PLANT YOUR BORDER
Stay off soil that’s sodden or frozen but, once conditions improve, dig out perennial weeds and boost soil with well-rotted organic matter. Most of these plants prefer well-drained soil; boggy conditions would be lethal for the heather, daphne and carex. Break up compacted ground and add extra organic matter and grit to improve soil structure. Cover with a thick mulch of leafmould or well-rotted homemade compost after planting.
1 Establish the cornus
If ground is workable, plant bareroot dogwoods Nov-Apr; any time if pot-grown. Place far enough back so they don’t crowd out smaller plants and add lots of wellrotted compost around the planting hole – they like a fertile, moisture-retentive soil. Let your plant establish for 2-3 years before pruning. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is less vigorous than Cornus alba cultivars, so cut it back by around half. Give a scattering of general-purpose fertiliser in spring.
2 Tuck in some cyclamen
Cyclamen love well-drained soil that’s rich in leafmould and the light shade deciduous shrubs offer in summer, so tuck them around the anticipated spread of the cornus branches. Check tubers are plump and healthy when buying in autumn. Plant rounded side down, about 2.5cm (1in) deep, so their tip is level with the soil surface. Or, look out for pot-grown plants, which are more expensive but you get a better establishment rate. They will self-seed.
3 Plant bergenia, heather, carex and daphne
These are best planted in autumn or spring when the ground is warm and workable. Plant the bergenias en masse, in full sun for brightest foliage colour, although they will cope with part shade. Remove old tattered leaves before the flowers in late spring. Bergenias spread by rhizomes; if they start to become leggy, dig up clumps and replant vigorous young sections into improved soil. Heather ‘Kramer’s Rote’ needs a well-drained soil to thrive. A sunny site and sandy loam suit it to perfection; ericas particularly dislike being overfed or overwatered. Take care to position them away from the potential shade of other plants. Water during their first season of growth especially in prolonged dry spells. Trim ‘Kramer’s Rote’ lightly, immediately after flowering, to keep plants bushy. Carex is hardy in most winters but make sure your soil has good drainage because it doesn’t like winter wet. In spring lightly comb through to pull out dead leaves and stems from its dense tussocks and divide established clumps. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is one of the easiest daphnes to grow, flowers early and its scent is magical. Choose its site carefully (daphnes don’t like being moved) and find it a sheltered spot if you’re on more exposed ground. Dig in some leafmould or other well-rotted organic matter to ensure a humus-rich, free-draining soil. Water during a dry spell in their first year but take care not to drown plants. When the first pink buds open it’ll be worth every penny.
Create a metallic mix by threading golden ivy Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ between swirls of bergenia and pink heather