Your mood during the winter months can be a little dark and dreary, but this no good reason to allow your garden to follow suit
Some winter plants have extremely interesting leaves, and others it is the flower that brings the sparkle. My first winter stalwart, the mini cyclamen, turns up trumps with both. The little nodding flowers range in colour from deep magenta, to pinks various to white. But I never tire at looking at the exquisite silver or white marbled markings on its dark green kidney shaped leaves.
Mini cyclamen can survive brief and sometimes prolonged periods at temperatures below zero, especially if they are covered with snow. As they are fairly small plants, it’s good to plant them where you will be able to see them easily – in big clumps on the side of a path, or under a tree.
My second choice is the flowering pansy. Here plant breeders have been busy, and have created a plant that responds to a drop in temperature – the colder the weather, the bigger the flowers will be! If that wasn’t clever enough, someone else managed to insert the trailing gene into the viola (the mini pansy) to make it behave like a trailing petunia and called it Friolina. Put two or three of these Friolinas into a hanging basket, and you will be rewarded with an exploding fountain of hundreds of bright flowers throughout the winter.
Another winter beauty is the Algerian iris Iris unguicularis. It’s a vigorous evergreen rhizomatous perennial that will grow to around 30cm in height. Although its dark green leaves can be rather dull and strappy, it produces deep violet fragrant and flamboyant late winter flowers, five to eight centimetres in width, each fall petal marked with white and deep yellow at its base. Another bonus is that this plant is not too fussy where it grows, as long as the soil is well drained.
Primula is another lovely subject that modern breeders have had a good tinker with to give us a plethora of new colours, sizes and improved flowering. Unlike its modest native cousin that flowers only for a short time in spring, these loud boys in the band start their trumpeting from mid autumn onwards.
How could I talk about winter plants without mentioning the snowdrop? It arrives perfectly timed, just as you’re thinking that winter has gone on long enough.
If you find that you are getting fewer flowers than last year, then it’s time to thin out the over-crowded clumps. Unlike most other bulbs, snowdrops can be lifted when they are still in full leaf and transplanted.
Words: Valerie McBride-Munro. Valerie is a chartered hotricultrist offering a plant problem-solving service.