By Hugh Harris-Evans
Novice gardeners often regard the period between October and March as a time of the year when the garden should be ignored until the warmth of Spring returns. After all the flowers have faded and trees and shrubs have shed their leaves so what is the point? With experience comes the realisation that the garden in winter has a character and beauty all of its own.
Because most trees and shrubs lose their leaves in the fall, the most important element in planning a garden that is attractive in both winter and summer is to get the basic structure right. Paths, hedges, trees and shrubs should be arranged so that the view from the house reveals something of interest at each season of the year.
Just because all your annual and herbaceous flowers are over and now a mass of frosted stems does not mean that there can be nothing to enjoy in the garden. Even without leaves and flowers many shrubs can provide a colorful display through the winter months. Dogwood (cornus alba) has bright red stems throughout the winter. Yellow stems are found on several varieties of willow. Many garden trees exhibit colorful trunks and branches which are only clearly revealed once they have lost their leaves.
With all this talk of bare stems you should remember that there are many shrubs that keep their leaves and do produce flowers during the winter. The Winter Jasmine (jasminum nudiflorum) is a sturdy shrub which will grow almost anywhere whose bright yellow flowers light up any dull winter's day. Mahonia (M. japonica) is another shrub with yellow flowers which has the added benefit of a fragrant scent. Rose pink blooms are borne from December to February by one of the Viburnums (V. x bodnantense).
Another group that can provide interest in winter are those that have finished flowering but then produce colorful berries. Cotoneaster, Pyracanthus and Skimmia all have bright red berries which make a striking display and also attract wild birds into your garden in their search food.
So far we have been concentrating on shrubs. But what about smaller plants? Does your flowerbed have to remain bare all winter? Not at all, there are plenty of hardy plants that can survive the winter frosts and snow. The Christmas Rose is one of the several varieties of hellebores that flower at this time of year.
Other plants that flower later but are useful for ground cover include Bergenia, Pulmoniaria, Saxifrage and Lamium, the Dead Nettle. Ivies and Vincas also make good ground cover but need to be pruned regularly to keep them under control.
If you are one of those people who have tended to forget about your garden in the winter, I hope that this article may have given you a few ideas on how you can plan your backyard so that it gives you pleasure throughout the year.
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