09 Jan Winter Planting for Structure & Colour
Assess the structure of your existing beds
The doldrums of winter can be a great time to assess the structure of your existing beds and see potential for improvement in the coming year.
You can see the gaps and potential of your garden while all is calm and quiet.
To have a successful planting scheme requires a mix of seasonal interest, yes of course a vibrant colour palette in the summer is wonderful but what about the rest of the year?
Throughout the winter period our gardens are a little more static and really depend on their evergreen structure to hold their integrity. Thats exactly what we will focus on in this post.
Lighting can help amplify these elements, picking out the canopy of tree silhouettes or specimen planting set in repetition along a flowerbed is a hugely effective way of keeping the space feeling dynamic even through the dormant period in a garden. I’ll share more on garden lighting in next month’s Blog. Lets first of all think about evergreen structure, how to ensure a garden holds its integrity through the Winter months.
My go to’s would be Bay half standard trees for their waxy evergreen leaves ( shown above). They grow well as Topiary and are ideal to create a sense of repetition along a flower bed or line of planters. Olive trees can be used in a similar way and really are integral to a Mediterranean planting scheme by combination with purple perennials.
Or for a more traditional feel I would introduce a variety of Viburnum Tinus Eve Price that will offer petit little bundles of pinky white flower through Winter into early Spring.
While Camelia will give an even bigger showing of colour by February/March.
By considering the structural plants as your evergreen foundation you can then build up a full scheme throughout the calendar months.
Noting which and where your winter flowering plants are means you can ensure flowering plants see you through Dec/Jan until your Spring bulbs begin to appear. For more detail on bulb planting scheme check our out blog Get Ready for Spring 2024 all about bulb planting approaches and combinations https://www.onlinegardendesigns.ie/2023/11/21/bulb-planting-for-spring-2024/
The ground planting ideally will have perennials to be your summer showcase with a good balance of evergreen groundcover. The most important consideration for these plants to take hold & thrive is their aspect to the sun and choose accordingly. Is it shaded or in full sunlight?
EVERGREEN PLANTING FOR SHADE
Plants that thrive in the shade would be Saracocca Confusa ( also known as Sweet Box, aptly named as a sweetly scented winter flower bush ) Pittosporum, green Elf being a particularly lovely option, either as a ‘ golfball’ similar to the shape of a Buxus Box ball or as a loose head for a wilder more natural look.
Think of all the berry producing plants too for pops of colour : Holly, Yew, Catoneaster, Skimmia & Mahonia.
EVERGREEN PLANTING FOR FULL SUN
For sunnier beds you can include plants such as Rosemary, Hebe & Agapanthus, all good options. Again these work really well within Contemporary planting schemes, especially for the purples & blues of
Mediterranean inspired scheme. Rosemary I find particularly interesting to work with, not only as an additional to a kitchen garden where you can grab a couple springs for freshly seasoning BBQs but also as it is specifically recommended on the All Ireland Pollinator Plan. This is a great website for guidance and decision making for pollinators in your garden big or small https://pollinators.ie/resources/
EVERGREEN ALL ROUNDERS
The most versatile of all has to be Heuchera for groundcover, fabulous evergreen leaves that tolerate both shade & full sun positions with colouring range from deep greens to zesty limes and even rust tones. With flowers dancing on tall stem with delicate pinky flowers, some of the varieties flower can be insignificant but if you choose well, say with a Coral Bells variety, you can get a vibrant pink lacy flower aswel as their evergreen leaves. A win win.
Native options should always get a look in, to ensure good Biodiversity through your garden try to include some staples. Our native birds, mammals, pollinators and all other invertebrates depend on our native plants for both habitat and sustenance.
I’ve mentioned Buxus above, this can be a great plant but so too can Taxus bacata, our native Yew. It has many similar characteristics in that it holds its foliage and can be kept to the same growth habit aesthetically for low hedges & ball topiary.
Ilex aquifoilum, our beautiful Holly, comes into the limelight for Christmas, but its benefits are more long lived, provided winter forage aswel as habitat, its one well worth considering be it for filling birds as loose shrubbery or as well groomed tree lines.
And for groundcover in a Minimalist scheme block plant with Ferns create a lovely lush and calm space, opt for Dryopteris or Polystichum varieties or ask your local garden centers which of their stock are of Irish origin.
And lets not forget some of our food producing options among our native trees & shrubs , although the following are not strictly within the evergreen realm they deserve to be given a nod here, Hazel, Blackthorn, & Crab Apple can all work into a planting scheme and give back in return. A very nice way to consider these is in a mix of a native edible hedge . You can mix these gems as a % mix into a Beech hedge that holds its bronzed leaf through winter and would then also include both flowering & fruiting elements : Hazel, Blackthorn, Rosa Ragosa. Your hedge will always be vibrant even while dormant, changing throughout the entire year and offering a whole host of food & habitat for wildlife and families alike.
If this peaks your interest there is a whole world of exploration you can have with native edible plants, from the rosehips of Rosa Ragosa to the berries (actually techincally a small sponey pinecone) of Juniper bush. Rhubarb can work surprisingly well in a planting mix, as can our lovely Irish wild Strawberry.
Food for thought.
QUICK WINS FOR DOORWAY PLANTING
There are some really great quick winds for bringing winter colour to your doorway. Take the approach of grouping by colour & ensuring some contrasting texture. I like to have a group of 3 pots varying in height to get a bit of a staggered effect, consider your favorite Helebore combined with textural Dwarf Pines like a Mugo Mops. Or a pop of pink Cyclamen with some taller ferns.
GRASSES & SEED HEAD
Not everything needs to stay green to be of interest. In the same way as Beech hedges are deciduous they can actually still retain their leaves if not in too windy a location. I love deciduous pleached Beech trees for this reason..
And likeway for planting, grasses can be the most effective way to keep interest in a bed throughout the winter months. Block planting areas with Misacnthus or Calamagrostis creates a sea of movement and texture in a flower bed that may otherwise be stark in their absence.
The bronzed seedhead retains interest, especially on the most frosty of mid-winter mornings.
For all our packages at https://www.onlinegardendesigns.ie/packages/ we develop a custom planting schemes. Grasses are an especially important element of Prarie style planting and are a firm favourite with our designers & clients alike. They combine so well with perennials which offer vibrant summer colour and hold themselves throughout the winter months.