Category: Gardening tips

How to bring scent and colour to the garden in winter

The garden in winter can seem cold, drab and lifeless. But this doesn’t have to be the case as there are winter flowering shrubs that not only provide welcome colour during the darkest days, but also pump out delicious perfume as well. To cope with harsh weather at this time of year, flowers in winter tend to be small, giving them a more subtle understated charm. And to attract what few pollinating insects there are around, they’re usually highly scented too. Positioned by a front door or path, they can work wonders to lift the spirits, so here’s my recommendations of ten scented winter flowering plants.

Chimonanthus praecox (Winter sweet) – a fairly non-descript shrub in summer, so best planted with summer flowering plants, but in winter yellow bell-shaped flowers with a slight spicy fragrance adorn the bare stems. It grows best in a sunny sheltered position.

Clematis cirrhosa – an evergreen climber with scented bell-like speckled cream flowers throughout winter. It looks great over a pergola or arch where the flowers can be fully appreciated.

Coronilla valentina ssp. glauca ‘Citrina’ (Scorpion vetch) – this evergreen shrub is a member of the pea family so has distinctively shaped flowers like miniature sweet peas. The flowers are lemon yellow, sweetly scented, and bloom from late winter into spring and then again in late summer – double the value! The flowers look fabulous against the blue-grey leaves. It does need a sheltered position so does best against a south or west facing wall.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ – a small neat variegated evergreen shrub with strongly scented pale pink flowers throughout winter. The glossy dark green leaves have yellow margins. It prefers a sunny sheltered spot so is a great choice beside a south or west facing front door.

Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’ (Paper bush) – this deciduous shrub looks quite unusual when the large rounded heads of small tubular, bright yellow flowers appear on the ends of the bare stems in late winter. It has a clove-like scent and needs a sunny sheltered spot to grow.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (Witch hazel) – unusual and distinctive spidery orange flowers appear throughout the winter on the bare stems of this slow growing deciduous shrub. The flowers are slightly scented. There’s also another fiery display in autumn when the leaves turn shades of red, orange and scarlet.

Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter honeysuckle) – you tend to think of honeysuckles as summer flowering climbers, but this is a semi-evergreen shrub with sweetly scented creamy white flowers that fill the air with perfume throughout winter. The flowers are followed by red berries. It flowers best in a sunny spot.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ (Oregon grape) – an architectural evergreen shrub with an upright habit and spiny pinnate leaves. Scented bright yellow flowers appear in erect clusters from late autumn through winter. It can work well as a focal point in a shady spot.

Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box) – a small, neat, rounded evergreen shrub with spidery cream flowers that have an intense fragrance throughout winter. It does best in a shady position, so it’s perfect next to a north or east facing front door.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – Viburnum shrubs are great do-ers and this one’s no exception. As soon as the leaves fall in late autumn, clusters of intensely fragrant dark pink flowers appear on the bare upright branches. The flowers fade as they mature and last until early spring.

Unless you’re out to create a dedicated winter garden, you’ll probably only want one or two of these in your garden, especially where space is a premium. But I think the inclusion of some winter colour and scent is a most welcome addition to any garden. What’s more, all the plants I’ve recommended are pretty low maintenance, requiring minimal pruning and care, which can only be an added bonus.





Ten Top Plants for Amazing Autumn Colour

The warm fiery hues adopted by many deciduous trees and shrubs before shedding their leaves, coupled with the soft sunlight of this time of year, makes autumn a particularly evocative time. Even in the smallest garden I think it’s important to have one or more plants which provide good autumn colour.

So here’s ten of my favourite plants to light up the garden in fall:

Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) – there are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples to choose from and most have impressive autumn tints. Their graceful forms make them ideally suited either as specimen focal points, or as a pleasing contrast when planted with other shrubs. The cultivar ‘Osakazuki’ is a particularly good choice, a small rounded tree whose rich green lobed leaves turn a brilliant scarlet red in autumn.

Amelanchier lamarckii (Snowy Mespilus) – a fantastic small tree ideal for a small garden. Trees may be either single or multi-stemmed. In spring, the bushy crown is covered in white blossom whilst in autumn the foliage turns fabulous shades of red and orange.

Betula pendula (Silver birch) – our graceful native birch tree with its weeping branch tips does not display any of the hot red autumn colours but instead turns a beautiful butter yellow, a perfect compliment to the peeling silver bark.

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry) – a dense thorny shrub whose small green leaves turn red and orange in autumn. Small pale yellow flowers in spring develop into small red ovoid berries in autumn that harmonise beautifully with the foliage.

Cotinus ‘Grace’ (Smoke bush) – this large shrub is called the smoke bush in reference to the plumes of purplish pink summer flowers. But there’s no smoke without fire, and that comes in autumn when the large wine-purple leaves turn bright orange and scarlet.

Euonymus alatus (Winged spindle tree) – for most of the year this dense spreading shrub acts solely as a green backdrop to other plants. But come autumn it takes centre stage when the leaves turn spectacular shades from deep pink through to brilliant crimson. At the same time, the reddish-purple fruits open partially to reveal orange seeds. Quite a show!

Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweet gum) – a tall conical tree only suitable for larger gardens and sometimes seen as a street tree. The maple-like leaves turn through a range of colours from pale orange to deep red-purple.

Nyssa sylvatica (American tupelo) – a medium-sized tree with an upright conical habit, the leaves change to stunning shades of red, gold and yellow in autumn.

Rhus typhina (Stags horn sumac) – a beautiful low crowned tree, usually wider than it is tall. The attractive divided leaves change through shades of yellow, orange, red and purple in autumn, coupled with upright furry crimson fruit that last well into winter.

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ (Rowan) – a small upright tree that makes a valuable addition to any garden. The white blossom in early summer is a favourite with bees, whilst in autumn the pinnate leaves turn impressive shades of red, purple and orange. The large clusters of creamy-yellow berries turn orange-yellow when ripe, lasting well into winter, before providing a welcome winter meal for birds.

Autumn’s not only a great time to see these trees and shrubs in their full glory; it’s also a great time to plant them, either as bare root or container-grown plants in pots. So strike now while the iron’s hot!

The Need to Weed

Spring is a great time to watch your garden burst into life after its winter dormancy. But it’s also the time when weeds seem to appear from nowhere overnight and can quickly overwhelm your plants. As well as spoiling the aesthetics of your garden, weeds compete for water, nutrients and light so are best removed. Even gardens designed to be low maintenance may need weeding occasionally. And it’s best done sooner rather than later before they go to seed. As the saying goes “one year’s seed, seven years weed”. Or to put it another way “a stitch in time saves nine”. But that’s enough silly dittys!

Small weed seedlings can quickly be removed by hand weeding or hoeing on a warm dry day. Hoeing cuts through surface weeds without damaging plant roots and the weeds can then be left on the soil surface to dry out.

Larger weeds may need digging out with a hand fork or border fork. With perennial weeds (e.g. dandelion, dock, nettle) it’s important to remove all sections of the root, otherwise the plant will grow back.

Some perennial weeds (e.g. bindweed, ground elder) are difficult to remove by digging out alone, as the roots are easily broken and any small pieces left in the soil will re-grow. In these instances it may be necessary to resort to using a total systemic herbicide containing glyphosate (e.g. Roundup), though obviously this is not an option if you want to garden organically.

Applying a mulch over the soil, such as bark chips, well-rotted manure, slate chippings or gravel, is the best way to reduce weed seeds germinating. To be effective the mulch needs to be applied thickly, at least 5cm (2 inches) deep. Permeable landscape fabrics can also be used to suppress weeds, but are best covered in gravel or bark chips to improve the appearance.

Water Conservation

The current drought conditions and resultant hosepipe ban, due to take effect from 5 April in London and the south east, highlight the need for water conservation and sustainable gardening practices. It’s an area I always like to touch on when discussing a customers requirements for their new garden.

Probably the best measure any garden owner can take is installing a water butt. It’s a simple way to collect rainwater from the roof of a house or outbuilding to use around the garden. They’re easy to install and available in an ever increasing range of sizes, styles and colours to suit any garden. Perhaps it’s time all gardens had one. I certainly think all new build properties should have water butts installed as a matter of course. Maybe it’s time the government and water companies made this so. No ifs, just butts!

Getting Down to Earth

Any gardener will tell you that successful gardening always starts with the soil. Look after your soil and you’ll be able to grow a far greater range of plants. Ideally what you need is a fertile, well-drained, moisture retentive loam. But chances are your soil will be anything but that. In my neck of the woods here in Dulwich it’s a heavy London clay. If uncared for it becomes compacted and waterlogged in winter and cracks and dries as hard as concrete in summer.

But a bit of time and effort can change all that and now is the time of year to do it. The best way to improve any soil, clay or otherwise, is by the addition of organic matter. This could be homemade garden compost or leafmould, rotted farm manure or composted bark. When added to soil organic matter improves the aeration, water-retention and drainage of the soil and, as it is broken down by soil organisms, adds nutrients as well.  My preference is a well-rotted farm manure as it tends to have higher nutrient levels and when mixed with the soil is great for making clay more workable.  

If your soil is in particularly poor condition and hasn’t been blessed with organic matter for many a year, forking it into the soil will really help, especially if new plantings are to follow. Otherwise, you can just spread it over the surface as a mulch and let the worms and other soil critters do the rest. When spread thickly about 5cm (2 in) deep, mulches also help to conserve soil moisture and suppress weed seeds from germinating. I also think the dark rich texture really sets off garden plants as they burst into life in spring. And burst into life they will, if only to thank you for looking after their world.

Tim’s January Gardening Tips

Whilst a typical January may not entice you out into the garden, the relatively mild winter we’ve had so far means there’s lots to be getting on with. January is a great time to take stock of the garden and plan any changes.

Evergreen shrubs come into their own at this time of year, providing structure, colour and habitats for wildlife. Without any evergreen plants, gardens seem flat and lifeless in winter. Plan now where you need them and plant them in early spring.

When the ground is not frozen or too wet, deciduous trees, shrubs, roses and hedging plants can be planted now. Many can be bought bare root at this time of year, which are cheaper, easier to plant and tend to establish better, the roots having not been confined in a pot.

Many deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers can be pruned now while they are dormant, to create a better shape and encourage flowers and fruiting. Apple trees, pear trees and wisteria should all be pruned back to form flowering spurs. Bush and shrub roses should be pruned too. If you’re not sure how hard to prune them, a good rule of thumb is to halve their height, pruning back to just above an outward facing bud. After pruning climbing roses, the long branches should be tied in horizontally to supports. This will result in more flowers come summer.

Get in touch if you would like more advice or assistance with winter planting and pruning.