An introduction to colour all year round
“I want a low maintenance, all year round colourful garden” is the cry I often hear. The question I have is – how low maintenance do you want? And do you mean colour or flowers?
Quite often our eyes are drawn to large flowers and the lack of these in the winter months can make us feel despondent. But before you go out and buy unsustainable winter bedding annuals from the supermarket, it’s worth thinking why and when things are in flower and how colour can be brought into the garden in a variety of ways.
"Fatsia japonica - brimming with bees, flies and hoverflies well into autumn and winter. Don't forget white is a colour, too."
During the winter, many of our best-known pollinators like bees tend to hibernate, so the signals that most plants emit by erupting into bright massive blooms are a waste of energy. The plants that do flower in winter have to earn their keep and tend to have smaller blooms. So plant them close by your door, or where you can appreciate them close-up. Small alpine species, which need to get going in the early spring, put out small flowers to attract low-flying pollinators. Woodland plants, like cyclamen and bluebells have to get their flowers out before the tree canopy covers them. There’s also hardy hellebores – known as Christmas rose and Lenten roses - which come in a huge range of colours. To see the flowers at their best, just chop off the leaves from last year and appreciate their fine beauty.
If you want something a little higher up to the eye, I heartily recommend Clematis cirhhosa “freckles”. This evergreen, low-fuss climber puts out lovely bell-shaped flowers throughout autumn and winter, and then doubles down with berries in the summer for a late encore.
Who says freckles aren't attractive?
But aside from flowers, there’s other ways of getting colour into your garden.
One of the most forgiving and easy shrubs to grow is the dogwood, or cornus. Give this an annual chop in spring and it will send up fresh stems that turn bright red, yellow or orange stems in autumn. In the summer, the pale green leaves provide a great backdrop for other more showy plants. You can also harvest and use the stems for weaving. One of my favourites is Cornus alba "sibirica”, the red of which I can only describe as “postman pat red”.
Cornus alba sibirica doing what it does best
Another form of colour is layering white on green. Ivy and Fatsia japonica both put out enormously large seed heads in winter. These are typically white and can look particularly effective against coloured walls, fences or backgrounds or just against structural foliage. Fatsias in particular can provide architectural interest as well as nutrition for those insects that are still around,
The final form of colour can come from the surroundings. An easy and cheap way of perking up a corner is to paint your hard landscaping. A calming taupe or green, a sharp dark grey fence, or a row of perky seaside colours can guarantee to lift the sprits even on the most gloomy of days.
Inspired to find out more? Just contact me to chat further about all year colour and how you can introduce it in your garden.