After a cold snap at the beginning of December mild conditions arrived, bringing mist and grey skies – very typical for the time of year.
Cold weather usually sets in during January, however in recent years it has remained wet and mild, and so it is difficult to know what to expect.
With the shortest day now passed this is a good time to plan next season’s displays. It is not always possible to position plants in full sun but there are shrubs, annuals and bulbs which tolerate semi-shaded areas. Shrubs such as Christmas box which produces tiny fragrant flowers at this time of year. Photinia (Red Robin) is an evergreen with glossy bright leaves but in spring new growth is vibrant red; used as a single specimen – or planted in groups it also makes an attractive hedge. Photinia can be pruned in spring or summer to keep it compact.
Spring flowering bulbs such as Star of Bethlehem, Scillia and the Trillium Wood Lily flourish under trees or in spaces between shrubs. Hostas are attractive perennial foliage plants and thrive in moist, shady areas. At this time of year they are dormant, with tightly curled buds on the surface of the soil; in spring these sturdy green tips rise and unfurl into beautiful shaped leaves in a range of colours (depending on the variety). Hostas have bell shaped flowers in summer, but are grown for their foliage – which is also loved by slugs and snails; suitable pest control is always needed. Hostas are available at garden centres from May onwards.
Some of the summer flowering perennials/annuals that tolerate semi shade are Campanula – recognisable by its blue or white bell shaped flowers; also Aquilegia (Columbine) which comes in a range of pastel shades and unusual shaped flowers (Aquilegia caerulea is especially attractive). Lobelia erinus is happy growing in containers, borders or the rockery. Scented Nicotiana, a cottage garden favourite, can be started off from seed in February (inside); and will also happily grow in containers.
The winter garden is not without colour – bright berries adorn Skimmia, Holly and Cotoneaster. Witch hazel and winter Jasmine are in bloom; so too is Rosemary (months early) and some rose varieties; these two summer flowering shrubs are companions to the leafless trees and seasonal evergreens.
Happy Gardening in 2017!