In Britain we’re blessed with a temperate climate making it possible to grow a vast assortment of plants throughout the seasons. Depending upon the particular region a number of these plants will provide a splash of colour through the darkest dreariest days; harbringers of the forthcoming spring. Here’s a brief description of your must-have plants to brighten up that gloomy area in your late winter garden.
Camellias are the truly flamboyant showstoppers of late winter and early spring gardens. In the South West these evergreen shrubs can found blooming in gardens from mid-January onwards, but, the leaves and flowers are highly susceptible to windburn so are best planted in a sheltered spot.
They require a moisture rich but free draining environment and prefer partial shade or at least a little shelter from the hot summer afternoon sun. Acidic soil is crucial to the wellbeing of the Camellia species. If the soil is too alkaline the plant can’t absorb the nutrients leaving the evergreen leaves prone to yellowing and vulnerable to disease.
These beautiful floriferous shrubs that are cultivated specifically for their extravagant flowers are mainly from the Camellia japonica species but there are numerous others.
It may surprise you to learn that another species – Camellia Sinesis with its smallish white flowers is in fact none other than the ‘tea plant’ from where you get your daily cuppa. And what’s more, there’s now a tea plantation in Britain which can be found in the mild climate of southern Cornwall at the Tregothnan Estate. The tea can be ordered online from either the Tregothnan website or purchased at Waitrose.
Hellebores (commonly known as Winter/Christmas/Lenten Roses)
Hellebores are tough long-lived evergreen perennials providing beautiful saucer-shaped flowers of which there are too many varieties to mention and despite being known as winter roses are not related to the Rosaceae family.
Some make a graceful appearance long before the snowdrop has started to push its way through the cold earth of late winter, such as the delicate Helleborus Niger commonly known as the Christmas Rose.
Others are still flowering around Easter or Lent, the Helleborus Orientalis, but usually start flowering much earlier in January or February. Hellebore prefer moist well-drained soils and thrive best in dappled shade including the commonly known stinking Helleborus (foetidus).
Helleborus Foetidus have small drooping pale greenish cup-shaped flowers often tinged with a purple edge and the species self-seeds prolifically in the right conditions. It’s exquisite as a cut flower, but sadly not particularly long lasting; on cutting the beautiful serrated foliage emits quite a strong odour but not really unpleasant enough to have earned the name foetidus.
* All parts of the plant are poisonous and the sap on cutting can be a skin irritant.
Nandina Domestica ‘Compacta’
Nandina Domestica, commonly known as heavenly or sacred bamboo, is a native of East Asia. Despite its common name Nandina is a member of the Berberis family with no links to Bamboo, and provides all year round interest, especially in the late winter garden, with its attractive green foliage tinged with deep bronze in the winter months.
In Spring the small shrub bears small white star-formed flowers that are followed by luscious crimson berries that brighten up the dark days; especially when frosted or coated with snow.
Tolerating all soil types and aspects, except north, the plant thrives best in a moist but well-drained position and slowly grows to a maximum height of 4 ft.
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