Win­dow boxes re­turn daz­zle to a win­ter gar­den

There is more to life than win­ter-flow­er­ing pan­sies and cabbages. Cy­cla­men flow­ers un­til the spring bulbs ap­pear

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Homes and Property - - Outdoors - Alex Mitchell

IT MAY seem a bit early to think about win­ter when the leaves are still turn­ing, but that’s the thing with gar­den­ing — you have to look ahead. The gera­ni­ums are on their way out, and let’s face it, the gar­den is not at its best. All of which is a great ex­cuse to head to Columbia Road or your favourite nurs­ery for plants for your pots and win­dow boxes. They can daz­zle with colour and in­ven­tion.

I am not talk­ing about or­na­men­tal cabbages. An un­of­fi­cial poll (okay, I phoned a few friends) re­veals I may be alone in my re­sis­tance to the hor­ror of bras­si­cas in boxes but each to their own. I’m not even talk­ing about win­ter pan­sies — where some see cheer­ful yel­lows, mauves and or­anges, I see brit­tle, hunched stems and wa­ter­logged petals.

For an el­e­gant clas­sic for win­dow boxes and pots try ev­er­green ferns such as deer fern (Blech­num spi­cant), poly­podium, or hart’s tongue (as­ple­nium scolopen­drium) in­ter­planted with heathers — un­sprayed, nat­u­rally — and cy­cla­men that will flower right through win­ter. If the heather’s dark flow­ered, try white cy­cla­men; if it’s pale pink or white, try darker pink or red cy­cla­men.

For more ro­mance, re­place the heather or cy­cla­men with large, nod­ding helle­bores in white or dusky pink. Un­der­plant the whole con­tainer with bulbs, lots of them, to pop up from Fe­bru­ary. Stun­ning, dainty blue Iris retic­u­lata will emerge first. Cro­cus, daf­fodils, hy­acinths, muscari and small tulips can fol­low.

If you need in­spi­ra­tion for win­ter con­tainer plant­ing on a grand scale, make a di­ver­sion to Miche­lin-star restau­rant Lo­canda Lo­catelli near Mar­ble Arch. In the cricket pitch-length planter out­side, land­scape de­signer De­clan Buck­ley dots nar­cis­sus Thalia and tulips Bur­gundy and Bal­le­rina among ever­greens in an awe­some evo­ca­tion of a wood­land edge. snow­drops fill a pretty china teacup Against the hard, grey lines of the city it’s an up­lift­ing ex­am­ple of how win­ter plant­ing can be lush and ex­u­ber­ant, with helle­bores, per­si­caria affi­nis Dar­jeel­ing Red and blue ajuga Catlin’s Gi­ant pro­vid­ing struc­ture and pops of colour above a car­pet of ferns and other wood­lan­ders. For a smaller con­tainer, says Buck­ley, you could re­duce the com­bi­na­tion to helle­bores and ferns with lamium mac­u­la­tum Bea­con Sil­ver to trail down the edges. Add cut red cor­nus stems — dog­wood — from florists to add height and colour.

For de­signer and BBC Gar­den­ers’ World pre­sen­ter Nick Bai­ley, au­thor of 365 Days of Colour in Your Gar­den, win­ter colour is not all about the flow­ers. He loves the muted sil­very fo­liage of helle­borus Sil­ver Dol­lar for win­dow boxes. “An­other great tex­tu­ral fo­liage plant is calo­cephalus brownii which makes a fuzzy barbed-wire ball with re­ally bright, sparkly fo­liage, so it’s a great back­drop when you plant pink cy­cla­mens in front of it.” He also likes us­ing hebes, Heart­breaker and Tri­colour with ma­genta tips to their shoots. As an al­ter­na­tive trailer to the ubiq­ui­tous ivy, Bai­ley sug­gests try­ing the maid­en­hair vine (muehlen­beckia com­plexa) which has “a bouncy fresh­ness to it”. It’s also the mil­len­nial plant of the mo­ment so you can con­grat­u­late your­self for be­ing in vogue.

Heucheras, with their or­ange, lime green, red and yel­low leaves are far from win­try and, de­spite their del­i­cate-look­ing fo­liage, en­tirely ev­er­green. Bai­ley’s favourite for con­tain­ers is the fresh char­treuse Lime Mar­malade to un­der­pin bulbs such as early Kauf­man­ni­ana tulips which will start flow­er­ing in Fe­bru­ary, and muscari grape hy­acinths a lit­tle later. If you want some­thing a bit more muted, the pom­pom-like grassy fes­tuca glauca makes a cool im­pact in win­ter, or the cop­pery sedge Carex os­hi­men­sis Ever­gold gives a warmer feel.

If you only have space, time or the will for a two- plant com­bi­na­tion, what would work best? Fes­tuca glauca with pi­co­tee-edge bur­gundy cy­cla­men, or Heuchera Peach Flambe, sug­gests Bai­ley. Or helle­bores with muehlen­beckia. “For spots of colour I might add Dutch forced cam­pan­u­las which will trail a bit.” Like Buck­ley, he also uses florists’ twigs in con­tain­ers to liven things up. “White twigs can look amaz­ing with ev­er­green sil­ver fo­liage.”

Fuzzy barbed-wire balls, red stems and flam­ing heucheras… who needs painted heather?

SOURCES

For bulbs: jpark­ers.co.uk For heucheras: heucher­a­holics.co.uk For calo­cephalus brownii (also known as leu­co­phyta): trop­i­calbri­tain. co.uk; gar­dening­ex­press.co.uk

For win­dow boxes: bayand­box.com

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