Warm, moist soil makes autumn the ideal time to plant for year-round colour and interest in the garden. If the thought of the coming short days and long dark nights fills you with gloom, plant now to give yourself and your garden some winter cheer. We often tend to focus on trees, shrubs and plants that flower in spring and summer, quite rightly as that’s usually when we spend time in the garden, but there are also many great winter-flowering plants – often with the added bonus of sweet perfume too! As well as flowers and fragrance, seed heads, ornamental stems, decorative tree bark, fruits and leaves can all liven up the winter garden. Just make sure you position them in a spot where they can be appreciated in their moment of glory! Here are some ideas to get you started…but come and give us a visit to see many more!
Sarcococca (Christmas/sweet box)
Sarcococcas are small, slow-growing evergreen shrubs which produce perfumed white flowers throughout the winter followed by decorative berries. Suitable for any aspect and useful for shady spots in the garden. Prefers moist but well-drained soil.
Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine)
Ideal scrambling shrub to brighten up a winter wall. Although not evergreen, the stems remain green thoughout the winter giving it an evergreen appearance. Bright yellow flowers cover the stems in winter and early spring. Suitable for most soils in a sunny or partially shaded site. The stems don’t twine so need to be tied to trellis or wires or allow them scramble though other shrubs.
Edgeworthia chrysantha (paperbush)
Unusual deciduous shrub/small tree with hairy buds and delightful, fragrant yellow flowers from winter to early spring. Plant in a sheltered site in full sun or light shade in moist but well-drained, loamy soil. Introduced to Britain in the mid-1800s. Not the easiest to grow but definitely worth the effort!
Hamamelis varieties (witch hazel)
Great for winter gardens with spider-like flowers in shades of yellow, orange and red which are often fragrant. In autumn the leaves turn bright yellow and orange before falling for the winter. These slow-growing shrubs/small trees look good underplanted with miniature bulbs such as snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses to make it the centre of winter attention. Prefer neutral to acid soil in sun or light shade (avoid deep shade).
Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox’ (hedgehog holly)
Hollies make excellent evergreen shrubs/small trees and the hedgehog holly in particular makes an interesting feature. As well as spines around the edge of the variegated leaves it has spines on the upper surface – a great burglar-deterrent!!! Plant in moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade.
Clematis cirrhosa varieties are evergreen and produce winter flowers in shades of creamy white, freckled with crimson spots, depending on the variety and are followed by attractive silky seedheads. Keep on the dry side, especially during the winter. Ideal place on a south or west-facing house wall where the eaves of the roof protect the soil from heavy downpours.
Clematis armandii is a vigorous climber with large, long, leathery leaves, copper-coloured when young, maturing to a shiny green. Clusters of pink-tinged buds open to reveal perfumed white flowers from February to May. Choose a sunny or partially shaded spot where the large leaves won’t be battered by winter winds. Mulch with compost every autumn to keep the soil fertile.
Callicarpa bodinieri (beautyberry)
Deciduous shrub with autumn leaf colour and spectacular small purple berries throughout winter. Not poisonous but very bitter, so only eaten by wildlife when no other food sources are available. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.
Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ (winter-flowering cherry)
If you have space for a tree in your garden the winter cherry is well worth considering. Much more delicate than its spring-flowering, Japanese cousins, it’s nevertheless a delight to behold and the semi-double, pale pink flowers come out in flushes from November to March. In addition, the young foliage in spring is bronze-green and the leaves turn orange and yellow in autumn. Plant in a sunny spot in fertile soil.
Dogwoods (Cornus varieties)
Easy to grow deciduous shrubs, the varieties with vividly coloured stems look marvelous in winter when there’s often little colour around. Shrubby dogwoods such as Cornus alba varieties are tolerant of damp soils. Prune them back hard each year to get the most colourful stems. Shrubby cornus are often pruned in February or March but recent studies have shown that pruning in late March to mid-April (as new growth begins) is preferable. In shady conditions with poor soil it’s best to prune only once every 2 or 3 years. Only prune newly planted cornus once they are established and growing strongly.
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
This compact evergreen shrub dark has dark green leaves with creamy yellow edges. In late winter/early spring it produces clusters of scented purplish-pink flowers. Plant in a sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade in moist but well-drained soil. Toxic if ingested.