If you are struggling with the long grey winter days, then now is the perfect time to order some bulbs and tubers guaranteed to brighten your winter garden next year. An added bonus is that they will also provide nectar for winter foraging insects and bees emerging early from hibernation.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) can be bought as dry bulbs but establish much more effectively if bought "in the green". This simply means that they are actively growing and you will get clumps of bulbs in leaf. Now is the perfect time to order them and although you wont get any flowers this year they should quickly establish and reward you with flowers next January and February.
Galanthus nivalis is the common snowdrop and the one you are most likely to see in the wild. It likes partial shade and will tolerate most soils, if happy gradually spreading to form large clumps. They will naturalise in grass and are ideal for adding winter colour under trees and deciduous shrubs. Make sure to plant some where you can see them from your windows or front door, then you can enjoy then whatever the weather.
January with its short, cold days can be gloomy at the best of times and even more so now we are entering another lockdown. Gardens can seem drab and lifeless and yet there are many beautiful plants which will add colour and interest throughout the winter.
One of my favourites is the winter flowering cherry. There are two varieties; Prunus x subhirtella "Autumnalis" with white blossom and "Autumnalis Rosea" which is a delicate shell-pink. They will tolerate most soils as long as they are not waterlogged and any aspect. Growing around 6m tall, with a relatively light canopy and pollution tolerant they are a perfect choice for city gardens.
At a time when most trees are bare, their branches tantalise with a generous sprinkling of tight buds which gradually open to delicate flowers. Initial flurries of blossom appear in late November and will carry on right through to March. They don't produce any fruit but do have good Autumn colours, soft shades of orange-yellow.
Having fallen in love with our first tree, we now have three "Autumnalis Rosea" in our garden and all are currently full of blossom. In Spring I prefer the purity and freshness of white blossom but the pink seems more cheerful at this time of year and stands out well against grey winter skies.
Last weekend I spent a grey, wet November morning wandering around the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Although the weather was dull and gloomy the gardens were guaranteed to lift your spirits. The Isle of Wight benefits from a very mild climate and so many late summer perennials such as heleniums and penstemons were still in full swing. But what really caught my eye were some of the beautiful tree trunks whose colours and textures were glistening and glowing in the autumnal drizzle.
One of the most spectacular sights was the almost luminescent bark of Arbutus 'Hybrid Seedling'.
The Arbutus family is often overlooked despite offering evergreen trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, clusters of creamy flowers and colourful fruits. Surely ticking the boxes of providing year round colour and interest. They are largely tolerant of most soils and aspects and only ask that you protect them from cold winds and water-logging.
The fruits are long lasting and you will have new ones forming alongside the fully ripe , resulting in a wonderful mix of green, yellow and reds. Although they are said to resemble strawberries, to me they resemble fluffy Christmas baubles. They are also edible although an acquired taste. Needing minimal care they offer a lot in return for little input.
Arbutus unedo (AGM) is probably the smallest and can be grown as a shrub or trained to form a small tree (simply prune out unwanted lower branches to create your main trunk) . The tree Arbutus x andrachnoides will provide wonderful bark, similar to the Hybrid Seedling or if those colours are not quite to your taste try Arbutus menziesii. below, delicious in cinnamon and pistachio shades.
Native to temperate climates, they bring us a taste of the mediterranean without the tenderness and difficulties associated the popular Olive tree.