Island Life Magazine Ltd December 2008/January 2009 - Page 78

life GARDENING Sally studied horticulture at Duchy College, Cornwall (Bsc (Hons) Horticulture) before breaking into gardening journalism. Winter wonderland Sally Charrett If you have a question for Sally need some advice or even a suggestion for an article then please email: sallycharrett@hotmail.com At this chilly time of year, it’s easy to disregard the garden as a grey and dull place that has shut up shop for winter, and instead put your feet up with a cup of tea and good gardening book. But there’s still much to enjoy in the garden enthuses Sally Charrett, who also takes a look at how you can bring some of the garden inside, when decorating the house for Christmas. Compared to the bright splashes of colour that tend to steal the show during the summer months, the garden in winter takes on a different, more subtle beauty; we just need to look a little harder to spot its charms. Interesting stems and bark are often revealed after leaf drop, and the crispy, brown skeletons and seedheads of herbaceous perennials still standing, can look stunning backlit by the low wintry sun. Evergreens become really important when most other foliage and flowers have faded, and this doesn’t have to mean gloomy, dark green shrubs or conifers either. In my own garden, I have gone for a selection of bamboos, phormiums, cordylines, Acuba japonica, Pittosporum and Fatsia japonica. This gives quite a jungle-feel and it’s incredible how the lush greenness stands out against the bare branches of the native tree belt just behind the back fence. If you prefer a more traditional look, box and yew are satisfying to look at when pruned into interesting shapes such as cubes, balls and spirals. Elephant’s ears (Bergenia) provide good evergreen ground cover, turning shades of burgundy during the 78 cold months and have lovely deep pink or white flowers in the spring to boot. They do look good when planted in drifts. Try Bressingham Beauty or Wintermarchen. Creating winter interest in your garden need not be expensive, and rather can be seen as an investment, as some plants give you a lot more for your money than you realise. Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire for example has clusters of white flowers in June, and mid-green leaves which turn orangey-brown in the autumn, to reveal red-tipped orangey-yellow stems in the winter. It’s clear where this plant gets its name, as it can easily be confused for the flames of a bonfire burning brightly amidst a bleak landscape. Plant en masse for the greatest impact. For best stem colour, cut the stems back hard to within 5-7cm from the ground in March and apply a generous mulch of organic matter around the base of the plant. For a tree you can enjoy from the kitchen window all year round try Acer griseum (Paper Bark maple). A slow-growing tree with gorgeous bright red foliage in autumn, it has lovely cinnamon-coloured, naturally peeling bark. Most winter flowers are shy and retiring, but make up for it with the redeeming feature of scent and are best positioned by a path of doorway for people to appreciate. Try Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ (Winter Honeysuckle) for something a little different. This med ium-sized, slow-growing shrub has deliciously scented small yellow-white flowers, on display between December and March. Plant in between shrubs that give summer interest if you have the space, as once this shrub comes into leaf, it is rather insignificant. Other exceptional shrubs for winter scent are: Daphne bholua, mahonias, Sarcococca and Witch Hazel. Depending on how they fare during really bad wet or freezing weather, the plumes of grasses such as miscanthus, and the seedheads of herbaceous perennials like teasel, old man’s beard and Sea Holly, can provide fantastic winter interest if left unpruned. Many well-known gardens include specific areas for winter interest or offer guided winter walks. If you’re stuck for inspiration, wrap up warm, and take a stroll, armed with a notebook. The Island's new funky radio station www.wightfm.com