JANUARY – PLANT OF THE MOMENT
CREATE A WINTER WONDERLAND
Add the wow factor to your winter garden with striking plants that look their best right now. Whether you’d like to fill your borders with hardy shrubs covered with fragrant flowers, clad a fence or archway with colour, or plant a small flowering tree to create a focal point, you’ll find a great range of seasonal stunners in garden centres this month.
While a coating of frost or snow creates temporary magical moments, unifying our gardens with its icy frosting, the excitement really starts when it melts away to reveal winter displays full of colour, character and charm.
A choice selection of the very hardiest plants put on their best show in the depths of winter, providing a bright outlook from the comfort of your armchair, and an even warmer welcome when you step outside.
Gold blooms really shine out on gloomy days, so look out for dramatic Witch Hazels that produce clusters of small fragrant flowers with petals like dainty ribbons, transforming the otherwise naked stems of this hardy shrub.
Evergreen mahonias are equally impressive, with golden sprays of flowers forming at the tip of each shoot. There are several varieties to choose from with different sizes and forms, and flowers on most are followed by the formation of grape-like berries in spring, giving these shrubs their common name of Oregon Grape.
For great garden performance it’s always worth looking out for varieties that have been given the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society, and this is often indicated by a trophy symbol on the plant label or in catalogues. At the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 the RHS chose Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ as its Plant of the Year, so if you’re looking for something different check out this new variety too.
In addition to their welcome colour, fragrance is another valuable characteristic of many winter flowering shrubs. For long-lasting displays it’s hard to beat varieties of Viburnum x bodnantense that produce a succession of flowers from October until spring.
And for a shady site take a look at the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, a low-growing and compact perennial whose simple white cup-shaped flowers can be picked and floated on water in a glass bowl to provide seasonal table decorations.
Winter brings out the best in many plants. While flowers are an essential part of this seasonal spotlight, many other characteristics provide winter interest too. A wide range of conifers and evergreen shrubs provide bold forms and fancy foliage. Also look out for plants with colourful wand-like stems, dainty tassel-like catkins, and the tactile barks of many ornamental trees.
So don’t shut-up shop for winter, but welcome in the New Year in style with garden displays that provide colour, fragrance, foliage and form. Visit your local garden centre now to discover the best plants to create your very own winter wonderland!
TOP FOUR PLANTS FOR WINTER FLOWERS
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis varieties)
Unusual fragrant flowers in clusters of tiny ribbons develop along the entire length of stems. Popular AGM varieties include ‘Pallida’ (sulphur-yellow), ‘Jelena’ (coppery-orange) and ‘Diane’ (red).
Oregon Grape (Mahonia varieties)
Choose from a range of robust and reliable Mahonias to provide evergreen foliage and golden seasonal flower, followed by black grape-like berries in spring. Good AGM varieties include ‘Winter Sun’, ‘Apollo’ and ‘Charity’ among many others.
Winter Flowering Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense)
A majestic shrub producing deliciously fragrant pink/white flowers.
Popular AGM varieties include ‘Dawn’, ‘Deben’ and ‘Charles Lamont’.
Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)
This compact perennial is perfect for a slightly shady position, producing clusters of flowers through winter and into spring. Also look out for the many wonderful Hellebore hybrids now available.
TOP TIPS FOR EXTRA WINTER COLOUR
- Choose your planting sites carefully. Ensure new plants are positioned in full view from a window or prime position by patio doors so you can enjoy them every time you look outside on dull days.
- Add winter colour to your front garden to welcome you home and cheer-up your local neighbourhood.
- Fill patio pots and baskets with hardy winter bedding plants, like pansies and violas with cheerful faces in a kaleidoscope of colours.
- Cover the ground under trees or shrubs with a carpet of Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis). Although dry tubers are only available for autumn planting they’ll establish better from growing plants, and small pots of flowering aconites are available to buy during winter. Get ready to buy snowdrops too!
- Plant clumps of winter flowering Iris unguicularis to brighten a dry, sunny spot at the base of a wall or fence, and use blooms as cut flowers to bring indoors.
OTHER FAVOURITE PLANTS OF THE MOMENT
Create striking winter displays by choosing some of the following for your planting combinations:
- Aucuba varieties
- Clematis cirrhosa and its variety ‘Freckles’
- Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)
- Coronilla ‘Citrina’
- Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’.
- Dogwoods (Cornus varieties)
- Elaeagnus varieties
- Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’
- Rosebud Cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’)
- Skimmia varieties
- Sweet box (Sarcococca)
- Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)
- Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
- Delightful deciduous shrubs producing scented flowers. Ideal to cut and bring indoors! Popular AGM varieties include ‘Grandiflorus’ and ‘Luteus’.
FEBRUARY – PLANT OF THE MOMENT
CAMELLIAS FOR EARLY COLOUR
Few hardy shrubs signal the end of winter better than camellias, highly valued for their stunning floral displays and fresh, glossy, evergreen foliage. With dozens of varieties available you’ll be spoilt for choice, so pick from camellias in shades of pink, red, white and cream.
Their ultimate size, habit and rate of growth vary immensely too, so consider how much space the camellia will need as it grows. Whether you’d like something that stays small and compact or will grow into a bold shrub or even a flowering hedge or screen, the choice is yours.
Camellia flowers vary in size and shape too, and their forms can be divided into six descriptive groups depending on the number of petals and their pattern or arrangement within the flower. These forms are described as Single, Semi-double, Anemone-form, Peony-form, Rose-form double or Formal double, so take your pick from the ones that most appeal.
Like azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias are ericaceous plants, and this means they need to grow in an acid or lime-free soil to ensure they stay healthy. A simple soil test kit available from garden centres can be used to check your soils acidity/alkalinity (often called its pH), and composts and fertilisers can be added to help make soil more acid.
Alternatively, compact varieties of camellia grow well in large pots or half-barrels filled with ericaceous compost, available in garden centres.
Grown in the right soil and position camellias usually flower reliably with little care and attention, growing larger over time to develop into impressive flowering shrubs. Most camellias rarely need pruning, but if they outgrow their position individual shoots can be shortened, and plants can even regrow well if cut back hard into old wood.
Where space is available develop a seasonal bed including a camellia or two and other evergreens and early flowering plants to provide welcome colour through late winter and into early spring.
TOP FOUR POPULAR CAMELLIAS FOR POTS OR BORDERS
Literally hundreds of camellia varieties are available from nurseries across the country with numerous colours, forms and sizes. Most have glossy green foliage, but some variegated varieties are also available. The very best camellias are given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society to indicate their superb garden performance, and here are some of the most popular.
Semi-double rose-pink flowers. Upright habit. Strong growing.
Bright red flowers. Strong growing.
Peony-form pink flower. Upright. Strong growing.
Large double white flowers with pink stripes. Medium vigour.
TOP TIPS FOR GROWING COLOURFUL CAMELLIAS
- Early flowering camellias can be damaged by frost, so position plants in a sheltered part of your garden. Move pots to sheltered sites during bad weather. Cover bushes with sheets of fleece to protect buds and blooms on frosty nights, removing it once conditions warm-up in the morning.
- Water camellias with collected rain water if possible. Some tap water contains high levels of lime (often referred to as hard water), so avoid using this to water camellias and other ericaceous plants.
- Grown in chalky soil or irrigated with hard tap water the leaves of camellias usually turn pale and yellow. Feeding these plants with an ericaceous plant food or iron sequestrene can help them regain their glossy green appearance.
- Camellias start forming flower buds during late summer and autumn, so make sure plants never go short of water through the year or poor flower development and bud drop can result.
- Make the most of the green framework of camellias to provide support for summer flowering clematis. Plant clematis in the shade at the base of camellias, and let shoots scramble up and over stems to support their summer displays.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that some camellias flower through autumn and into winter? Look out for varieties of Camellia sasanqua to provide this welcome winter colour. And as an added bonus their flowers are often wonderfully fragrant too!
OTHERS POPULAR CAMELLIAS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- ‘Anticipation’ – Double peony-form rose-pink flowers. Upright.
- ‘Desire’ – Double white with pink edges. Upright growing.
- ‘J.C.Williams’ – Peony-like double rose-pink flowers. Vigorous.
- ‘Jury’s Yellow’ – Anemone-form white flowers, pale yellow centre. Compact. Upright.
CREATING PLANTING COMBINATIONS WITH CAMELLIAS
Choose a range of hardy shrubs, flowering perennials and bulbs to grow in combination with camellias, as well as a selection of ground covering plants that will spread out over the soil beneath bushes. Here are some popular choices:
- Conifers, including yew
- Japanese Maples (Acer varieties)
- Lily of the Valley
- Snowdrops (Galanthus varieties)
- Witch Hazel (Hamamellis)
MARCH – PLANT OF THE MOMENT
SPRING HAS SPRUNG WITH PERFECT PRIMULAS
Plant a rainbow of colour to welcome in spring by packing patio pots and filling flower beds with primulas and polyanthus. These cheerful bedding plants offer great value, flowering their hearts out for weeks on end to brighten your outlook on even the dullest of days.
New varieties are continually being bred offering outstanding garden performance, larger flowers and better resistance to the vagaries of our weather. Although single-coloured flowers are always popular also look out for bicolours, double and rosebud types, plus wonderfully scented new varieties too.
Bold blocks of primulas always look striking, but impressive displays can also be created by combining them with other spring bedding, flowering bulbs and foliage plants too. Small pot grown plants are available now in full flower, making them perfect for creating instant displays in any garden, patio or courtyard.
Primulas are one of the most popular wildflowers too. Make your own grassy meadow or plant banks, verges and other natural areas with dainty Primroses (Primula vulgaris) and Cowslips (Primula veris). Keep watered if conditions are dry and these hardy perennials will quickly establish, flowering and setting seed to slowly spread and cover the area with their progeny.
Primula enthusiasts often move on from growing bedding varieties to picking choice varieties of Auricula to grow and display in small terracotta pots on patios or shelved Auricula Theatres. A Victorian favourite, hundreds of exquisite varieties of these evergreen perennials have been bred over the years. Many have deeply coloured and patterned petals surrounding a white or golden eye, with rosettes of leathery leaves often intriguingly coated with a powdery bloom.
TOP PRIMULAS FOR SUMMER COLOUR
For damp shady sites and boggy or poolside gardens there are several Asiatic primulas that flower from late spring through into summer. Look out for:
Japanese Candelabra Primula (Primula japonica)
Chinese Candelabra Primula (Primula beesiana)
orange Bulley’s Candelabra Primula (Primula bulleyana)
or hybrids between them. Plant in spring so plants develop strongly to establish and bloom well this summer.
TOP TIPS FOR GROWING PRIMULAS
- Deadhead regularly to remove faded flowers and keep displays looking their best.
- The compost in patio pots can get waterlogged during wet weather, so always put a layer of coarse gravel or similar drainage material in the base of pots before filling with compost.
- Raise pots off the ground by standing them on ‘feet’ to avoid drainage holes in the base of pots getting blocked.
- Temporarily move pots to a sheltered position if snow or bad weather is forecast.
- Cheeky sparrows and other birds sometimes peck at primroses, damaging their blooms. It’s hard to stop these antics, especially with plants growing in borders, but try moving pots closer to the house to scare them away. Some people have noted that blue varieties often avoid their attentions.
- Fancy growing primulas from seed? Check the flower seed range in your local garden centre to see what’s available.SPRING PLANTING COMBINATIONS FOR PRIMULASChoose from a range of spring bedding plants, flowering bulbs and hardy perennials to create colourful displays for patio pots and flowerbeds. Here are some ideas of the flowers you could choose as companion plants for primulas and polyanthus.
- Bedding Daisies (Bellis)
- Bugle (Ajuga)
- Daffodils and Narcissus
- Forget-me-nots (Myosotis)
- Grape Hyacinths (Muscari)
- Pansies and Violas
- Sweet William
- Wallflowers (Erysimum)