Although gardens are inevitably at their peak and most showy during the period from late spring through to mid- to late summer, with a little planning, it should be possible to provide interest throughout the changing seasons.
Picking plants to bring new sights and appeal to each successive stage in the annual cycle avoids the awful anticlimax as autumn follows flowerless behind the typical riot of colour of the summer months.
While it is inevitable that the winter or early spring garden will not have the richness or lush growth of its summer heyday, it can still offer a cheerful display of colour and texture even in the darkest and coolest days.
The Winter Garden
Providing interest throughout the winter is obviously the greatest challenge. However, even so, there are a few plants which flower at this time of year, including the delicate creamy yellow blooms of the aptly named winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflora), while others such as some Viburnum varieties flower just after the worst of the weather has passed.
Evergreens have always formed the traditional mainstay of the winter garden, their foliage and architectural form providing a focal point and a reminder of the sleeping life in the otherwise dormant landscape. Many varieties have variegated forms and these can be particularly useful to inject a little colour interest into the scene – though they tend to be a bit less hardy as a rule than their more “normal” relatives, so where to plant them may need a little thought.
Plants chosen for their form or texture also come into their own at this time of year. Striking shapes can assume a whole new dominance in the winter garden without competition from other plants. The permanent framework of trees, shrubs and hedges will be more readily appreciated and any with textured barks or coloured stems will reveal a vibrancy in the winter sunlight that is well hidden throughout the rest of the year.
It is also worth remembering that you will probably not pay so many visits to the whole garden during the winter, so if your usual view of the garden is likely to be restricted to looking out of the windows at this time of the year, plan accordingly. Concentrating you main winter features in the area you will be seeing most allows you to make sure you get the best enjoyment out of the winter landscape, while you wait for spring to come round again.
Spring and Autumn
Although the plants of late spring and early autumn are well known to everyone and help mark the overlap into, and out of, summer, either side of winter, the options are more limited. Early spring bulbs are one way to steal a march on winter’s retreat, with the yellow splash of aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) beating even the traditional snowdrop (Galanthus) for early flowering. As the days gradually lengthen, a succession of crocuses, daffodils, narcissi and tulips take up the torch until early flowering perennials such as hellebores herald the coming of warmer days.
At the other end of summer, as the late flowering Crocosmia begin to die back, the autumnal garden must rely on plants chosen for the colour of their fruits, berries and foliage. While native British trees offer some wonderful hues at this time of year, many of the imported species produce quite remarkable displays, clothed with a succession of every shade of yellow, red and orange.
The hips of Rosa rugosa and other roses are left on their fast denuding branches, forming bright reddish-orange beacons amid the naked stems – and providing a great draw for wild bird – before winter begins as it ended, in bulbs such as cyclamen and colchicums.
Planting for a year-round spectacle inevitably involves planning your planting with winter firmly in mind. The abundance of summer interest makes devising a scheme for the warmer days a simpler job, but the mark of a well-designed garden is how it meets the changing seasons and what new attractions each brings.
The key to success lies in taking the time to research the possibilities – and there are surprisingly more than you might think – and deciding which will fit best into your own particular plot and planting scheme. In the long-run it’s certainly worth the effort and there are few better ways to beat the winter blues!