Gardening: Add winter colour with vibrant stems and barks
Add a splash of colour to your winter garden with vibrant stems and ornamental bark, says Adrienne Wild
In winter deciduous trees and shrubs are stripped naked and often reveal their drab and lifeless skeleton. There are many garden worthy plants however, that shine at this time of year showing off their fiery stems or touchy feely bark, which with clever planning could turn your garden into a winter wonderland – even without the help of snow!
Dazzling white stems, peeling bark along with a graceful habit makes silver birch one of the most sought after plants for a small garden. It is particularly effective when best grown as a multi-stemmed tree in a wild corner of the garden to give the impression of a copse. To create the effect simply cut back the young stem to create three separate stems. Alternatively plant several young trees, placing them a few centimetres apart.
If space is limited, consider planting a single specimen of the shapely, weeping variety Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ in a sunny or lightly shaded border through a carpet of white-variegated plants such as Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’. Its mature height is 4.5m and the light canopy of birch means that most groundcover plants and spring bulbs will thrive in its dappled shadows.
Perfect for creating a focal point in a medium to large-size formal lawn is the startling white-barked Betula jacquemontii. Look out for the ‘Jermyns’ or ‘Inverleith’ varieties that produce extra long catkins in spring. It will take about eight years for these 3m tall trees to produce the whitest
coloured bark but the wait is worth it.
Another white-stemmed plant that’s suitable for a large garden is the Ghost bramble or Rubus ‘Silver Fern’. It’s a good choice for a boundary border where its tangled icy-blue mass of canes will make a good defence against intruders. You will need to keep this vigorous plant under control by pruning it hard to the ground each spring. In a regular-size border, you might consider planting the variety ‘Goldenvale’, which as well as its white winter stems it also produces yellow summer foliage on a plant just 1m tall.
Known as the snake bark maple, Acer davidii has greenish-yellow bark with eye-catching vertical striations, which with a little imagination can be likened to a snake’s skin. The striations usually begin to appear on trees that are at least two years old and are more pronounced on more mature trees. It prefers a sheltered location and grows best in full sun, although it will tolerate light shade and prefers moist but well-drained ground. With a height of around 10-15m it’s a perfect specimen plant in a small garden as either a standard or multi-stem.
At just 6m, the paperbark maple, Acer griseum is one of the most beautiful of all small trees. The bark, which is its main attraction, is a rich shade of mahogany and peels in layers to reveal new pristine cinnamon-coloured bark underneath. You will have to wait a few years for the maximum effect, as the bark does not normally flake off until the tree is three or four years old. A rich, moistureretentive, well-drained soil will keep this undemanding tree happy but for best results, find it a sheltered spot where the trunk is highlighted in winter sunshine.
Prunus serrula looks so appealing at this time of year that you’ll always want to keep touching it! The new bark is especially striking and on an old tree it’s worth taking the trouble to peel away the flaking old bark to reveal the smooth, shiny new wood. It looks superb in winter sunshine so plant it where it catches the light. It will grow well on most soils and will reach a height of 3m. It’s a good idea to remove lower branches as the tree grows to produce a tall, glossy trunk.
If you’ve no space for a tree, then use dogwoods to inject some colour into your winter garden. You can create a bonfire in your border with Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’, which produces bright yellow-orange stems until mid-spring when the colour fades. To the plant in peak condition each winter, cut the old stems hard back in late February to make way for a new crop of fresh colourful growth.
The award-winning Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ produces bright coral-red stems and looks stunning when planted in groups where the impact is doubled by the reflection in a still pond. It’s also a good choice for the edge of a wild garden if mixed with Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’, which produces lime green winter stems up to 1m tall and Cornus ‘Kesselringii’, which produces a dense thicket of dark purple-black stems with the potential of growing up to
Paperback maple proves small is beautiful
Cornus sericea flaviramea is perfect in a wild border
A row of silvery Betula pendula are offset by flaming dogwoods
Striking Betula Jacquemontii
The ‘snakeskin’ striations of Acer davidii
Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ brings the heat in bleakest winter
Prunus serrula offers shiny mahogany splendour