Above: The winter walk at RHS Harlow Carr.
Once the flush of summer colour has gone, an attractive winter garden can be created in a number of ways. In terms of plants, the buff tones of grasses, seedheads of herbaceous perennials and a backbone of evergreens can all provide visual interest. There are also a number of worthwhile winter-flowering shrubs, and a good number of fragrant choices. But, for a dash of winter colour, consider incorporating some of the shrubby Cornus (Dogwoods), or other plants with interesting stems into your garden design. Cornus are easy to grow in most conditions, and whilst some will reach a considerable height if left to their own devices, by coppicing – hard pruning – they can be kept smaller, and will provide the best winter colour.
Here are some plant ideas which are both effective and widely available.
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’
Somewhat unassuming but certainly pleasant all year round (and there is a variegated version available if that takes your fancy), the best feature of Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ is the vivid red colour of the stems in winter. If you have space for a group of plants, that will create the best effect in the garden. Contrasts well with other dogwoods, an underplanting of lower growing evergreens, or the white bark of a silver birch.
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’
So named for the flame coloured stems, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ again looks great in a group, even more so if placed where its reflection can be seen in nearby water. This would be appropriate as, like most other Cornus, ‘Midwinter Fire’ is happy in damp conditions. A mainstay in many iconic winter garden photos, especially when seen rising up from a layer of snow.
Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’
Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ is a purple-black stemmed Dogwood, which also has plumb-purple foliage when in leaf. The darker colour means it would contrast well with the lighter, brighter dogwoods, or a coppiced willow such as Salix alba ‘Yelverton’, seen below.
Some other ideas…
Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’
Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ (Russian Sage) is an attractive sub-shrub, flowering in late summer and working well in a wide range of garden design styles. The flowers are a soft lavender blue, and there is a shorter form, Perovskia ‘Little Spire’ for smaller gardens. In winter, its stems are a silvery white, looking particularly good if planted en-masse. The photos below firstly show the plant in full flower, then the winter stems.
Hydrangea anomola subsp. petiolaris
A plant not often noted for its interesting winter presence is the climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea anomola subsp. petiolaris. Note, this plant requires some patience. Very little happens for the first couple of years, growth is slow and flowering is close to non-existent. But, given time, after a few years in the ground it will start to romp away. Usefully, it prefers a slightly shaded position, and will self-cling to cover a wall or fence. The white flowers are attractive in late spring/early summer, as are the shiny heart-shaped leaves, which turn yellow in autumn before they drop. In winter, the gnarly stems are exposed, which feature coppery-brown peeling bark. Quite a contrast to the leafy summer display.
Above, Hydrangea petiolaris in summer photo: www.crocus.co.uk
Below, contrasting stems of Hydrangea petiolaris in Winter, photo courtesy of Arrowlakelass.
There are many, many other plants for winter interest. For me, occasionally, the most interest only becomes apparent on closer inspection. A good excuse to get out in the garden, even when it is cold and wet.