Do you have year-round colour in the garden or just a seasonal display, say spring or summer bedding, perhaps a rose bed?
Some floral planting schemes I see in the high season are simply stunning, but visit the same spot in winter and a totally different picture emerges – bare earth, no colour.
My preference is to go for a happy balance by bringing several ornamental plant types together in a mixed border.
Evergreen shrubs are an essential part of this process because they differ so much in form and leaf colour, holding our interest through the seasons.
Winter exemplifies this in our garden. Groups of shrubs with gold and silver variegated leaves are strategically planted throughout the borders and they’re guaranteed to provoke a smile on the dullest day.
The main players for us are elaeagnus, aucuba, euonymus, pittosporum, lonicera and several varieties of each exist.
White bark of the birch jacquemontii, red and pale-green dogwoods, leycesteria (green), willow and cotoneaster (red) add to the glorious mix. Nor are we short of ground-based flower power in the depths of winter.
Hellebores were first on the scene, followed by a long procession of bulbs.
Aconites have been blooming for a month now, cyclamen coum and the snowdrops, three weeks. Others are shooting up everywhere it seems and what a welcome sight.
Dwarf narcissi always flower before the taller types and are real survivors when the wind whistles through the garden, especially if planted close together in groups.
Clumps of dwarf iris, reticulata and danfordiae, will not be far behind in flowering, bringing hedge-to-hedge colour.
The bluebell bed against the wall, front of house, also hosts crocus. It’s been there since before our time and cross-pollination over the years has thrown up a mixture of blue, pink and white bells.
They’re the last of the spring bulbs to flower here and are absolute favourites, but the naturalised hyacinths, originally grown as indoor bulbs in bowls, are a close second. Winter heathers are the other ‘must-have’ plants if the object is to create colour and interest throughout the darker days.
Erica carnea, in pink and white forms, started flowering in December and are still going strong.
Darleyensis (pink) is already covered in plump buds and will offer interest well into May.
These plants do not need acid moorland conditions in order to thrive, ordinary garden soil will do.
They have great ground-covering capacity, which helps suppress weeds.
I plant them in groups of three or five at 20cm apart. Given that the flowers hold interest from bud stage to fading, a period that can last from 10 to 12 weeks, four or five well-chosen varieties can give year-round colour.