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A census of winter flowers

A census of winter flowers

We're always surprised by the variety and numbers of flowers we find when walking around the garden during winter. However, if you list is short, now is the perfect time to plan ahead.

My favourite December days…

...are the crisp and clear ones with a sprinkling of snow or frost to highlight my garden’s structure. However, the reality is usually more gloomy and damp, especially around the winter solstice. On this day I like to take a special walk around the garden to find what’s flowering although a few of my friends choose to do this on Christmas Day instead. When we compare notes, we’re always surprised by the variety and number of flowers we’ve found.

This year’s mild autumn means there are a surprising number of blooms still hanging on from the previous season. However, the recent cold snap means my winter flowers are now starting to come to the fore.


Focus on the key points and add some scent


On moving into my house I went mad, adding pots and planted seasonal annuals throughout the garden to add extra colour where needed. After a while I realised I didn’t need quite so many because most days I don’t venture that far into the garden, mainly due to the cold weather!

Since then I’ve focused on placing cheerful and colourful plants in key points; by the front and back door and in places we can easily see from the kitchen window. My plants of choice—for the front and back door—are also scented, so there’s a double welcome when we arrive home or venture onto the patio.

I usually choose violas over pansies as I prefer their more delicate facial features. Their scent is more powerful than their larger cousins too, casting a delicious aroma of honey wherever they’re planted. The picture is completed with some Christmas box (Sarcococca) - whose glossy evergreen leaves and scent are perfect for penetrating the gloom.


Striking foliage maintains winter interest

I also have a couple of pots mounted on the wall by the patio doors, which I fill with a mass of cyclamen. The warmer walls of the house help to protect them and I find their blooms last well into January. After that, their striking marbled leaves keep up the winter interest.


Plants that come into their own for winter

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' image: Royal Horticultural Society

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve planted the evergreen Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and a winter honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter beauty’. Both of these come into their own during the winter, with their fragrance cast wide over the garden.

They’re rather nondescript plants at other times, but the tall, upright habit of the viburnum means I can hide it right at the back of the border ready to come into prominence when the shrubs in front lose their leaves. Similarly, I’ve combined the honeysuckle with a rambling rose and clematis along the fence.


Plan for next year

Take a walk around your garden this month and note how many flowers you can see. If your list is short, then now is the perfect time to plan to remedy the matter ready for next year. Other scented winter stalwarts you could consider include mahonia, witch hazel and winter sweet. Winter jasmine, various skimmias, and the evergreen Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica add bright floral notes. Of course, your choice will depend on you garden’s soil and aspect; the ones I’ve selected for my garden all work well in a clay-limestone soil.


Find the heralds of spring

You may also be surprised to find some heralds of spring, which is always reassuring at this time of year. Many bulbs such as January’s snowdrops and March’s daffodils have just started to push their green shoots above the soil. Today’s walk also revealed my hellebores are joining them, particularly ‘Anna’s Red’ and ‘Winter Moonbeam’, with some fat buds heralding much promise for the New Year.


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