We are desperately looking forward to Spring, and signs are just around the corner. With snowdrops popping through the ground and buds appearing on bare branches. However February is still a winter month, and it is a good time to spend a few moments appreciating what makes gardens special in winter, and maybe plan a few changes to add interest for next winter.
Evergreens are an obvious group of plants to add structure and there are many examples around The Hidden Gardens. The Ballet border is lined by low clipped hedging of Cotoneaster and Gaultheria. Both of which provide winter berries to keep the blackbirds happy.
The red-stemmed Gaultheria compliments the crimson red of the Skimmia buds at this time of year. Before they open up in late spring to give a display of fragrant white flowers loved by bees. Contrasting leaf shape and texture is another way add interest, keep your eyes open for inspiration while on your daily walks.
Many herbs such as rosemary and thyme are evergreen and have the added bonus of a waft of scent as you brush past them. Or pick a few sprigs to give dinnertime a connection with the garden even in winter. These plants are happy to be grown in pots on a windowsill or back court provided you give them good drainage, with holes in the bottom of pots and a gritty compost. Their roots hate being cold and wet over winter.
Flowers may be less abundant and showy in the winter months but the early blooms are all the more appreciated for their splashes of colour. They are also important stashes of pollen for any early emerging pollinating insects. The spidery yellow witch hazel flowers are beautiful, contrasting with the dark green of the dwarf pines.
The stark tree trunks and branches of the espalier fruit trees add form to the white wall border, and allow a glimpse of the old factory wall, usually obscured by an abundant growth of climbing clematis and vigorous vines.
Trees devoid of leaves draw our attention to the patterned bark. While others hold onto their autumnal leaves until spring, giving winter colour in the beech hedge, and somewhere for the robins, tits and dunnocks to shelter.
We don’t cut back our perennials until towards the end of winter, leaving seedheads for birds, and nooks and crannies for overwintering ladybirds and hibernating insects. Plus they look fabulous on a sunny, frosty morning.
And this is the time to begin enjoying bulbs, with the snowdrops appearing through the leaf litter. Crocus and iris will follow shortly, then the daffodils and alliums and tulips. Although it’s not the time to plant bulbs, this is very much the time to make notes of where you have gaps and spaces in your planting and plan bursts of colour for next Spring. The bare borders will soon fill with summer growth and you’ll find it hard to imagine there’s space for more plants. But I see some spaces in the border next to our office entrance and I definitely want to be watching some snowdrops appearing there this time next year!