Winter heathers can provide instant colour

Winter Heathers
Winter Heathers
A withered poinsettia. This may not be your fault.

BRIAN KIDD: Killing worms and poorly poinsettias

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This is an excellent time to plant shrubs in the garden, esp-ecially if you have little time.

Or perhaps you want to sit out there and enjoy the border without having to think about planting seasonal flowers.

Mind you, Pam and I will never cover the garden with shrubs because we both adore flowers, so we have a compromise. Shrubs at the back and flowers at the front.

Superb gardens have a skeleton of evergreen shrubs because they look good all year. In the dreary winters just a splash of sunshine brings the evergreens into play and the yellows and golds in the variegated shrubs look brilliant in even the slightest ray of sunshine.

How do we choose shrubs? Take an illustrated book of shrubs with you when you go to the garden centre. Have a look at the picture in the book, but most importantly have a look at the height and spread of the shrub and check if it is an evergreen. Choose the plants you like best, put them on the path and arrange them so that the foliage contrasts with the next shrub. Place a lovely golden or yellow foliage against a green one and when you are happy, pop them into the cart and go to the till.

Shrubs need to cover the ground and if you choose Photinia you will see that the spread is five feet. If you decide to plant a marvellous camellia alongside you will see that the spread will be the same. When you get home they are planted five feet apart. You may think this is too far apart but after three years the shrubs will touch each other.

What about the bare soil between the plants? Plant annual plants and as time passes plant fewer annuals. They don’t need to be expensive, for example scatter over pot marigold seeds in April and in the areas where there is a need for height, scatter cosmos in April. They will flower from July until autumn.

‘What I need is an instant display of colour for winter in a wet garden’ writes Julie, who lives in Denmead.

Here we go….

Have a look at winter-flowering heathers called Erica carnea. All heathers love acid soils but the carnea cultivars grow exceptionally well on neutral soils, although they don’t like chalk.

All you need to do is to use an edging of wooden logs, stone or bricks to make a bed six inches deep above your normal soil level, fill the area with acid compost and plant the heather plants about a foot apart.

In three years the area will be filled as the plants touch each other.