Shrubs that can give an immediate boost

Chinese witch hazel
Chinese witch hazel
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There are some wonderful winterflowering shrubs that can give the garden an instant boost.

Hamamelis mollis and its cultivars come to mind and there are beautiful large specimens available in garden centres at around £25 to £30.

Whilst 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 a month and will flower every winter round about January or a little before.

The common name is Chinese witch hazel and it’s described as a small tree or large shrub. It 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. If underplanted with red winter-flowering heathers a foot apart, the red contrasts beautifully with the gold flowers.

The best red winter-flowering heather is Erica carnea Vivellii, but this one is very difficult to find and is usually available only 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 if flower right now. They are excellent background plants because they are evergreen and flower from January until the mass of flowers arrive round about March or April.

But avoid early morning sun otherwise the flowers scorch after frosty mornings. It’s the sun which scorches the blooms.

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.

Add to this a lovely drift of single snowdrops. These are planted ‘in the green’ round about February time, when they can be bought in bunches already in flower in street markets, or by sending off for them by mail order.

They are brill when grown with the Cornus Westonbirt and contrast with Erica carnea Vivellii, which will still be in bloom until after the snowdrops flowers have faded.

All the shrubs mentioned here are good in wet conditions providing the roots are not in a sump. They are all good in a clay soil, but the trick is to grow them on top of the clay, using an acid compost such as John Innes ericaceous mix.