Splash out on colour for the winter garden

Chinese witch hazel flowers every winter.
Chinese witch hazel flowers every winter.
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At this time of year we all need to be cheered up. I don’t know how you feel, but the good news is that the evenings are one minute lighter each day and it’s now light at 4pm.

My dad always said it was good to get rid of the shortest day!

There are some wonderful winter-flowering shrubs which can give the garden an instant boost.

Hamamelis mollis and its cultivars come to mind and at garden centres there are beautiful large specimens at around £35 to £40. While we may think that is a lot of money, the sizes of the plants will indicate they are several years old, they will be in flower for up to seven weeks and will flower every winter round about Christmas time and January.

The common name Chinese witch hazel is described as a small tree or large shrub and loses its leaves in winter, which is a good thing because the golden yellow strap-like flowers would be hidden if the leaves were evergreen.

This shrub hates chalk and lime, so is best planted in an acid soil or in a raised bed into which acid compost must be added.

The Chinese witch hazel can form an important part of a winter feature in a garden and if under planted with red winter-flowering heathers placed a foot apart, the red contrasts beautifully with the gold flowers on the Hamamelis.

The best red winter-flowering heather is Erica carnea Vivellii, but this one is very difficult to find and is usually available from specialist heather growers. If you are online, you can find growers on RHS Plant Finder. Alternatively, there is an incredible book called The Plant Finder which lists all types of plants and where to get hold of them.

To add to the winter feature, a particularly good background would be camellias. Some readers are telling me they have camellias in flower right now in their garden. They are excellent background plants because they are evergreen and flower from January until the mass of flowers arrive around March or April. We must avoid early morning sun otherwise the flowers scorch after frosty mornings.

Bright red stems look good as a foreground to the camellias and the well-known winter dogwood called Cornus Westonbirt has the brightest red leafless stems all winter. They look great when it snows.

Add to this a lovely drift of single snowdrops. These are planted ‘in the green’ around February when they can be bought in bunches.