Opt for a splash of colour to banish the chilly winter blues
The inevitable approach of winter brings with it one consolation for gardeners — a wide choice of winter flowering annuals in warm, bright and cheerful colours, writes Alice Spenser-higgs
IT IS almost impossible not to be charmed by pansies and violas, and although the colour range is huge, the quintessential yellow bloom with its black face always lights up the garden.
Both are easy to grow, taking up as little or as much space as is available. They can be grown together, with violas in front and pansies behind, in between bulbs, with poppies, or in a window box, container or hanging basket; anywhere enough winter sunshine.
Gardeners wanting to try something different can look out for the new spreading pansy “Cool Wave”. It is a low growing, spreading plant that can be used as a groundcover or in a basket. In hanging baskets it can trail by up to 75cm and in the garden can spread up to 60cm. The larger colour range includes Frost (soft blue and white) Violet Wing dark purple outer petal), pure White and pure Yellow.
The tried and tested “Viola Sorbet” has five new colours added to its already extensive range. They are “Pink Halo”, with a soft pink swirl around the blotch, “Pink Wing”, also soft shades, “Peach Melba” which has a brownish wing and unusual spots on its other petals, a deep “Carmine Rose” and “Midnight Glow” a blue, yellow and dark purple combination that first showed up on the Matrix pansies.
Viola Sorbet has a garden height and width of 15cm to 20cm, and the well branched plants cover the soil with a profusion of blooms. It performs well across a wide range of climatic conditions and over winters well.
Petunias are at their best in our dry winter climate.
A bold and rather unusual combination for a container is the petunia Sophistica “Blackberry” and “Lime Green”.
“Blackberry” is shimmering black with some reddish purple undertones and it is beautifully set off by the yellow underlying tone of the Sophistica “Lime Green”. Both are also well matched in terms of flowering time.
Iceland poppy “Champagne Bubbles” is another sun lover that looks spectacular on its own but is equally good planted with pansies, violas, and calendulas.
These lower growing bedding plants fill the “colour gap” below the taller, flowering stems of the poppies. There is no sense of crowding because the poppy stems are airy and light.
Champagne Bubbles poppies are available in single colours: orange, pink, scarlet, white and yellow as well as in a mix.
They should receive regular watering because their performance suffers if they are over watered or are allowed to dry out. To encourage flowering, feed monthly with a liquid fertiliser.
Then there are the traditional favourites that can be grown from seed like Namaqualand daisies, linaria, cornflowers, lace flower, Virginian stocks, ursinia, and Mesembryanthemums. Kirchhoffs winter scatter packs contain a mix of these and other varieties.
A new addition to the list of winter flowers that can be sown is “Winter Sunflower” from Kirchhoffs. It is day-length neutral and while cold weather may slow down its growth it will still flower in mid winter if sown now or in May. The flower head is a classic dark disc with yellow petals.
The plant is mildly frost resistant and can be expected to grow 1.3m to 1.7m high as long as it receives full sun and grows in a sheltered position. Stake the plant once it reaches 1m, especially when the flower heads start to form as the stems are brittle.
Plants should be watered regularly and fertilised once during the growing season, with a potassium rich fertiliser to encourage quality flowers. A nitrogen rich fertiliser will delay flowering.
For shade, one can never go wrong with fairy primulas ( P malacoides). They do best in dappled or semi-shade.
Other shady performers are the primrose (P acaulis), cineraria, and cyclamen. All like well composted soil that drains well, regular water and regular feeding.
Pansy ‘Cool Wave’ quickly fills window boxes and containers, as well as acting as groundcover, above left. An unusual combination: Petunia Sophistica ‘Blackberry’ and ‘Lime Green’, above right.