The garden in winter
Phew! No more chasing around trying to keep up with staking, deadheading and watering. The frosts that look stunning on the hedges have put an end to the last few dahlias and penstemon flowers and the garden is shutting down. But, it is not time to pack away your tools and abandon it – lured by the cosy warmth of a cuppa on the sofa in front of a favourite film. No, there is still a lot to do. Tricky pruning jobs, planning for next year and looking for inspiration are all things to be thinking of in December and January.
Winter pruning: There are many reasons you might want to prune – perhaps for better harvests or bigger flowers, to get climbers in check, or simply to shape plants and promote vigour. When it gets very cold and plants are dormant, it’s time to prune some of your neglected shrubs and trees. This is the time of year you can cut into old wood. So if you have an unruly rose, a rampant fig or grapevine, scruffy lavender or a gigantic buddleia go and grab your loppers. Make sure you read up the method of pruning for each plant before you cut!
Mind the gap! Did you have big gaps in borders last year, or periods where there was absolutely no interest in the garden? Now is a great time to reflect on how to improve things so you are ready to buy plants, bulbs and tubers in the spring. A challenging time is late summer and I would strongly recommend dahlias. I know they have been considered old fashioned, but they are gaining popularity again and the shapes and colours are stunning.
Winter interest: If all that remains in your garden now are muddy borders, skeletal shrubs and bare fences its time to think about designing for winter interest. Evergreen groundcover plants, trees, topiary, and climbers can all help. But, it goes way beyond that, to the basic design of your garden, the layout of your paths and position of garden structures and key plants, which can all add visual interest now. Think about how the wonderful low winter sun works through your garden and exploit the highlights and long shadows it creates. Leave on thistle, allium and other seed and flower heads, they will not only glisten with frost but also bring hungry birds to your garden.
Designing for winter interest means your garden will bring you pleasure 365 days a year. Now is a great time to sit down and get your plans in place so you will be ready to get going in spring.
Rose Gill, Room Outside garden design.