We’re pretty much confined to barracks now in our gardens and local parks, but our daily exercise walks can be livened up no end by one of those many winter shrubs that puts its best foot forward in the coldest months of the year.
As the most normal of the 3growbags sisters (let’s face it, the other two are in parallel universes, one pottering in a surreally sheltered walled courtyard and the other attempting to garden in the northern tundra), I will be showcasing a couple of sparkling all-rounders for lifting your winter spirit.
My first beauty is a pink pussy willow Salix gracilistyla ‘Mount Aso’, our feature picture today. I photographed this at RHS Wisley in mid-January last year (sadly Wisley is currently out of bounds for us) so it’s a great early show of colour and you can’t help but smile when you see it. I’ve found them for sale at around a fiver from Parker’s (link at the bottom) so I’ve ordered three and plan to give one each to E and C as a devious experiment to test their respective horticultural resolve. At that price they’ll only be small plants (more like rooted cuttings I imagine) but willows grow phenomenally quickly and actually thrive in harsh climates, so Caroline won’t be able to play her usual ‘get out of jail’ card.
My next candidate is flowering quince, Chaenomeles. Normally classed as a spring flowerer to be trained rather tortuously against a low house wall, the pretty cultivar I have, Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’ is much tougher than she looks. She is in full flower now, in mid – January, and happily spreading herself in all directions.
The most normal? Laura? I know we’re getting accustomed to a ‘new normal’ but Laura’s garden requires a whole new mind-set. If packs of dogs, flocks of chickens and polytunnels in various stages of degeneration aren’t your thing, I’d stick with me.
To be fair my Eastbourne garden IS a favoured spot compared to most parts of the UK. Being 200 yards from the English Channel, walled and south-facing makes it a very salubrious environment for some of the tenderer shrubs in the winter-flowering category. We had a frost in the garden a few days ago, but that is rarer than a Tescos delivery slot round here.
Coronilla Valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ is much prettier than its insane name suggests. In my garden it flowers for months, from now until April, basically. Its soft little pinnate leaves are evergreen and set off the fragrant pea-like yellow flowers to perfection. It’s not very big when mature – about 3 ft.(90 cms ) – and grows pleasantly bushy.
It likes the sun, but is not fussy as to soil (hurray!) as long as it’s not in a swamp, and is very easy to look after. I just give it an all-over trim in May after it’s finished flowering (it’ll turn up its toes if you prune it hard), and it stays as a neat green mound for the rest of the year.
Another lovely winter-flowering shrub, for a moist semi-shaded place this time, is Edgworthia chrysantha You don’t often see it, but it’s a beautiful plant when it’s happy. Not only does it flower at a time when not much else is out, the blooms are also sweetly scented (the yellow ones are more fragrant than the orange or red ones). By the way, we talk about some of our favourite winter-scented plants in an earlier blog – the link is at the bottom. It has another advantage in that it covers itself in rather gorgeous bluish foliage once the flowers are done.
One rather clever trick with the pruning, is to cut back several stems at different heights in March/April, some of them near to ground level, which results in lots more stems coming up which will bear flowers the following winter.
Edgworthia is related to daphnes and like them, it does like a sheltered place to live, perhaps next to a warm wall. Probably make a great cool conservatory plant in cold areas, actually. Talking of which, here’s Caroline….
In truth, both my sisters live a charmed horticultural life in the sunny south. Where is the sense of adventure if your thermometer isn’t lodged in the blue zone for three solid months? Don’t they miss the thrill of herbaceous borders that lean, en masse, to the left?
To my mind their choices aren’t really shrubs – just finicky little fluffy things – the equivalent of thongs compared to my big Scottish pants. Look at my first choice – if it wasn’t for the freezing fog, you’d be able to see the North Sea just over its brow here at my husband’s house just east of Edinburgh. Yes, of course, it’s a Hebe……. rakaiensis to be precise.
Now, shrubby Veronica (its other name but maybe, also, your old school chum) knows her job. Not a thing of beauty maybe but the role of a winter shrub in my view is not to be one of your frillies, but to act as a stout pair of drawers protecting your delicates. In this case good old ‘Ronnie’ is shielding two rather-too-wafty-for-the-climate cream roses. They were gifted to my husband and me on the event of our marriage and they’re still alive to mark our fourth anniversary this year…surprises all round, I think.
Of course hebes hail from New Zealand and what a good match that country is for proper UK conditions i.e. driving rain and constant wind. It’s also the home of my second choice – Olearia macrodonta. It’s not pretty as such, but it has satisfyingly leathery sage leaves and the same qualities as a decent mac – wonderfully waterproof if not up for the BIG FREEZE (so they are a little trickier inland, but of course up here you’re rarely far from the coast). Yes, small enough for a town garden but large enough to give height and form, olearias are Scotland’s answer to the Med’s olive trees although, in my view, its pretty daisy flowers still struggle to be a substitute for a good beach-bar waiter. Sigh.
NB This is where you can order that pink pussy willow at a bargain price J.Parker’s.
NEXT NB Louise has a plant that both looks good and tastes good as her great plant this month, read about it by clicking on the box below.
MORE NB For a sisterly discussion about scented winter plants, check out this earlier blog.
AND EVEN MORE NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning