February can be a joyless month in the garden. Andrew takes a look at some interesting plants to “light up” your garden in the winter
February is a tricky month. Sometimes clear days have us running out to turn over the soil and dig in some compost, other days have us sheltering
indoors looking out of a rainy window.
If you are one of those gardeners who don’t start visiting their local nursery until Spring and then buying the flowering plants you see, you will miss out on the January and February performers. We can embolden our gardens with very interesting planting at this time of year. A visit to your local gardening centre will show the planting shelves quite bare but the plants they will have will add an extra dimension to your garden.
Plants for February
Obviously evergreens have a prominent place in February. Hedges of Yew, Box and Lonicera can subdivide your space allowing for the creation of interesting rooms. Architectural beauties like Phormiums, Yukka gloriosa, Chinese Cabbage Palm and Corokia can come into their own especially laced with frost smitten spider webs. The twisted Hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta Red Magic’ can give endless interest as well as too the conifers like Minus Mungo and the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria.
Leaves, Stems & Berries
When the wide and quite boring leaves of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ give way in Autumn the amazing stems of the Cornus enliven a garden. ‘Midwinter Fire’ starts orange at the base and then finishes with a blazing red at the end of the stems. When this is planted en masse it becomes a memory of fire in the centre of February’s cold. Skimmia japonica has bright red berries at this time of year as well as a fresh green and compact leaves. Photinia Red Robin, which can now be purchased in dwarf and variegated forms, begins to set its new shoots in late February and if you want to light up a dark corner try Choisya ‘Sundance’. Ilex crenata ‘Convexted Gold’ brings more of that fresh yellow into the garden.
A well placed Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ near the front door will give you a pretty scent for weeks and look good in the Summer with its evergreen
foliage. In a shadier spot Sarcococca humilis and cortorta have a delicate and fragrant white flower moving on to dark purple berries. Perhaps the queen of Winter scent is the Winter honeysuckle, Lonicera purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’.
It can get to 150cm tall and has an unexpectedly intense scent. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ has a tall upright structure and is best at the back of a border where its stiff plumes can rocket up through other shrub’s branches. Don’t forget Winter Heather, they are actually ok in a range of soils and planted generously in one area can create a shimmering compact look.
Trees in Winter are beautiful anyway but if your garden is large you need to have a Tibetian Cherry for it’s lovely, shiny red bark. Garrya eliptica can produce millions of catkins which hang down like earrings, while Viburnum minus and especially Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is full of bright pink blooms. Cornlian Cherry Dogwood, Cornus mas, has small yellow flowers that cling close to the branches. For ultimate colour over February the Witchazels come into their own. Try Hammamelis mollis Plaida and Hammamelis Jelena.
Of course low to the ground we have the bulbs at this time of the year. Snowdrops, Crocus, Anemones and the beginnings of Daffodils that seem to bloom earlier each year. There is also the old fashioned and valiant Winter Pansies and Winter Violets to grace your pots. Then there are the hardy February performers like Helleborus niger. In shady corners, especially if your soil is on the acid side, you can opt for one of the many Japanese Camellias eg Elegant. The tall Cherry, Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis can flower all the way from November till the Spring and had lovely purple foliage in the Summer.
Clematis never ceases to surprise me in the Winter as there are some varieties which flower quite profusely, like Clematis Winter Beauty and Clematis Jingle Bells. the Chinese Jasmine, Jasmine nudiflorum has bright yellow flowers and can pick up any North wall. In Chinese its name means “the flower that welcomes Spring”.
So try a nursery visit soon and enrich your garden with some unusual and valiant plants!
Where to visit this February
February is a great time to explore woodland. The bare bones of the earth are at rest and the quality of the forest is still and waiting for Spring with some small delights emerging. Also the evergreens like Ivy, Yew and Holly come into their own.
Try visiting Angmering Park Estate Trust, Burton and Chingford Pond, Petworth House Woods, Slindon and The Warrens.