Flowers of summer now just a memory

Holly is just one of many plants offering colourful berries in winter.
Holly is just one of many plants offering colourful berries in winter.

We’ve entered a new phase in our gardening calendar. The flowers of summer have given way to blooms, bark and berries, some of which will keep us entertained through the bleakest months of the year.

Now that much of the dead herbaceous growth has been cut and composted, we can see at a glance how it highlights evergreen border plants with variegated leaves.

Elaeagnus, euonymus, pittosporum, choisya, lonicera et al are almost worth their weight in the same silver and gold they bring to winter displays.

When the going gets tough weather-wise, the toughest of ornamental trees and shrubs show their mettle by blooming freely.

Mahonia, viburnum and jasmine have started and the winter cherry (prunus subhirtella) has plump flowerbuds ready for action.

Lots more are gearing up to bloom, from ground-hugging sarcococca (Christmas box) to tall chimonanthus (winter sweet).

Plants with coloured bark and stems play a part too.

We have a birch tree that appeared as a seedling below a neighbour’s betula jacquemontii Jermyns several years ago. It came as a gift and was planted in hope that it would reproduce true to form, which it has.

Peeling away the papery bark to reveal even whiter layers underneath is one of the many therapeutic aspects of living with such plants.

It belongs to an attractive group of betula commonly called white-barked birches and is most significant in autumn and winter, especially in fading daylight or when artificially illuminated.

For maximum effect as we head into the darker days, I go over the main trunk with a power hose. This came to pass last week. First the jet of water was directed over the large patio, which was covered in algal growth, making the surface too slippery for comfort, then Jermyns received a concentrated blast and now looks much happier.

A group of dogwoods (cornus) with stems of glowing red (C sibirica) and palest green (C stolonifera flaviramea) surround the birch, making an attractive group.

Some of the birch branches can be pruned now their leaves have fallen, just to keep it within bounds, but the dogwood stems are there to enjoy and will not be cut close to soil level until spring arrives. That said, I have taken a few stems for hardwood cuttings without robbing the shrubs. They’ll root in the open garden and be ready to plant next autumn.