Gardening: Chic mid winter

Ornamental cabbage can help brighten up the dullest of winters.
Ornamental cabbage can help brighten up the dullest of winters.
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Many gardeners abandon their tubs, troughs or hanging baskets in winter instead of keeping them vibrant by filling them with plants that will provide interest and colour in some of the dullest months of the year.

Containers shouldn’t be spring and summer-only bits of the garden; with a modicum of thought and planning they can become an important year-round provider of colour and form.

The secret of good growth is to fill your containers with fresh compost that contains slow-release plant food – and to buy or use only the best strong plants that will provide leaf texture and flowers in the most difficult of times.

Compost such as Miracle-Gro Expand ’n Gro will release some of the nutrients just after planting but keep the rest until the temperature rises and the plants can absorb the food easily.

Another positive benefit of this compost is that, because it contains no added lime, it can be used for planting mixed groups that include heathers, which never seem to thrive in your average compost.

Small shrubs such as hebe, skimmia and euonymus will provide a central point of interest, or you can provide bright red foliage using Leucothoe “Scarletta” or evergreen Coprosma “Fireburst”.

Some people prefer the bright red berries of Christmas Cherry (Solanum) surrounded by winter-flowering heathers, pansies or even the increasingly-popular ornamental cabbage or kale to provide foliage interest.

Many members of the fast-expanding heuchera family will also give fascinating leaf colours and markings to brighten a container. The flowers may be insignificant, but the foliage more than makes up for the lack of in-your-face floral power.

Small-leaved ivies were traditionally used to soften the harsh outlines of containers, although nowadays garden centres also offer arching sprays of decorative grasses such as Carex comens or Carex buchanii to do a similar job.

Other new edging plants also include tumbling pansies and violas which will grow over the edges and provide plenty of attractive flower colour, and winter-hardy small cyclamen.

Hanging baskets for winter display should have been established well before now, so if you failed to make the deadline, it’s could be worth buying ready-planted baskets from your local garden centre.

Then all you need to do is to water regularly and feed occasionally with a soluble plant food.

Winter has never been so colourful.

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