Illumination is the key to colour

Elaeagnus for colour.
Elaeagnus for colour.

A continuity of colour throughout the year has always helped keep this fellow smiling 
but the most important time to see lots of potential is when we’re standing on the threshold of winter.

We can do little about the shorter hours of daylight but lots to help illuminate them.

Viburnum Dawn has started.

Viburnum Dawn has started.

Several of the hardy shrubs, heathers, perennials and bulbs that bloom for weeks on end, are just beginning to stir.

The fragrances of viburnum, mahonia, sarcococca, chimonanthus and others will soon fill the frosty air, indeed, some have already started.

And those flowers that have little to offer by way of scent, winter jasmine and the so-called autumn cherry, for example, will still hold our attention. If I were starting anew with a garden akin to a blank canvas, viburnum Dawn, prunus subhirtella Autumnalis Rosea, jasminum nudiflorum and betula jacquemontii would top the list for planting straight away.

The viburnum started flowering in September when the leaves were still green. Now they’re a stunning red just before they fall.

Winter cherry.

Winter cherry.

What remains are bare stems that bristle with blooms continuously until April next year. A severe frost might cause a few days of sulking followed miraculously by more flowers.

With such a hardy, reliable character, is it any wonder I’m pushing autumn stem cuttings into the garden to propagate more for friends.

A so-called autumn cherry is the longest flowering prunus I’ve ever met. Plump bloom buds will burst open before November ends and remain a presence until April arrives.

Rosea has pink-tinged flowers and has graced this garden for three decades, succumbing once to blight attack but recovering after severe corrective pruning. The yellow winter jasmine which has just started flowering and will continue until March, is dotted around the garden, not because we’ve bought several plants rather the ease with which it’s propagated by layering.

Simply peg down any branches that touch the ground, having first worked some composted material into the rooting area.

No wonder the almost white-stemmed silver birch (betula) is such a popular ornamental tree. In broad daylight it illuminates the winter border and when dusk arrives it has almost ghostly presence. We have three dogwood varieties planted around its base; the pale-green stemmed cornus Flaviramea, a bright-red-barked sibirica and elegantissima, which has creamy variegated leaves and red stems.

Altogether an attractive group. Euonymus shrubs were meant for year-round colour, and how they shine in winter. For this reason alone I have five different varieties in different parts of the garden, some in groups, some stand alone.

They are hardy, robust and accept the snipping of stems for arrangements any time of year.

But the euonymus is not my favourite variegated plant – elaeagnus is. The bright yellow and green variegated leaves of elaeagnus Maculata are so eye catching that we often miss the tiny flowers until standing over the shrub.

They’re insignificant in appearance but highly fragrant at close quarters.