Subtle Charms of Wintertime

With Garden Designer, Sally Cunis

Now that the decorations are packed away for another year and the celebrations are over, it’s time to shrug off the spell of lethargy cast by recent festivities and step out into the garden as that is where the true magic happens.

Viburnum bodnantense

Whether it is damp, dreary or foggy outside, the garden is covered in snow or the ground is frozen solid, deep below the surface of the soil, tiny blades of the first snowdrops are already pushing their way steadily upwards towards the light.

Fatsia japonica

Every year I look forward to the early flowers of Daphne, Fatsia japonica, Viburnum bodnantense and the delicate blooms of the winter cherry, Prunus Autumnalis, three of which I planted close together in a bed on my front drive. I think these first flowers, which last several months and stand out against an old holly hedge, lift the spirits in early spring more than the bright, breezy colours of late spring; under-planted with lime-green dogwoods, a little hazel sporting catkins, and a variegated Euonymus this spring garden is a joy.

Last year gardeners had a bad start to the year with snow until early March followed by months of hot weather; everyone will be hoping for less extremes this year.


Remember that up until March, bare root trees and shrubs, both ornamental and fruit, can be planted out. If the weather is poor, heel the plant material into a trench until the weather improves. I intend to plant a Quince tree ‘Champion’ in my garden this year having been entranced by a mature one in a walled garden at a lovely old hotel in North Allerton last year.

If the weather is good, try to complete some of the jobs that were left over from last autumn. Check tree supports and ensure climbers are securely tied to frames. Move any tender plants indoors that may have been overlooked or wrap them up with fleece if it’s not possible to move them indoors. In the kitchen garden, warm up seed beds with fleece or, if you’ve not had time to do so, get digging! If the soil is wet, work from boards in order not to compact the soil or leave it for a better day. If the soil contains clay, leave the soil uncovered for the frost to break up the clods. Try to work in as much organic matter as possible from the compost heap and add homemade leaf mould.

If the weather is dire, work inside. A friend has asked me to help her with her daughter’s wedding flowers this summer. We are starting the sweet peas, including “Kings High Scent”, in cardboard tubes indoors which I will plant out in the garden in mid-March. I am going to indulge in some armchair gardening, reading up about all the gorgeous flowers we can grow for the wedding; I shall clear one or two of the raised beds in the vegetable garden and have a cutting garden for the summer.

Daphne odora aureo marginata

So far Cosmos, Larkspur, Amni major, Cleome, Nicotiana, and Delphiniums are top of the list. Clouds of lime green Alchemilla mollis edge my drive and have already been earmarked by my friend…

Let’s hope my vast number of beautiful roses are also in peak perfection then.