Seven Plants For Winter

Seven Plants For Winter

I spent yesterday morning out in a gale, planting five hundred early spring bulbs for next year. These were winter aconites (pictured above), a low spreading plant with buttercup-gold flowers that bring joy to bleak, snowy February. I’ve planted them on the lane up to our house, and in our courtyard garden. A fiddly task – frozen hands fumbling with tiny bulbs – but worth taking the time despite the weather to give each plant a chance in its new home. For these are plants that will multiply and spread, bringing us pleasure for years to come.

Winter-flowering plants are stars of the garden because they come alive when everything is gloomy, and have the added benefit of being good food sources for pollinators. A well-designed garden should offer a succession of winter interest. Remember to allow generous room for winter-flowering plants in any scheme and include them in good numbers.

From Christmas to the start of Spring, here are seven of the best:

Christmas to end January

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ – the not-so-humble witch hazel, coming into bloom around Christmas day, with the most vibrant red flowers. Beautiful in sunlight, but even better uplit by LEDs at night. Hardy, with coppery autumn leaves, this is an absolute favourite.

Sarcococca confusa – known as winter box. With glossy leaves that catch the sun and strongly-scented January flowers. Plant en masse under trees. They’ll look good year-round.

End January to end February

Daphne – favourites include the shaggy D. bhoula ‘Jacqueline Postill’ or more compact D. transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’. Site in a sheltered spot by an entranceway, and treat these ladies with care for the headiest winter scent of all.

Helleborus – the lenten rose. Varieties with white, purple and pink blooms that flower through to spring. They look good under trees, or in a place outside the house you visit often. I plant mine under Viburnum (another super winter shrub) outside the wood shed.

Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconites. Wonderful massed on their own or mixed with snowdrops (another essential bulb). Buy wholesale ‘in the green’ and plant in the lawn or towards the back of flowerbeds, where their fading foliage won’t cause offence.

End February to end March

Osmanthus x burkwoodii – my go-to evergreen hedge for close to the house. Tough as boots, with glossy leaves that look great in rain or shine, it produces abundant scented white blossom in early spring.

Prunus spinosa – the humble blackthorn. Typically used as a stock hedge, in March it produces masses of white flowers against dark stems that stand out on country lanes. A must for any country hedge mix for rural sites. For fun, I’ve been working one into a beehive-shaped topiary in the courtyard garden. Illuminated at night when in flower it’s a living snow sculpture.

While not strictly winter-flowering, other essential plants include evergreen topiary, ornamental grasses (such as calamagrostis and molinia) which bring structure and golden colour to a winter garden, and trees with wonderfully coloured bark such as Acer griseum and Prunus serrula (the latter’s ruby trunks spectacular when uplit at night).

As the winter show ends, the garden will be coming to life with tulips, narcissus and the blossom of crab apples, magnolia and cherries. Then the hawthorn blossom, paeonies, poppies and on into summer borders. An abundance of flowers, all wonderful in their own right. But for me, nothing compares to the solitary magic of witch hazel flowering on Christmas Eve, or aconites appearing through the snow.