The Donheads Gardening Club - Page reproduced from the Donhead Digest.

December/January 2017/18

As I write (early Nov) the garden is still awash with colour - Roses, Geums, Astrantia and Alstroemarias valiantly flowering for the third time, hardy Salvias, Verbena, the Miscanthus Grasses, Geraniums, Abelias, Hypericum, the bright blue Ceratostigma, the red and pink Persicaria, Tiarellas and even Cistus along with the last of the sweet peas!

While many of the trees are rapidly dropping their leaves my evergreen Arbutos Unedos Rubra is covered in its little flower bells (though no sign of the strawberry fruits yet) and the Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' is just thrusting out its masses of fragrant flowers which will keep the garden scented through the Winter. The frosted thorn tree (Crataegus prunifolia) is covered in a dense rash of plump, bright red berries for the birds and the passion flower is still out with its gorgeous flowers and fruits.

I am desperately picking the glorious Dahlias which, as each day passes, seem ever more likely to succumb to a hard frost.

For me, the challenge of a Winter garden is about two things - having plants that thrive in Winter/early Spring and which are scented wherever possible; leaving certain plants and seed heads looking great frosted and still having structure when all the perennials and annuals have died back. Also having bulbs and other plants that will pop out early in the year to bring joy.

My picks for Winter scented plants are: deciduous Vibernum bodnatense 'Dawn' or 'Farreri' because the blooms on the bare branches are spectacular as well as beautifully scented; Daphne bholua 'Peter Smithers' and Sarcococca confusa of various types.

There are also lots of Winter flowering Clematis. My evergreen Armandii didn't do well where I put it, so I might try a C. cirrhossa like 'Wisley Cream', 'Freckles', 'Ourika Valley' or 'Jingle Bells' which apparently is the hardiest of the cirrhossas. There is even a Clematis called 'Winter Beauty'.

Camelia which will flower in Dec/Jan/Feb and will remind us of Roses through the Winter. They hate facing East because of early morning sun on their leaves after a frost but they seem to be remarkably adaptable.

Winter structure is all about evergreens, trees, hedges, frosted perennials and hard landscaping plus actual sculptures. Having experimented with box and Lonicera for border edgings and balls - both versions are doing well. The Lonicera nitida has thrived. It is a lovely bright green colour and is more interesting than the box. Its disadvantage is that it is wider and wilder so needs more taming.

Amazingly my two beautiful, evergreen Pittosporums, which can be frost prone, have survived the winters so far. They are P. tenufolium 'Silver Sheen' and P. 'Tandara Gold' and both are really good about being cut to shape. They are also great in flower arrangements - so snip it at will throughout the year.

It is really worth planning a winter garden. A garden is for 12 months - not just Spring and Summer. Form, flowers and scent just make everyone happier.

Rosie Catherwood

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