Acer griseum, the Paper Bark Maple, has peeling orange-brown bark whilst the Snake Bark Maple, Acer davidii, has smooth striped green and silver bark. The Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula, has mahogany-red peeling bark which looks gorgeous in winter whilst the tree provides interest from blossom, fruit and foliage for the rest of the year.

Many shrubs are indispensable in the winter garden for their bright coloured stems. Dogwoods have stunning red stems from Cornus alba Sibirica, yellow-green from Cornus stolonifera Flaviramea and black-purple from Cornus alba Kesselringii. Hard pruning produces the best stem colour and the best time to do this is around the end of February or early March; prune back to 10cm/4in above the ground and feed well afterwards.

With attractive shiny evergreen leaves that change colour in late autumn and pretty white or pink flowers in winter, Bergenias are a most useful plant. I use them under trees, at the front of borders and they are also great for containers. Pulmonaria, Lungwort, has pretty spotted ground-covering foliage for most of the year and from about February, a welcome flower display. Flower colours range from pale to dark blue, white and pink. Cut all leaves and old flowering spikes to ground level in mid-spring for a fresh display of foliage. Hellebores come in two options; the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, has nodding white flowers from Christmas to early spring whilst the Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybrida has evergreen leaves and stunning flowers in a variety of colours from mid-winter.

Ornamental grasses are one of the most useful plants in borders and easy to look after. From midsummer, foliage changes from mostly green to a lovely bronze or bleached yellow by autumn. Flowerheads in winter look wonderful covered in frost or snow, and then you simply cut them down to ground level in March for the process to start again.

More plants for winter interest

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis mollis Pallida
Fabulous autumn colour with clusters of showy, fragrant sulphur-yellow flowers from midwinter for several months

Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle
This is one of my favourite plants with large creamy white domed flowerheads in summer which dry like paper and remain on the shrub throughout the winter. Simply prune by half or to ground level in early spring.

Sweet box, Sarcococca humilis
Glossy evergreen leaves and low growing with small white flowers in winter providing a heady winter scent. Nice growing near a door.

Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn
Deciduous shrub with deep to pale pink fragrant flowers on bare stems from autumn throughout winter.

Garden designer and RHS Silver-Gilt medal winner Philippa Pearson was awarded Peoples Choice Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2010. Visit www.philippapearson.co.uk or contact her on 01767 651253

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