In a previous article I noted that gardens are generally less colourful in winter than during the summer. Despite this seasonal difference, colour need not be in short supply in winter or early spring. In addition to early flowering bulbs like eranthis, galanthus, crocus or narsissus (not to mention the ‘oldfashioned’ winter flowering heathers), an increasing range of early colour is available to gardeners. Even the toughest foliage plants are available in unexpected colour forms, phormium for example, in striped pink.
Most of the plants illustrated here are easily grown, need little maintenance, and provide a reliable source of intense colour through the garden’s dormant season. Vibrant winter colours can occur on the stems of deciduous shrubs, or may appear as seasonal changes to plants grown for their ‘evergreen’ foliage. The more conventional source of strong garden colour is from flowers. Winter flowering can be a brief, scented event, but any plant willing to do its thing so early in the year may serve a useful garden purpose.
The absence of foliage in winter reveals deciduous stem colours particularly clearly. Stem colour intensifies with quantity, so planting in multiples and thoughtful well-timed pruning will produce a stronger effect. Typically, younger stems exhibit stronger colour, and pruning encourages new stem growth. Coloured-stem shrub species which may be capable of outgrowing the garden can be pruned to remain
small for many years.
The generous dimensions of many colourful shrubs often make them especially suitable for distant viewing, or for structural planting. The red stems illustrated are carried on fairly coarse-textured varieties of cornus. Closer to the house, plants of greater delicacy may be preferred, with softer foliage textures creating a more refined arrangement of planting. Their bold scale makes the stem-colour plants useful for creating a distant winter focus at a time of year when the garden’s overall structure is dominant. The herbaceous perennials have retreated, seeking subterranean protection from cold air. Last year’s fragile plant material has been broken down, or blown away by winter weather, or removed to become next year’s compost. The resulting seasonal change of scale, in which a dormant garden may be experienced in bold outline form as a ‘macro-structure’, produces a strong spatial contrast when compared with with the developing fullness of summer growth, with all its complexities of ‘micro-detail’, of flower formation, pollination, fruiting and setting seed. The seasonal mutability of the garden holds our interest in one familiar place; the garden fascinates because it is everchanging. A winter colour palette which further develops the sensation of change enriches the garden experience.
If you are feeling inspired to bring a warm glow to your garden in time for winter 2010, don’t delay. All of the plants shown here need at least one full growing season to develop the structure on which to carry their winter colour.
Douglas Dalgliesh Garden Design