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Great Plants this Month Winter

Crocus wheel of colour

Three decades ago, when our so-called lawn was little more than a rectangle of rough grass and before we planted our walnut tree, in between doing battle with bindweed, changing nappies and keeping rabbits at bay, I would sometimes try to introduce some sort of coherence into my plans for spring bulbs. But I rarely got beyond grabbing a few random crocus at the local…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Primula vulgaris AGM

primrose Never underestimate the power of the primrose to lift the spirits! A couple of days ago, having forced myself out into the grey and drizzle, I rounded the corner of a path in our garden and there it was, a self-sown specimen I need hardly say, perfectly placed to give hope and cheer just in time…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

December flowers

My thanks to those of you who have read my column over the past year, it’s been so much fun to write, and I have learnt quite a lot of new details about some of the plants myself! Thank you also if you’ve bought my little book, I do hope that you are enjoying dipping into it from time to time.…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ AGM

Yellow-fruited guelder rose – I’ve been admiring this guelder rose for weeks. It all starts when the shrub is still in leaf; then, as the season progresses, the gorgeous, amber coloured, translucent berries stand out more and more on their winter bare stems. And I’m not the only one who appreciates it; the little robin in my photo is unusually shy but she sits very happily among the berries, does she feel safer being so…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Geranium ‘Dusky Crûg’

‘ There are less than two weeks to go before winter officially begins, but what an extraordinarily mild autumn it has been. Many borderline hardy plants are still flowering their socks off in containers and I am reluctant to dismantle them because they still look so happy, despite a few frosts at the beginning of the month. However, I need to free up the pots for my tulip bulbs so I must harden my…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Symphyotrichum pilosum var. pringlei ‘Monte Cassino’

Aster ‘Monte Cassino’ No photograph can do this plant justice because it’s so difficult to capture the airy essence of ‘Monte Cassino’. It has a very open habit, with well-spaced stems that hold generous sprays of tiny, delicate, pure white flowers. The foliage is neat and does not interfere with the overall effect. Not only is this exceptionally beautiful aster a breath of fresh air at…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Polystichum setiferum ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’ AGM

Soft shield fern ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’ Just over a year ago I chose another soft shield fern to write about, and mentioned my difficulty remembering the names of ferns; well, it seems that I am not alone in this as I recently came across an interesting article by one of my favourite garden writers, Val Bourne, who tells of ferns, oestrogen and saucepan lids all in…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Ribes laurifolium – laurel-leaved currant

Before this recent bout of snow and frost, the garden seemed almost to be in early spring mode and bursting into life with crocus, aconites, iris and of course, snowdrops. Now we have returned to winter and it’s just what the garden needed. However, my choice this week had already made its mark, quietly but…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

‘The brittle violin of frost’

The timing couldn’t be better: the RHS have just announced that the Chelsea Flower Show 2021 is being postponed until September. Bring in the new! This is a big opportunity for change: for the RHS, for the nurserywomen and men, for the exhibitors and for us, the gardeners. The announcement also coincides with a few…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Salvia officinalis – common sage

From Roman times onward, our garden sage has, as its Latin name suggests, been valued in connection with innumerable medicinal and, since Tudor times, culinary uses.  Steering clear of the former, I can certainly vouch for its use in the kitchen, as without shadow of a doubt it is my go-to herb in the winter months; not only that, its evergreen good looks are reliably handsome all year round. Over the years, I’ve also grown the forms ‘Icterina’, ‘Purpurascens’ and ‘Tricolor’, also a broad-leaved one,…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ AGM

eulalia ‘Morning Light’ The plumes are palish pink – very pretty if you’re lucky enough to get them! That doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement does it? So, it seems odd to be recommending a grass that in most years fails to produce a single flower, and even after this year’s hot summer spell, we had none; but I hardly noticed their absence, for that’s not why we grow it. This statuesque, clump-forming grass grows to 1.2 –…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Ligustrum japonicum ‘Rotundifolium’

“Not a privet!” I hear you cry. But this one is quite distinct: an unusual, curious even, evergreen shrub which once seen is never forgotten. What it does have in common with other privets is the slightly sickly scent that exudes from the white flowers in summer – brilliantly described in the opening paragraph of ‘Spies’ by Michael…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Pelargonium sidoides ‘Sloe Gin Fizz’

Along with P. sidoides, which has deep wine-red, almost black flowers, this festively named pelargonium cultivar is one of the latest into flower and together they take first prize for carrying on longest at the end of the season.  Sloe Gin Fizz is definitely the winner this year, it has been flowering strongly through October, November and now – well into December! Hardly surprising as this has been the mildest of…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Rosa ‘Flower Carpet Coral’ AGM

Make no mistake, this group called the Flower Carpet roses are not trying to compete with the ethereal beauty of the old roses. They were bred over many years by Noack Rosen in Germany, and the main objective within this breeding programme was good disease resistance. They are also exceptionally long flowering, drought tolerant and easy in terms of maintenance. ‘Coral’ was introduced in…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Mahonia eurybracteata subs. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’

Oregon grape ‘Soft Caress’ The plant is a winner, literally, for it won the RHS Plant of the Year award in 2013 at Chelsea, and deservedly so.  Initially I was so put off by the name I almost didn’t buy it – it sounds like something off the side of a soap powder packet – but…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Corydalis solida subsp. solida ‘Beth Evans’

I was going to write about a dependable, evergreen, scented shrub but decided at the last minute that we might all need a bit of cheer. This fumitory (as they’re commonly known) ‘Beth Evans’ cuts the mustard and is equally dependable and also tough: a couple of years ago it was covered with snow one…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ AGM

Loddon lily, summer snowflake It’s a bit of a misnomer this common name. Leucojum aestivumusually flowers in March or April, yet informally, it is called the summer snowflake. Furthermore, this year, which is far from normal climatically, it’s out in February. This clump forming, bulbous, hardy perennial is very easy going and tolerant of most situations.…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

It’s not all about snowdrops and winter aconites in February. I just couldn’t let the month go by without giving these little beauties a mention.  Classic yes, and I do wish I’d planted more of them last autumn; it takes four months from planting to flower, you can’t ask for more than that. And what good…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Euphorbia stygiana – Azores spurge

This is an interesting euphorbia at any time of the year, but it really comes into its own in the winter, most especially during a cold snap when some of the lower stem leaves turn a brilliant pillar-box red. It’s not a massive blast of colour; it is one of those small delights that catch…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Geranium palmatum AGM – Canary Island Geranium

This handsome evergreen perennial gives me pleasure pretty much all year round; I can be walking down the path on a grey winter’s day, and my eye will be caught by its fresh green foliage. It’s quite unlike any other: apart from its sister plant Geranium maderense which is even more arresting in appearance, but only…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ – Winter flowering cherry

Unlike many of its springtime show-off cousins, this is an understated and elegant small tree, and one of the best for winter interest in the smaller garden. Deciduous and spreading, its leaves show good autumn colour, and they are followed by delicate, semi-double, white flowers tinged with pink, which can appear intermittently throughout late autumn and…

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Great Plants this Month Uncategorized Winter

Malus domestica ‘Sturmer Pippin’

If you spot an apple tree still bearing fruit at this time of the year, chances are it will be a Sturmer Pippin. This is a very late cropping variety that was highly regarded in the Victorian period because it keeps so well on (and off) the tree; it will remain hanging on into January…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’

Willows are a diverse lot, but if it’s shout-out-loud winter colour you’re after, then look no further than my subject today – it simply cannot be ignored in the December garden.  Known also as the scarlet willow or the coral bark willow, the young stems are nearer orange than red, and they create a fiery…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Rosa × odorata ‘Bengal Crimson’ AGM

Despite falling temperatures, still this china rose is in flower. Okay so it’s not a blaze of colour as in the summer months, but I’m so impressed by its persistence. On any given day during this very damp grey autumn I have counted at least a dozen flowers, and many more buds, on our rose.…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’

Syn:Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazen Hussy’Lesser celandine ‘Brazen Hussy’ William Wordsworth wrote no less than three poems in celebration of our native, lesser celandine, so can you imagine the raptures if he had come across ‘Brazen Hussy’? Closely related to the buttercup, this tuberous rooted perennial takes me by surprise every year: one minute the earth is…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Helleborus argutifolius AGM – Syn.Helleborus corsicus  Helleborus lividus subsp. corsicus

Also known as Corsican hellebore or holly-leaved hellebore. That description, ‘holly leaved’, could put you off. Don’t let it, it isn’t prickly, rather that the handsome leathery leaves have a quietly serrated edge. They also have an almost metallic sheen which perfectly sets off the clusters of palest apple-green, cup-shaped flowers which are very long lasting.…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Dendrobium Berry Oda

Straight off, I’ll admit that I am not a fan of tender orchids, especially not the sort that are so popular in garden centres: so perfect they could be made of plastic, and the flowers so long lasting that they need dusting. However, several years ago when I was visiting one of my sisters, her…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Crocus tommasinianus

The big reward for me gardening in January, is not only getting ahead of things while it’s relatively quiet, but also coming across all the tiny signs that spring is just around the corner. My special plant today may seem an obvious choice, but it never fails to stop me in my tracks with its…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Parrotia persica AGM – Persian Ironwood

I first saw Parrotia persica (a group of three) in the winter garden at Polesden Lacey and wanted one immediately: the sight of those deep crimson flowers erupting from bare branches was captivating.  As with many flowers at this time of year you must get up close to appreciate their beauty, but then that is the enjoyment…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Nandina domestica

Otherwise known as the sacred or heavenly bamboo, it is in fact a member of the same family as Berbers and Mahonia. It is the eastern equivalent of holly, being widespread in India, Japan and China. In Japan (where it is often grown in a pot outside the front door), it is said that if you have…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Euphorbia x pasteurii ‘John Phillips’ AGM

In the summer months, they are mostly background, but when winter comes, they are backbone. From now on, evergreen shrubs become more and more important as the last remaining leaves of deciduous plants fall to earth. Coloured stems, bare twigs, and silhouettes of trees, all play their part in the winter garden, as do the…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

It has to be hellebores!

I am not a fan of the sort of mild winter that slips almost imperceptibly into spring, so I am happy with this one! February means hellebores at their best, but I’m not going to get bogged down with too many different sorts here, for there are many, including some very interesting species. I’m going…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Teucrium fruticans

I don’t really linger in the garden in February, but I do go round it every day whatever the weather, and love to notice all the subtle changes. The best time for this is in the early morning after a sharp frost: I never fail to be amazed by the transformations made by frost, and…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ AGM

Everyone is familiar with the ornamental quince. They are easy to grow, very hardy, can be left to grow freely or be trained tightly against a wall. They also come in many colours, some more familiar than others, and are tolerant of almost any soil type. What is not often pointed out is the ability…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’ AGM syn. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’

Straight off I need to state that my subject this week is not for gardeners who like to be in control, for it is a great self seeder, and is further helped on its way by blackbirds. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it invasive but thought I had better sound the alert!…

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Great Plants this Month Winter

Daphne laureola 

Many winter-flowering shrubs are unassuming, their blooms are usually quite subtle and many are fragrant; most often you catch the scent on the air before you notice the flowers. Daphne laureola, commonly known as the spurge laurel, is one of two native daphnes found in the UK and it is easy to grow and utterly…