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How to Create a Winter Garden

Submitted by: John Schofield

Winter-flowering plants are invaluable for brightening the so-called dull season of the year. Winter-brightening shrubs and trees with colorful barks and stems look superb on their own, but when other plants are positioned around them, their season is extended and the display improved. Here are a few combinations of plants that will bring added cheer to your garden.

Associations for early winter

With the richly-colored leaves of autumn a blurred memory, color in a winter garden is always welcome. For an unusual combination of white and purple – which is especially attractive in the low and fading light of a winter afternoon – plant the deciduous tree Satixdaphnoides (violet willow) near a group of silver birches. Prune young shoots of the willow hard back in early spring to encourage the growth of colorful stems for the following winter.

Try a combination of Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ (Chinese witch hazel), with pale yellow flowers faintly flushed claret-red at their centres, with a grouping of Erica carnea ‘King George’ planted in front. The rose-pink flowers of the erica associate well with the outstandingly beautiful flowers of the hamamelis, which are borne on leafless branches. Train Jasminum nudiflorum (winter-flowering jasmine) against a north-facing wall and plant Erica carnea ‘King George’ in front.

Plan a winter-flowering border

Easy access and direct viewing are most desirable when planning a winter-flowering garden. Borders are best positioned beside a patio or in a secluded but accessible corner, and if a garden seat is placed near the plants it makes them an even greater asset to the garden.

Associations for mid-winter

Once Christmas has passed and the days begin to lengthen once more, the garden becomes a place of increasing cheer. Plant the evergreen Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), bearing saucer-shaped white flowers, with white- or pink-flowered winter-flowering ericas (Ericd carnea) in front of it. Use varieties such as ‘Springwood Pink’ (rich pink), ‘Springwood White’ (white) or ‘Winter Beauty’ (rich pink). Grow the yellow-flowered Jasminum nudiflorum (winter-flowering jasmine) on a north-facing wall with a rose-pink form of the evergreen shrub Camellia sasanqua in front.

Plant the bulbous and purple-flowering Crocus imperati beneath Hamamelis mollis (Chinese witch hazel). It creates an attractive combination of purple and golden-yellow. This crocus naturalizes well in grass, but a large number of them are needed to create a dominant display.

Associations for late winter

With winter’s worst weather fading and spring waiting to break, this is an exciting and bright time in the garden. In some areas, however, the perfidious nature of weather slows things up, and some of these combinations of plants will appear in early spring, rather than late winter.

– The tuberous-rooted Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite), with its lemon-yellow flowers, is ideal for planting under silver birches.

– Naturalize the bulbous Crocus chrysanthus in large drifts under silver birches.

– Plant Primula ‘Wanda’, with dark red-purple flowers, around Rhododendron x praecox, which reveals rose-purple flowers.

– Plant the bulbous, bright royal-blue Iris histrioides in front of the late winter or early spring-flowering Forsythia suspensa, which reveals bright yellow, pendulous flowers. The forsythia is ideal for planting against a sunny wall, which encourages earlier flowering.

– For a plant combination in a woodland garden, try a white-flowered form of the bulbous Erythronium dens-canis (dog’s-tooth violet) with the deep-blue and bulbous Scilla bifolia. Plant each in dominant clumps.

The winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) offers a colorful background to other plants throughout much of winter, and none is more deserving than the well-known Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’, which we are now instructed to call ‘Ima-shojo’. It has blush-pink flowers that last longer in cool, partial shade than strong sunlight, and combine perfectly with the yellow of the jasmine.

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