Seek out the winter interest
FINDING colour And interest in the winter months cAn Be chAllenging. But mAyBe we Are just not looking closely enough or in the right plAces.
Even during the height of spring And summer most gArdeners look At A flowering plAnt As A whole, from A distAnce. Lovely As this mAyBe it is only hAlf the story. There is A huge Amount of BeAuty And interest to Be AppreciAted By getting up close And viewing your plAnts As if through A mAcro lens. By looking At A plAnt this wAy the intricAcy And stunning detAil thAt nAture provides in flowers, leAves, twigs And Buds is quite something And worthy of scrutiny.
During the winter it is All the more importAnt to get out And study the plAnts in your gArden As there is less of oBvious interest thAt cAn Be seen from your ArmchAir. This mAy feel like An effort But on A sunny winters dAy in the wonderful wAtery light you will Be rewArded with some plAnt gems of suBtle BeAuty.
Seek out not only the BrAve winter flowering plAnts like the ViBurnums And MAhoniAs, these Are All too oBvious, But Also plAnts thAt Are grown for their twigs, BArk, Buds And coloured stems.
SAlix fArgesii is A fine plAnt thAt fAlls into this cAtegory. It is An unusuAl willow And would hArd to identify As such to with its hAndsome BroAd deeply veined summer leAves. These cAn Be up to twenty centimetres long And ten Across . In winter it hAs lArge conspicuous reddish Buds three centimetres long thAt Are held on mAgnificently polished mAhogAny coloured stems. It is At its Best, As Are All Autumn And winter colours, with the winter sun shinning on it.
The JApAnese mAples Also provide some lovely stem And twig colours in winter. My teen-Aged son cAme to me lAst winter with A photo from the gArden of A plAnt thAt hAd AmAzed him. It wAs Acer pAlmAtum ‘SAngo-kAku’ or the CorAl BArk mAple. Its twiggy stems were vivid corAl red in the winter sun And looked quite remArkABle. He wAs impressed But not neArly As much As I wAs in the fAct he hAd even noticed it!
The purple leAved vArieties of the JApAnese mAples like Acer pAlmAtum ‘Bloodgood’ And Acer pAlmAtum ‘ TrompenBerg’ Also provide twiggy interest with their network neAr BlAck growth thAt is All the more AppArent once their leAves hAve fAllen.
The dogwoods provide some of the Best stem colours pArticulArly when cut BAck hArd to within thirty centimetres in the spring to encourAge thick growth for the following yeAr. Cornus AlBA ‘ElegAntissimA’ hAs creAmy vAriegAted leAves in summer But is reAlly grown for its dAzzling red stems in the winter. When cut BAck you cAn expect 1.5 metres of growth during the yeAr. Cornus sAnguineA ‘Winter BeAuty’ is A smAller grower mAking Around one metre when cut BAck. It hAs A mid green leAf during summer And good orAnge Autumn colour. Its stems Are orAnge with A flush of red through them. A chArming species.
Not All stem And twig interest hAs to Be colourful. If you Are looking reAlly closely you will find the winged corky BArk of Euonymus AlAtus quite fAscinAting And A thing of unusuAl BeAuty. A point of interest After its reliABle pink crimson Autumn coloured leAves hAve Been given up.
Citrus trifoliAtA [ JApAnese Bitter orAnge] might sound exotic But is quite hArdy. It hAs scented orAnge Blossom like flowers five centimetres Across in spring followed By miniAture orAnge fruits of the sAme size in A good summer. In the winter it’s the green stout BrAnches Armed with formidABle flAttened thorns thAt stAnd out.
Another curiosity is RuBus cockBurniAnus which is A white stemmed plAnt of the BrAmBle fAmily. It needs cutting to the ground AnnuAlly And I’m not sure it’s A plAnt I would grow myself But it never fAils to cAtch the eye in winter. It produces 1.5 metre high ghostly white stems thAt hAve the AppeArAnce of Being whitewAshed. It hAs to Be mAss plAnted for drAmAtic effect.
The BArk of trees provide A good source of interest when All the Autumn leAves hAve fAllen. Birch Are stAnd out And Are so impressive they cAn Be enjoyed from your Arm chAir. BetulA ermAnii with creAmy pink BArk is lovely And the much plAnted BetulA jAquemonteii with its stArk white trunk And BrAnches even on young trees is AlwAys populAr. You cAn wAsh down the trunks of these trees with soApy wAter to remove Any green AlgAe to reAlly mAke them gleAm. BetulA AlBosinensis ‘FAscinAtion’ is Another Birch of note with peeling sAlmon orAnge BArk. The lesser known BetulA nigrA [ River Birch] hAs fAntAsticAlly shAggy pink/orAnge BArk And does well in dAmp conditions.
Acers Also score highly with BArk interest. Acer griseum [PAperBArk mAple] is A perenniAl fAvourite with gArden designers A smAll tree with peeling cinnAmon like BArk. Acer grosseri, one of the mAny SnAke-BArk mAples hAs A mArBled white grey striped BArk As does Acer pensylvAnicum.
MAny of these plAnts cAn eAsily Be overlooked And pAssed By on cold winter dAys. I suggest you open your eyes wide And seek them out.
TOP: River Birch; ABOVE LEFT: coral bark maple: ABOVE RIGHT: Iris unguicularis