GARDENING

Gardening with James Vaughan: Winter flowers to brighten the garden

James Vaughan

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James Vaughan

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Gardening with James Vaughan: Winter flowers to brighten the garden

Hellebores

There is very little colour in our gardens at the moment. This makes the presence of any colour all the more precious. Last year we planted some Hellebores- also known as Lenten Roses. They get this name from the rose-like flowers that appear in early spring around the Christian observance of Lent. They flower at this time of year and come in a variety of colours the most common being white or maroon. The “blooms” (which are actually sepals that protect the true flowers) last for several months, from February until May, and the foliage is evergreen in all but the coldest regions.

They can be expensive to buy to start off with. Because one of the only ways to propagate Hellebores is from seed, it takes a long time for them to grow.

Mahonia X Charity

Mahonias are grown for their attractive foliage and fragrant, showy yellow winter flowers. They provide an invaluable source of pollen and nectar for winter colonies of bumblebees and other pollinators. Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ has an upright habit with long leaves comprising up to 21 dark green leaflets. Stalks of bright yellow, fragrant flowers are produced at the ends of branches from late autumn to late winter.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ looks particularly good at the back of borders. For best results grow in moist but well-drained soil, in partial shade.

Dogwood

In the low light of winter the strong straight stems of the dogwood glow in shades of olive green and red. Planted in great masses they are used to striking effect on parts of the motorway network-particularly on steep banks. You can also see them lighting up the verges of newly built roads, on roundabouts and on the banks of ornamental lakes, where their reflections add another dimension to their charms.

Dogwoods are members of the cornus family. Ordinary ' Cornus Sibirica' , though less vigorous than the others, has the most vibrant scarlet-red stems of any form of the white-fruited C. alba. Several, such as the warm golden C. alba 'Aurea' and the silvery-white 'Sibirica Variegata', have excellent foliage.

All straight-stemmed cornus should be planted in groups of five or seven, in a place where the winter sunlight slants through the thickets. Interplant the red-stemmed forms with the olive Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea' as the two complement each other perfectly. There is also a dwarf form called C. sericea 'Kelseyi', which produces twiggy yellow-green stems tipped in orange. Another winter addition, C. alba 'Kesselringii', has striking black-purple stems. Dogwoods actually like being planted into wet ground and will happily grow in a wet site.

Willow

Willow can offer some of the best colour available to your garden during the winter months. In addition, many of the varieties have very attractive buds and will produce an abundance of pretty catkins and bright new growth in the spring. Some will also develop unusual contorted stems adding even more interest in the winter garden. Have a look through the varieties online or in magazines and books, view the colours range from bright yellows and greens through oranges and reds, to burgundy, mahogany, and almost black. Willows grow very easily from cuttings. Simply cut 30cm/12 inches of stem as thick as your finger. Stick two thirds of it below the soil surface.

Wild Birds

Finally, please spare a thought for our wild birds. Each year we put food out for the birds for the winter and each year throngs of birds come back. If you feed the birds during the winter, they will repay you in the spring and summer by finding and eating a lot of your garden pests such as caterpillars and green fly.