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Wednesday 24 October 2018

The wonder of winter flowers

Magnolia 'Big Dude' seed head
Magnolia 'Big Dude' seed head

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Cut back hard to the ground autumn fruiting raspberry canes

Magnolia 'Big Dude' - fantastical seed heads

There's been a chill in the air of late and its begining to feel a lot like winter. . But just because its winter doesn't mean that your garden has to be a barren and bleak tundra. No garden should be without a spark of life during winter.

Winter colour can come in many guises, variegated leaves, coloured twigs, berries and seed pods but it's those plants that have the audacity to flower during the dark days of winter that really stand out. Many have the added bonus of being highly fragrant as well.

A trees that stands out is the winter cherry, Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis' white flowers and ' Autumnalis Rosea' that has pink flowers. This medium sized tree blooms on and off with clusters of small flowers,compared to its Japanese counterparts, from November to March.

Another good winter tree is Acacia dealbata an ferny leaved evergreen from Austrailia. It is better know as a Mimosa and has large clusters of small yellow pom-pom type flowers from January onwards.

On walls probably the most spectacular flowerer is the winter Jasmine [Jasminium nudiflorum], which is even quite sucessful on a north wall. Once established it will cover large walls and fences with a mass of star shaped yellow flowers from November to February Its only let down is that unlike summer jasmines it is fragrantless.

Clematis cirrhosa is a large growing ferny leaved evergreen winter flowering clematis. 'Wisley cream' and 'Freckles' are two good varieties. Clematis urophylla 'Winter Beauty' is also mostly evergreen with creamy white bell shaped flowers from December to February. Both these Clematis flower on old wood so should only be pruned if necessary immediately after flowering.

While not actually a climber the beautiful shrub Chimonanthus praecox [ wintersweet] makes a fantastic winter wall shrub producing the most heavenly scented waxy pale yellow flowers. Grow on a sunny wall or fence. This was one of the plants that got me interested in plants as a sixteen year old.

Two winter flowering herbaceous plants that stand out for me are Helleborus niger [ Christmas rose] and Iris unguicularis [Algerian Iris]. I annually marvel at both as they look so delicate it would seem impossible that they would flower during the depths of our winter. Lets just be happy that they do.

Winter flowering shrubs are actually quite plentiful. Viburnum tinus, farreri, and bodnantense all worthy plants the first is evergreen and the second two highly fragrant. The genus Daphne provides us with some of the most loved winter flowers. Daphnes are known to be a little tricky to get established but once they do Daphne bholua, odora and mezereum will become your winter treasures producing pink flowers as fragrant and any plant spring ,summer, autumn or winter.

A close rival for fragrant plant of the winter is Sarcococca confusa. Quite happy in a North facing planting position the spidery white flowers this small evergreen are highly scented. It is great situated by a frequently used door so you can enjoy the fragrances as your in and out. Slightly less scented but a long winter flower is Coronilla glauca with yellow blooms throughout winter when planted in a warm sheltered site.

Finally another plant that aroused my gardening interest at a young age was the witch hazels [Hamamelis]. If there was such a thing as plant aristocracy Hamamelis would surely be included.

My first encounter with a Hamamelis was at Knaphill, a well kown nursery in Surrey England. It was smelt before it was seen but on being seen it didn't disappoint. A fully grown and clothed in filament yellow flowers Hamamelis 'Pallida'

Wexford People

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