Create A Winter Wonderland
Add the wow factor to your winter garden with striking plants that look their best right now. Whether you’d like to fill your borders with hardy shrubs covered with fragrant flowers, clad a fence or archway with colour, or plant a small flowering tree to create a focal point, you’ll find a great range of seasonal stunners in garden centres this month.
While a coating of frost or snow creates temporary magical moments, unifying our gardens with its icy frosting, the excitement really starts when it melts away to reveal winter displays full of colour, character and charm.
A choice selection of the very hardiest plants put on their best show in the depths of winter, providing a bright outlook from the comfort of your armchair, and an even warmer welcome when you step outside.
Gold blooms really shine out on gloomy days, so look out for dramatic Witch Hazels that produce clusters of small fragrant flowers with petals like dainty ribbons, transforming the otherwise naked stems of this hardy shrub.
Evergreen mahonias are equally impressive, with golden sprays of flowers forming at the tip of each shoot. There are several varieties to choose from with different sizes and forms, and flowers on most are followed by the formation of grape-like berries in spring, giving these shrubs their common name of Oregon Grape.
For great garden performance it’s always worth looking out for varieties that have been given the Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society, and this is often indicated by a trophy symbol on the plant label or in catalogues. At the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 the RHS chose Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ as its Plant of the Year, so if you’re looking for something different check out this new variety too.
In addition to their welcome colour, fragrance is another valuable characteristic of many winter flowering shrubs. For long-lasting displays it’s hard to beat varieties of Viburnum x bodnantense that produce a succession of flowers from October until spring.
And for a shady site take a look at the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, a low-growing and compact perennial whose simple white cup-shaped flowers can be picked and floated on water in a glass bowl to provide seasonal table decorations.
Winter brings out the best in many plants. While flowers are an essential part of this seasonal spotlight, many other characteristics provide winter interest too. A wide range of conifers and evergreen shrubs provide bold forms and fancy foliage. Also look out for plants with colourful wand-like stems, dainty tassel-like catkins, and the tactile barks of many ornamental trees.
So don’t shut-up shop for winter, but welcome in the New Year in style with garden displays that provide colour, fragrance, foliage and form. Visit your local garden centre now to discover the best plants to create your very own winter wonderland!
TOP FOUR PLANTS FOR WINTER FLOWERS
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis varieties)
Unusual fragrant flowers in clusters of tiny ribbons develop along the entire length of stems. Popular AGM varieties include ‘Pallida’ (sulphur-yellow), ‘Jelena’ (coppery-orange) and ‘Diane’ (red).
- Oregon Grape (Mahonia varieties) Choose from a range of robust and reliable Mahonias to provide evergreen foliage and golden seasonal flower, followed by black grape-like berries in spring. Good AGM varieties include ‘Winter Sun’, ‘Apollo’ and ‘Charity’ among many others.
- Winter Flowering Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense) A majestic shrub producing deliciously fragrant pink/white flowers. Popular AGM varieties include ‘Dawn’, ‘Deben’ and ‘Charles Lamont’.
- Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) This compact perennial is perfect for a slightly shady position, producing clusters of flowers through winter and into spring. Also look out for the many wonderful Hellebore hybrids now available.
TOP TIPS FOR EXTRA WINTER COLOUR
- Choose your planting sites carefully. Ensure new plants are positioned in full view from a window or prime position by patio doors so you can enjoy them every time you look outside on dull days.
- Add winter colour to your front garden to welcome you home and cheer-up your local neighbourhood.
- Fill patio pots and baskets with hardy winter bedding plants, like pansies and violas with cheerful faces in a kaleidoscope of colours.
- Cover the ground under trees or shrubs with a carpet of Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis). Although dry tubers are only available for autumn planting they’ll establish better from growing plants, and small pots of flowering aconites are available to buy during winter. Get ready to buy snowdrops too!
- Plant clumps of winter flowering Iris unguicularis to brighten a dry, sunny spot at the base of a wall or fence, and use blooms as cut flowers to bring indoors.
OTHER FAVOURITE PLANTS OF THE MOMENT
Create striking winter displays by choosing some of the following for your planting combinations:
Delightful deciduous shrubs producing scented flowers. Ideal to cut and bring indoors! Popular AGM varieties include ‘Grandiflorus’ and ‘Luteus’.
Source: HTA Plant of the Month
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media_Oregon Grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’)
Camellias For Early Colour
Few hardy shrubs signal the end of winter better than camellias, highly valued for their stunning floral displays and fresh, glossy, evergreen foliage. With dozens of varieties available you’ll be spoilt for choice, so pick from camellias in shades of pink, red, white and cream.
Their ultimate size, habit and rate of growth vary immensely too, so consider how much space the camellia will need as it grows. Whether you’d like something that stays small and compact or will grow into a bold shrub or even a flowering hedge or screen, the choice is yours.
Camellia flowers vary in size and shape too, and their forms can be divided into six descriptive groups depending on the number of petals and their pattern or arrangement within the flower. These forms are described as Single, Semi-double, Anemone-form, Peony-form, Rose-form double or Formal double, so take your pick from the ones that most appeal.
Like azaleas and rhododendrons, camellias are ericaceous plants, and this means they need to grow in an acid or lime-free soil to ensure they stay healthy. A simple soil test kit available from garden centres can be used to check your soils acidity/alkalinity (often called its pH), and composts and fertilisers can be added to help make soil more acid.
Alternatively, compact varieties of camellia grow well in large pots or half-barrels filled with ericaceous compost, available in garden centres.
Grown in the right soil and position camellias usually flower reliably with little care and attention, growing larger over time to develop into impressive flowering shrubs. Most camellias rarely need pruning, but if they outgrow their position individual shoots can be shortened, and plants can even regrow well if cut back hard into old wood.
Where space is available develop a seasonal bed including a camellia or two and other evergreens and early flowering plants to provide welcome colour through late winter and into early spring.
TOP FOUR POPULAR CAMELLIAS FOR POTS OR BORDERS
Literally hundreds of camellia varieties are available from nurseries across the country with numerous colours, forms and sizes. Most have glossy green foliage, but some variegated varieties are also available. The very best camellias are given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) by the Royal Horticultural Society to indicate their superb garden performance, and here are some of the most popular.
TOP TIPS FOR GROWING COLOURFUL CAMELLIAS
- Early flowering camellias can be damaged by frost, so position plants in a sheltered part of your garden. Move pots to sheltered sites during bad weather. Cover bushes with sheets of fleece to protect buds and blooms on frosty nights, removing it once conditions warm-up in the morning.
- Water camellias with collected rain water if possible. Some tap water contains high levels of lime (often referred to as hard water), so avoid using this to water camellias and other ericaceous plants.
- Grown in chalky soil or irrigated with hard tap water the leaves of camellias usually turn pale and yellow. Feeding these plants with an ericaceous plant food or iron sequestrene can help them regain their glossy green appearance.
- Camellias start forming flower buds during late summer and autumn, so make sure plants never go short of water through the year or poor flower development and bud drop can result.
- Make the most of the green framework of camellias to provide support for summer flowering clematis. Plant clematis in the shade at the base of camellias, and let shoots scramble up and over stems to support their summer displays.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that some camellias flower through autumn and into winter? Look out for varieties of Camellia sasanqua to provide this welcome winter colour. And as an added bonus their flowers are often wonderfully fragrant too!
OTHERS POPULAR CAMELLIAS TO LOOK OUT FOR:
- Camellia ‘Anticipation’ – Double peony-form rose-pink flowers. Upright.
- Camellia ‘Desire’ – Double white with pink edges. Upright growing.
- Camellia ‘J.C.Williams’ – Peony-like double rose-pink flowers. Vigorous.
- Camellia ‘Jury’s Yellow’ – Anemone-form white flowers, pale yellow centre. Compact. Upright.
CREATING PLANTING COMBINATIONS WITH CAMELLIAS
Choose a range of hardy shrubs, flowering perennials and bulbs to grow in combination with camellias, as well as a selection of ground covering plants that will spread out over the soil beneath bushes. Here are some popular choices:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media_Camellia in bloom
Spring Has Sprung With Perfect Primulas
Plant a rainbow of colour to welcome in spring by packing patio pots and filling flower beds with primulas and polyanthus. These cheerful bedding plants offer great value, flowering their hearts out for weeks on end to brighten your outlook on even the dullest of days.
New varieties are continually being bred offering outstanding garden performance, larger flowers and better resistance to the vagaries of our weather. Although single-coloured flowers are always popular also look out for bicolours, double and rosebud types, plus wonderfully scented new varieties too.
Bold blocks of primulas always look striking, but impressive displays can also be created by combining them with other spring bedding, flowering bulbs and foliage plants too. Small pot grown plants are available now in full flower, making them perfect for creating instant displays in any garden, patio or courtyard.
Primulas are one of the most popular wildflowers too. Make your own grassy meadow or plant banks, verges and other natural areas with dainty Primroses (Primula vulgaris) and Cowslips (Primula veris). Keep watered if conditions are dry and these hardy perennials will quickly establish, flowering and setting seed to slowly spread and cover the area with their progeny.
Primula enthusiasts often move on from growing bedding varieties to picking choice varieties of Auricula to grow and display in small terracotta pots on patios or shelved Auricula Theatres. A Victorian favourite, hundreds of exquisite varieties of these evergreen perennials have been bred over the years. Many have deeply coloured and patterned petals surrounding a white or golden eye, with rosettes of leathery leaves often intriguingly coated with a powdery bloom.
TOP PRIMULAS FOR SUMMER COLOUR
For damp shady sites and boggy or poolside gardens there are several Asiatic primulas that flower from late spring through into summer. Look out for:
- Japanese Candelabra Primula (Primula japonica)
- Chinese Candelabra Primula (Primula beesiana)
- Orange Bulley’s Candelabra Primula (Primula bulleyana)
or hybrids between them. Plant in spring so plants develop strongly to establish and bloom well this summer.
TOP TIPS FOR GROWING PRIMULAS
- Deadhead regularly to remove faded flowers and keep displays looking their best.
- The compost in patio pots can get waterlogged during wet weather, so always put a layer of coarse gravel or similar drainage material in the base of pots before filling with compost.
- Raise pots off the ground by standing them on ‘feet’ to avoid drainage holes in the base of pots getting blocked.
- Temporarily move pots to a sheltered position if snow or bad weather is forecast.
- Cheeky sparrows and other birds sometimes peck at primroses, damaging their blooms. It’s hard to stop these antics, especially with plants growing in borders, but try moving pots closer to the house to scare them away. Some people have noted that blue varieties often avoid their attentions.
- Fancy growing primulas from seed? Check the flower seed range in your local garden centre to see what’s available.
SPRING PLANTING COMBINATIONS FOR PRIMULAS
Choose from a range of spring bedding plants, flowering bulbs and hardy perennials to create colourful displays for patio pots and flowerbeds. Here are some ideas of the flowers you could choose as companion plants for primulas and polyanthus.
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media_Primula in bloom
The Magic of Maples
Japanese maples are the perfect choice of tree for any small, compact or courtyard garden. Their character and appeal makes them ideal for creating a focal point in your garden, brightening a shaded corner, or elegantly overhanging a pool or water feature.
Many acers are commonly called Japanese maples, but their parents could be derived from several different species including Acer japonicum, Acer palmatum, Acer shirasawanum or others. Among them are some extremely slow-growing forms, with trees remaining a small, manageable size without the need for regular pruning.
With their Eastern origins in Japan, Korea and China, these small trees are suitable for developing gardens with Oriental themes and designs, choosing other suitable planting partners for them, like ferns, hostas, bamboo, azaleas, camellias, and more.
Their natural shape and growing habit of branches make Japanese maples an ideal choice of small tree for gardens or growing in large patio pots. Their leaf shapes, sizes and colours vary immensely. Many have a broad palm shape, but these are often divided and dissected into the most delicate and intricate forms. Add to this their wide range of colours, from deep greens to yellow, gold, purple or even variegated patterns and you have immense variety to choose from.
While some green or purple-leaved varieties will tolerate an open position in full sun, this can scorch the more delicate foliage of golden, variegated or dissected forms. A sheltered site is more suitable, and particularly one that provides shade during the hottest part of the day and protection from drying winds.
Japanese maples put on a show right through the year, starting as soon as foliage unfurls in spring and continuing until their autumn transformation into shades of gold and bronze before they eventually fall.
With dozens of marvellous Japanese maples available from nurseries and garden centres you’ll be spoilt for choice when picking one to add a little maple magic to your garden.
Top Maples for any garden:
To help you choose the best varieties with outstanding garden performance always look for ones that have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are some of the most widely available AGM varieties:
Top tips for growing Japanese Maples
- Choose a sheltered site where trees are protected from late spring frosts, cold winds and scorching summer sun.
- Maples prefer well-drained soil containing plenty of compost to lock in moisture and ensure the ground never dries out.
- Spread a deep mulch of leaf-mould, compost or shredded bark over the soil around maples to retain moisture and reduce annual weed growth.
- For growing in containers choose large and stable terracotta pots with several drainage holes in their base. Line pots with a sheet of plastic before filling with compost to reduce water loss through the sides.
- As trees can remain in pots for several years it’s best to plant them using a loam-based John Innes No.3 compost with extra grit added to ensure good drainage. Do remember that established trees will need repotting into larger pots every few years.
- Keep the top of the compost a few inches below the pot rim to make watering from above easier, covering the surface with a mulch of pebbles or ornamental gravel.
- Water regularly with collected rainwater, and stand pots in saucers of water to provide a reservoir for trees to take up each day during hot, dry periods.
- Tree roots can be susceptible to frost damage in winter, so either move pots to sheltered sites or wrap with bubble polythene insulation.
Other popular Japanese Maples to look out for:
Planting partners for Japanese Maples:
Try combining maples with other plants and features and ornaments to create areas with Oriental charm. However, Japanese maples should not be smothered by neighbouring plants, so always give them space to flourish. Here are a few planting partners to consider:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Japanese Maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’)
Thyme for herbs!
Create your own culinary herb garden that looks almost too good to eat!
Try planting a selection of tasty herbs valued as much for their ornamental appeal as their flavour. From sage to thyme, rosemary to clipped bay and flowering chives, combine herbs valued for their ornamental beauty to produce long-lasting displays as well as regular pickings for the kitchen.
There are no hard and fast rules about creating herb gardens, but successful designs often define the space using brick pavers, dividing-up the area with small paths to provide easy access for picking. Go for an informal mix or choose a formal pattern or cartwheel design. As a centrepiece plant a large, shrubby herb such as rosemary or sage, a formally clipped bay tree, or a potted herb arrangement.
In small spaces herbs can be grown in pots, either planting them individually and grouping pots together into displays or creating bold combinations in larger containers. As many herbs have Mediterranean origins they relish a site in full sun where they can bake during summer. Soil must be free-draining too, as wet and waterlogged ground will lead to root damage, and for pots choose a free-draining loam-based compost.
Low-growing thyme is a herb garden favourite, perfect for making a herb carpet, softening the edges of gravel paths, or filling gaps between paving. With flavoursome foliage in greens, silvers and golds, plus colourful flowers too, they’ll look good and provide pickings all year.
Whether adding to salads, cooking with new potatoes, or making herb teas, mint is a versatile herb with many uses. Their colours and flavours vary immensely from powerful peppermint and spearmint to those with an underlying taste of apple, citrus, banana, red berries, and many more. And for chocoholics everywhere there’s even Chocolate Peppermint with a hint of dark chocolate. Irresistible!
Just remember that mint is one herb that’s always best kept contained to prevent it invading your borders, so grow it in a pot or large bottomless bucket.
Rosemary is a hardy shrub with aromatic leaves and long flowering season. ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ is a popular variety with statuesque habit, but for large patio pots also consider a variety from the ‘Prostratus Group’ with a weeping habit that will gracefully arch over the sides of the container.
Try flavouring casseroles, soups and sauces with homemade bouquet garni made from sprigs of thyme and parsley wrapped in a bay leaf. Alternatively other herbs can be added to suit your culinary creations, such as rosemary, basil, chervil or tarragon. Herbs have so many uses from using fresh in cooking, making pesto, infusing into herb oils and vinegars, or making herb teas.
A wonderful assortment of herb plants are available at garden centres now, so buy your favourites to create your own culinary herb gardens. Many herbs can be raised from seed too, so buy packets of coriander, basil, parsley, chives and many others.
Four hardy herbs for pots or borders:
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Mint varieties
- Chives – both regular onion flavoured and Garlic Chives.
- Thyme (Thymus varieties) Include AGM winners like golden thyme (Thymus ‘Aureus’), ‘Silver Queen’, ‘Pink Chintz’, lemon scented ‘Bertram Anderson’.
Several shrubby herbs can be clipped and trained into formal topiary features. These living sculptures not only look striking but their clippings can be used in cooking or dried and stored.
The best herb topiaries are created using upright growing varieties of rosemary, sweet bay, sage, lemon verbena, Greek myrtle, or even tender perennials like scented leaf pelargoniums.
Popular shapes for training bay include balls, cones, pyramids, spirals and standards (with a clipped head on a short woody leg). Skilled commercial growers even create bay trees with striking twisted corkscrew stems.
Top tips for successful herb gardens:
- Although many herbs are of Mediterranean origin and relish hot dry conditions, to get the best from herbs in pots most require regular watering to prevent their compost drying out completely. Try standing pots in saucers of water so pots can take up moisture as required.
- Add fertiliser to one watering a week to keep plants growing strongly, or mix slow-release fertiliser granules into compost at planting time.
- Regular picking some herbs, like basil, encourages side shoots to form, keeping plants bushy and productive.
- Pick and dry the leaves of herbs like thyme, sage, bay and many others to store and use when cooking.
- The flowers of many herbs can be used to brighten summer salads. Use flowers from chives, basil, coriander and thyme, and flowers or petals from daylilies, pot marigolds, nasturtium, lavender and others. NB Always check flowers are edible before eating.
- Coriander has a habit of bolting or running to seed, but enjoy their flowers as they’ll encourage beneficial insects, like hoverflies, into your garden. Let plants set seed, then collect and dry coriander seeds to grind and use when cooking spicy Indian dishes.
Herb garden companions:
Dozens of interesting culinary, medicinal and ornamental varieties of herbs are available to plant together and create vibrant herb gardens. Many are hardy shrubs or perennial varieties that will grow back again year after year, while others (like coriander and basil) are annual herbs that will not survive winter outside, so new plants will be needed each year.
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Chives in flower with bee
Colourful Clematis Collection
From bold blooms the size of tea plates to delicate nodding bells adorning a garden arch, clematis are versatile and colourful climbers that no garden should be without. Whether left to clamber-up a trellis panel to cover walls and fences or trained over a pergola, clematis are a wonderfully diverse family with varieties to choose for flowers in every season of the year.
Large-flowered hybrids are some of the most impressive, coming into their own during the summer months, and these are joined by daintier flowering varieties of clematis viticella that continue blooming into autumn
Dozens of clematis varieties are available, with new ones being introduced every year, so visit local garden centres and nurseries to pick the ones that appeal. Colours and forms vary widely, with something to suit every colour scheme. Most enjoy their heads in the sun, but some, like pure white ‘Alabast’, will also grow in semi-shade.
Don’t feel obliged to provide a structure or trellis for support as many clematis can simply be planted in amongst shrubs and left to grow up through them for support. Some of the best suited for this are varieties of Clematis viticella, like rich-red ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ whose summer flowers are followed by fluffy seed-heads.
Not all clematis are climbers, so look out for shorter non-climbing and herbaceous varieties for your borders, like dainty blue ‘Arabella’ and Clematis x durandii, all perfect for bright, sunny sites.
Or why not grow clematis in large pots to create a focal point on your patio.
Choose compact varieties to grow in containers, trained up an ornamental obelisk or wigwam of canes or hazel poles. Several new dwarf and compact varieties have been introduced in recent years too, ideal for planting in tall pots and left to trail over the edges.
Clematis are often partnered with climbing roses and honeysuckle up pillars and pergolas to create long-lasting flower displays, but vibrant combinations can be created with virtually any other climbers or wall shrubs.
It’s not hard to see why clematis have such irresistible charm, and with so many inspiring ways to include them within the garden and patio your colourful clematis collection is guaranteed to grow!
Top Clematis for summer colour:
You’ll be spoilt from choice when shopping for clematis, so take your time to search through varieties in shades of pinks, reds, purples, lilacs, blues, creams, whites and more. Some have striped or patterned petals too in a variety of sizes, shapes and forms. Here are just a few of our most popular varieties to consider:
Top tips on growing Clematis:
- Clematis like their heads in the sun and feet in the shade. Plant so that the soil around the roots is shaded to keep it cool, training shoots up into a brighter, lighter space above.
- Always plant summer-flowering clematis deeper than they were growing in their pots. Dig a deep hole so the top of the rootball sits about 7-10cm below the soil surface, and bury the base of the stems with soil. This can help plants regrow if they ever suffer from clematis wilt disease.
- Spread a deep mulch of compost or bark over the soil after planting to lock in moisture and protect from the sun to keep roots cool.
- All clematis belong to one of three pruning groups depending on when they flower. Talk to the experts at your local garden centre to find out which pruning group your clematis belongs to and get advice on exactly when and how to prune. Alternatively check on line for advice at www.rhs.org.uk.
Other popular Clematis we stock:
Colourful Clematis combinations:
Clematis are very adaptable plants, and climbing varieties can be trained up alongside a host of other climbers and wall shrubs. Shrubs and small trees can also offer support for summer flowering clematis, and some varieties can even grow up through hedges. Herbaceous or non-climbing clematis can be planted among border plants to grow alongside them to produce exciting combinations.
Any shrubs will do including:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’
Bring in the butterflies
Add a new dimension to your garden displays by not only planting colourful flowers you can enjoy throughout the year, but ones that will bring in the butterflies too. A wide range of bedding plants, perennials, flowering shrubs and bulbs produce the simple, open blooms that butterflies love.
These act like fuelling stations around our gardens for butterflies, moths, bees and other beneficial insects, providing them with the valuable nectar they need to feed on for energy. That’s why the best flowers are often described as nectar plants, and there are hundreds of wonderful plants to choose from to suit virtually any site or soil you have in your garden.
One of the most popular is the Butterfly Bush, or Buddleja, a hardy and reliable shrub whose flowers act like magnets for butterflies, hence their common name. Many strong-growing varieties are available, including one with variegated foliage called Buddelja ‘Harlequin’, but all can be kept within bounds by annually pruning in early spring.
Several dwarf and compact varieties of Butterfly Bush are now available that are perfect for pots or tiny spaces, with flowers in colours from pink and white to blue, lavender, magenta and deep purple.
Plan your planting carefully to choose a range of plants that flower right through the year, as these will both attract and support the widest range of butterflies in your garden. Some of the best flowering perennials provide long-lasting displays, with a succession of flowers opening over several months. These include varieties of Rudbeckia and Cone Flower (Echinacea), both valued for their outstanding garden performance.
Lavenders provide welcome nectar for butterflies through the summer months, while planting a range of Ice Plants (Sedum) ensures more flowers develop into autumn to feed Small Tortoiseshell and other late-flying butterflies as they prepare for hibernation.
With over 50 species of butterfly resident in the UK, and dozens more flying across from Europe, our gardens can play a vital role in ensuring their survival, and we can enjoy their antics too.
Top four plants to bring in the butterflies:
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleja) Including AGM varieties like Buddleja ‘Nanho Blue’, Buddleja ‘Royal Red’, Buddleja ‘White Profusion’ and Buddleja ‘Harlequin’.
- Sedum including Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Sedum ‘Brilliant’, Sedum ‘Purple Carpet’, Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’.
- Cone Flower (Echinacea) – Varieties to consider: Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’, Echinacea ‘Crazy White’, Echinacea ‘Tomato Soup’, Echinacea ‘White Swan’.
- Rudbeckia including Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’
Top tips for planning and planting:
- Choose a range of suitable plants with different flowering periods to ensure there’s something in bloom throughout spring, summer and autumn for butterflies to feed from.
- Several butterflies hibernate through winter. Adults emerging from hibernation need flowers to feed on in spring. Others require autumn blooms to stock-up on nectar to help them survive during hibernation.
- While flowers are important to feed adult butterflies do remember that different plants are needed for butterflies to lay their eggs on and to feed their caterpillars.
- Letting patches of nettles established in a wild or natural areas provide valuable breeding and feeding sites for four of our native butterflies. The caterpillars of Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock all feed on nettle leaves.
- Avoid using pesticides around your garden that could harm butterflies, bees, ladybirds and other beneficial creatures.
- For more information check out the web site of Butterfly Conservation
Other favourite plants of the moment:
There are dozens of suitable flowering plants to choose from that can provide nectar in different seasons for butterflies to enjoy. Lists of the best can be found online, such as on the RHS web site, and here are just a few to consider:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Peacock butterfly on Butterfly Bush (Buddleja)
Get creative with Ornamental Grasses
From dainty Blue Fescue Grass to majestic Miscanthus, ornamental grasses provide texture, character and form unmatched by many other hardy perennials. Their presence develops through the seasons as bright and colourful foliage is joined by graceful swaying flower heads that last well into winter.
In large borders grasses can be planted in bold groups or striking drifts, but many varieties perform well in large patio pots, positioned where their individual shape and arching form can be fully appreciated. Popular grasses for pots include compact Blue Fescue Grass and Slender Sweet Flag ‘Ogon’, or taller varieties of Miscanthus such as the Zebra Grass (Miscanthus ‘Zebrinus’).
From green to gold, purple to a host of patterned and variegated forms, ornamental grasses come in a wide range of colours, sizes and growing habits. As well as selecting grasses to suit your colour scheme always consider their other qualities, positioning grasses close to paths and seating areas so you can run your hands over their feathery foliage and flowers as you pass. Popular grasses for tactile displays in sensory gardens include the Feathertop Grass (Pennisetum) or annual grasses like Bunny Tails.
Taller grasses also add movement to otherwise static displays, catching a summer breeze to add interest and catch the eye. Growing to around two metres in height, the bold form of Golden Oats (Stipa gigantea) is a real showstopper! Or if space allows, try planting a statuesque clump of Pampas Grass, and enjoy their feathery plumes right into winter.
Ornamental grasses offer great value, and these popular Plants of the Moment produce long-lasting displays in any garden. Large individuals have a real presence, taking pride of place in beds and borders, while colourful planting combinations can be created with flowering perennials like Black-eyed Susan, Coneflowers and Ice Plants.
Top four Ornamental Grasses:
Many great grasses are available that have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are some of the most popular:
Top tips for planning and planting:
- Be generous and plant grasses in drifts or bold groups rather than as lonely individuals.
- Some large potted grasses can be divided into two or three pieces at planting time, each with roots and shoots attached.
- Grasses grow well in patio pots, but make sure tall varieties are planted in large, heavy pots to prevent them blowing over in strong winds.
- Line terracotta pots with plastic from old compost bags to help conserve moisture.
- The tops of some perennial, like miscanthus, die over winter. Promptly cut away all old growth to avoid damaging new shoots that start emerging in early spring.
- Many ornamental grasses can be raised from seed. Annual grasses like Bunny Tails (Lagurus ovatus), Greater Quaking Grass (Briza maxima), Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum), Purple Millet (Pennisetum ‘Purple Majesty’), and Squirrel Tail Grass (Hordeum jubatum) as well as perennial grasses like Stipa tenuissima can be grown from spring sown seeds.
Other popular Ornamental Grasses:
Planting partners for Ornamental Grasses:
Ornamental grasses fit into many different planting designs, but few better than the prairie planting style made popular by garden designer and plantsman Piet Oudolf. Here are just a few suggestions of great planting companions for ornamental grasses.
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Ornamental grass – Pennisetum setaceum ‘Summer Samba’
Fashionably Late Perennials
Add fresh excitement to your autumn displays by including a selection of seasonal stunners to flower beds and patio pots. Several hardy perennials have been patiently growing all year, waiting for their turn to take centre stage. And now their time has come to burst into bloom, filling our gardens with vibrant colour.
Japanese Anemones are always a favourite. Tall and bold, their simple flowers in shades from pink to white really celebrate the season. They’re adaptable too, growing in sites from full sun to partial shade.
Commonly called Ice Plants, the thick fleshy foliage of Sedum varieties add interest throughout the year, from the moment it develops in spring. Varieties are available with foliage colours from green to grey and deep purple, and some with variegated green and white leaves look particularly impressive grown individually in small terracotta pots. Their flowers come in eye-catching colours from pure white to pink and red, proving as attractive to us as they are bees and butterflies.
Michaelmas Day is celebrated on 29 September, and lends its name to one of the most valuable hardy perennials to flower through September and October, the Michaelmas Daisies. Many are varieties of the New York aster, Aster novi-belgii, but several other types of aster are available also. A succession of blooms gives asters long-lasting appeal, and they make great cut flowers too.
Verbena is another great performer, flowering over many months to really earn its place in any garden. It’s hard to beat the Argentinian vervain, Verbena bonariensis, valued for its tall, branching stems topped with clusters of purple flowers. Its airy growth habit means it can be slotted in among lower neighbours, growing-up and flowering above them. For patio pots try growing the more compact and bushier Verbena rigida instead.
As well as flowering plants, don’t forget that many perennials form attractive seed heads too, and these can be enjoyed right through autumn and into winter. Favourites include cone flowers (Echinacea and Rudbeckia), globe thistle (Echinops), sea holly (Eryngium), Agapanthus, Ornamental Grasses, and bulbs like the Pineapple Lily (Eucomis).
So visit your local garden centres and nurseries now to discover a wonderful selection of fashionably late perennials that will transform your autumn garden, keeping the colour and interest going well into winter.
Favourite late flowering plants
A wide range of stunning autumn flowering plants are available, and the very best have been judged by the Royal Horticultural Society of being worthy of an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Here are some of the most popular:
Top tips for planning and planting
- When planning your borders always choose a selection of plants that flower at different times through the year so there’s always something colourful to enjoy.
- Plant taller growing autumn flowering varieties behind low growing summer ones so they’ll grow up above them once summer displays fade away.
- A small group of, say, three plants of one variety often looks more impressive than choosing three different things.
- Repetition works well in garden design. If you have a favourite plant then include several groups of it to help link different areas of the garden together.
- Some varieties of aster are very prone to powdery mildew disease that forms a white powdery coating over leaves. Prevent infection by spraying leaves with a suitable fungicide through summer.
- Leave old flowers on Verbena bonariensis to set seed and release this over the surrounding border to develop into new plants that will flower in following years.
Other popular autumn flowering plants:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Verbena bonariensis
In Search of Berried Treasure
Berry-bearing trees and shrubs come into their own in autumn, creating colourful displays that can last well into winter. From Elder Berries to Rose Hips, Crab Apples to Firethorns, the addition of berrying plants adds to a new dimension to any garden, with plants carry fruits and berries through autumn and into winter.
Berrying plants also provide home grown food for hungry birds and wildlife too, enhancing their appeal and value to any garden.
Evergreen shrubs provide structure and form to the garden throughout the year, but many produce early displays of flowers followed by autumn berries. Once of the best compact shrubs for borders or patio pots is a Skimmia with a mouthful of a name, Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana. Don’t let this put you off as its displays of bright red berries are second to none!
Also check out the compact and spreading Viburnum davidii, a hardy shrub with distinctly veined evergreen foliage that produces the most unusual metallic-looking blue-black berries. It really is quite a talking point.
To create seasonal pots for autumn colour include a small Gaultheria mucronata carrying brilliant berries in pink, red or pure white. Combined with Pansies and Violas, Trailing Ivy, Heather, Carex or Skimmia your pots will put on a display that lasts for months.
Trained against walls and fences, firethorn is a valuable evergreen shrub. Its thorny stems make it a great choice for producing secure garden boundaries, but don’t let the spines put you off buying Pyracantha. They provide valuable nesting sites for birds, flowers that attract bees, and red, orange or yellow berries to feed birds into winter.
Explore the Cotoneaster family too, attractive ornamental shrubs with year-round appeal. The arching stems with herringbone-patterned stalks of Cotoneaster horizontalis make it an excellent choice to carpet banks and low borders or train up to cover bare fences. Birds love these berries, quickly stripping stems bare as they stock-up for winter.
If space allows, many ornamental trees produce bright berries and fruits as well as good displays of autumn foliage colour. Two of the best families are Rowan (Sorbus) and Crab Apple (Malus), and both make ideal trees for small gardens.
With such a rich and diverse range of plants to choose from it really is possible to fill your borders with berried treasure this autumn!
Top four shrubs with colourful fruit and berries
- Firethorn – (Pyracantha varieties)
- Skimmia – Many female varieties produce wonderful displays of berries including Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana, Skimmia japonica ‘Nymans’ and ‘Obsession’. Male varieties are equally appealing with great flower displays, like ‘Magic Marlot’ and ‘Rubella’.
- Gaultheria Mucronata (Formerly called PERNETTYA)
- Cotoneaster – wide range of berrying shrubs including Cotoneaster horizontalis, Cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’, C. ‘Cornubia’, C. lacteus, and many others.
Top tips for planning and planting
- Many shrubs can be given a permanent home in large patio pots. Plant pots using a free-draining loam-based compost.
- Always stand pots on feet during winter to prevent drainage holes getting blocked and pots filling-up with water, literally drowning their roots!
- Small berry-bearing shrubs included in seasonal patio pot arrangements can be removed and planted out in the garden next spring.
- Some plants have both male and female varieties, so it might just be the female one you buy that’s carrying berries. Ask for advice, as in future years you may need to grow male forms alongside the females to ensure their flowers get pollinated and develop future crops of berries.
Other popular plants of the moment
As well as choosing planting partners carrying berries try and create varied displays by including evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, architectural plants with strong shapes and forms, and those with great autumn foliage colours. Here are some to consider:
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media – Firethorn with red berries (Pyracantha)
A Celebration of Colourful Cornus
To create a beautiful garden with year-round appeal it’s essential to pick the best plants, and few celebrate the seasons more than Colourful Cornus. Commonly called dogwoods, these reliable and hardy shrubs provide a luscious leafy backdrop to summer flowers. As a final fanfare their foliage is transformed into a rainbow of colours through autumn before fluttering away to reveal brilliant wand-like stems.
This seasonal transformation is just the start of a host of new planting partnerships that can be enjoyed right through until spring. During winter the brightly coloured stems of dogwoods catch sunlight to create dazzling displays. Small gardens might only have space for a single plant, so position it where the low piercing winter sunlight will shine through, catching stems in its spotlight.
No wonder varieties have been given names like Cornus ‘Winter Beauty’ and Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ as the intense rays of the sun really bring those fiery-coloured stems to life. Take a look at the whole range of shrubby dogwoods to discover varieties with different foliage and stem colour combinations from Cornus ‘Flaviramea’ with green leaves and golden-yellow stems, Cornus ‘Spaethii’ with variegated, yellow-edged green leaves and red stems, or the white margined leaves and red stems of Cornus ‘Elegantissima’.
In addition, many shrubby dogwoods also carry clusters of tiny flowers through summer. These are usually a creamy-white colour, and these often lead on to form dense heads of white berries in autumn.
Shrubby dogwoods grow well in almost any soil, even moist sites and heavy clay ground. They’ll grow best in a sunny position, but will tolerate some shade. Contrasting colours always work well when developing planting combinations, so consider planting groups of two or more dogwoods together.
Also try planting dogwoods in large patio containers to create seasonal displays with a difference, under-planting them with low winter bedding, leafy perennials and small shrubs.
There are dozens of plants to choose from as partners for dogwoods. Some can be planted behind them as a background to enhance the visibility of their stems, while others provide flowering companions through winter. Several low growing plants, like Bergenia and Heuchera, can be planted around clumps to carpet the ground, or underplant with early flowering bulbs like snowdrops, crocus and narcissus.
Cornus are a wide and varied family of shrubs and small trees, so if dogwoods take your fancy check out the rest of the family to discover other great garden performers like the Wedding Cake Tree (Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’) and flowering trees like Cornus kousa and ‘Venus’. Also look out for the Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry, which forms tiny clusters of yellow flowers on bare winter stems that turn into glossy-red cherry-like fruits later in summer.
Choose carefully and your garden displays really will become a celebration of Colourful Cornus.
Popular Dogwood varieties for the garden
For summer foliage and winter stems:
Small trees with attractive flowers and foliage:
- Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ (AGM)
- Cornus kousa
- Cornus ‘Venus’
For winter flowers:
- Cornus mas – dainty yellow flowers in winter, red fruits in late summer
Top tips for planning and planting
- Where dogwoods are specifically being grown for their winter stems they’ll need annual pruning. This is simply done by cutting all stems down to their woody base close to ground level every spring. This encourages new stems to develop during the year, and it’s these you’ll enjoy the following winter.
- If you fancy having a go at propagating your own dogwoods then try taking hardwood cuttings. Once leaves have fallen, lengths of stem can be prepared and inserted into slits in the ground filled with gritty sand. Heal in firmly and keep watered if conditions are dry. Cuttings should root over spring/summer and produce well rooted new plants by next autumn. They’re fun to take, so check online for full advice on taking hardwood cuttings.
Planting partners for winter displays
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Red-stemmed Dogwood (Cornus variety)
Festive Favourites – The Holly & The Ivy
It will soon be Christmas, and what better way to celebrate the season and bring festive cheer to your garden than with two traditional Christmas favourites – Holly and Ivy. Countless cards carry their image, often with leaves touched by frost or covered with a crisp layer of snow, and your garden displays will have even greater appeal.
These are perfect garden plants, and they’ll provide material for indoor arrangements and table decorations too. What better way to welcome visitors over the Christmas period than with a woven wreath made using Holly, Ivy and other seasonal flowers and foliage picked from the garden.
Both plant families offer a wide range of wonderful evergreen varieties, with many boasting beautifully variegated leaves. Fruits and berries provide seasonal food for hungry birds, but if you want a few sprigs to enjoy indoors you’ll need to protect berry-laden branches with pieces of tightly fastened fine netting or fleece to keep birds away.
Holly is hardy and evergreen, making it an ideal shrub to form part of the backbone or structure every garden needs. The common or English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) grows across the country, but as well as choosing holly with glossy green leaves there are lots of different cultivars with more colourful foliage.
Most holly plants are either male or female, so to ensure you get a crop of berries you’ll need to grow a female variety and ensure there’s a male nearby to pollinate its flowers. However, don’t always take the name as a guarantee of the plants sex, as the popular Ilex ‘Silver Queen‘ is actually male, and Ilex ‘Golden King’ is a female berry-bearing variety! If you want berries and only have room for one plant then look out for self fertile Ilex ‘J.C. van Tol’ which also has almost thornless elliptical green leaves.
With thick evergreen growth and spiny foliage, holly is also a good choice of shrub to form a dense and secure boundary hedge to your property. Most varieties carry spiny leaves, but for something with extra deterrent consider the variegated Hedgehog Holly (Ilex ‘Ferox Argentea’). Holly can also be tightly clipped into formal shapes and topiary too.
Leaf sizes and shapes vary enormously between varieties, so explore the Ilex family to discover more. For instance, the Box-leaved or Japanese Holly is often used to create small topiary features. Or for something a little different search out varieties of Blue Holly (Ilex x meserveae) that produce deep green leaves with a bluish tinge.
Ivy is a valuable climber or ground cover plant, perfect for a shady spot or for cladding bare fences or garden structures. However, it must be kept within bounds with regular pruning to prevent it spreading too far or becoming invasive.
Hundreds of varieties have been bred over the years, and many garden favourites have colourful leaf forms or attractive variegated patterns adding to their appeal. Established Ivy carries flowers late in the season that provide valuable nectar for late-flying butterflies and bees, as well as great nesting site opportunities for blackbirds and others. Small-leaved Ivy trails gracefully down the sides of baskets and containers, the perfect partner for many flowering and foliage plants.
So, for a traditional touch to your seasonal displays, check out the varieties of Holly and Ivy available at your local garden centres and nurseries now.
Top four favourite Holly varieties
From green to gold, silver and cream, choose holly varieties that add interest to your garden right through the year, including these award-winning varieties.
Top four favourite Ivy Varieties
Dozens of Ivy varieties are available, and many of the best have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are a few of the most popular Ivy varieties to consider for your garden and patio pots.
Other Holly varieties
Also highly recommended:
Other Ivy varieties
Also highly recommended:
Top tips for planning and planting
- Prune Holly carefully with secateurs to shorten individual shoots rather than a hedge cutter or shears that can tear and damage leaves.
- Established, overgrown holly can be cut back hard in spring to encourage new growth to develop from nearer the base to revitalise old plants.
- Ivy can be invasive, so check growth regularly through the year, snipping off wayward shoots to keep plants in check.
- Plain green shoots sometimes develop on variegated plants. Prune these away at their base as soon as you spot them.
Other popular plants of the moment
Both Holly and Ivy fit in well with most garden plants, contributing to planting combinations that look good all-year-round. Ivy trained on fences can be grown in combination with other climbers, like Vitis coignetiae (Crimson Glory Vine).
Partner-up Holly with other shrubs and evergreens, or plant summer flowering Clematis at their base so they can scramble up them for support and layer on a display of brilliant blooms.
Source: HTA Plant of the Moment
Photography: ©Adam Pasco Media Holly varieties (including Ilex ‘Golden King’)