As you may recall, every Wednesday I leave the sproglet in the capable hands of my mother and trot off, unfettered and unencumbered, to Regent’s Park, where I spend the day learning all about horticulture (or “gardening” in layman’s terms…)
I absolutely love this course, both for what I learn about and for the freedom of using my brain one day a week (most of the time my brain is a sludge of what-shall-I-cook-for-lunch?, why-won’t-he-go-to-sleep?, what-time-is-Raa-Raa-on? and other crucial questions like these…)
My very favourite part, though, is our “plant ident” – every other week we take a stroll round the park, identifying ten plants that we then have to learn over the course of the week and recognise in a test the following Wednesday, complete with the full Latin names. (Yes, the inner geek loves the test bit as well.)
Last week was my favourite ever ident, looking at trees and shrubs that provide winter interest in the garden.
Here are some of the plants I adored the most, all in bloom / scent / fine bark right now. I’m just trying to narrow down my choices of which ones I absolutely must have in my own garden…
1. Winter-flowering cherry
A cherry tree that blossoms in Winter! When we first looked at this tree a fortnight ago, it was dripping in little pink blossoms, but when I went back with my camera this week, there were only a few left on the branches. The branch shapes themselves are completely beautiful as well, though, all twisted and gnarled against the sky.
The Latin name for this is Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ – a somewhat confusing name, in my opinion, since it’s main interest is in Winter, but there we go…
2. Tibetan cherry
Another cherry tree, though this time it’s the bark not the blossom that is in fine fettle in winter. Look at this lovely, crinkled, peeling red bark. I’m currently persuading my Mum to get one of these for her garden, I think they are absolutely stunning.
Prunus serrula in Latin, this cherry has small white blossoms in May, which are followed by round red cherry fruits (inedible to us). Its willow-like green leaves turn red and yellow in Autumn. Truly a tree for all seasons.
3. Winter honeysuckle
Okay, this plant isn’t really that much to look at. The small white flowers are fine, but they’re hung upon a shaggy stem of bare branches. But though it might not be a looker, this winter honeysuckle is irresistible for its gorgeous scent.
If I had one of these in my garden (and I think I really must get one), I’d plant it behind an evergreen with some attractive foliage to try and hide the unkempt stems, but still benefit from the smell. And it would go close to a door so I would smell it every time I went in and out.
Lonicera fragrantissima in Latin, if you’re looking to go and buy it…
4. Viburnum x bodnantense
I’m not sure what the common name for this viburnum is, but it’s really another essential for a beautifully scented winter garden. The gorgeous little clusters of pink blossoms have a heady and utterly wonderful scent. Again, it flowers on bare stems, but it looks neater and tidier than the honeysuckle, so you wouldn’t feel the need to hide it behind something else.
5. Berberis darwinii
Sometimes, in the middle of winter, you just need some cheering colour to look at. This lovely little shrub, Berberis darwinii (again, I don’t know the common name, I’m afraid) is just the ticket. Bright orange dropping flowers and luscious green leaves couldn’t help but give you a little lift on a bleak January day.
It’s good as an informal hedge (for informal, read scruffy) or you could just have a specimen shrub to look at. I’d make sure to put this somewhere in sight of a window, so I could always get a little winter boost from its colourful petals whenever I looked outside…
6. Christmas box
Okay, the Christmas box (or Sarcococca confusa) is hardly going to blow your retinas with its amazing looks, but it’s another seemingly insignificant plant that packs a punch when it comes to scent.
It’s an evergreen shrub, that grows slowly and doesn’t really stand out for its form or colour, but those little spiky white flowers, that are in place most of the winter, have an incredible strong scent. Again, one to plant by a door, or even grow as a small hedge by the front of the house. The flowers are followed by little black glossy berries. Even better, this is one of the few plants that really thrives in shade, so if you’ve got a very shaded place where nothing else likes to grow, this could be perfect…
(I should say that my photo isn’t really doing it any favours here either. There was a big band of park maintenance men in a lorry just by the Sarcococca when I was trying to photograph it, so it was a case of “snap, snap, wander off quickly before they think I am a crazed tourist…”)
This dogwood is called Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and it’s easy to see why. Again, my photo isn’t quite doing justice to these amazing red and orange stems, which look absolutely breath taking in the flesh (or should I say, “in the bark”…)
This isn’t a plant to go for if you want low maintenance, however, as you need to prune it at least every two years, if not every year, to keep the amazing colours, since they show on the youngest wood only. It also looks better planted en masse, I’m not sure that a single shrub on its own would have such a good impact. So you would need a fairly large garden. Nonetheless, I’m still tempted to get one of these for our garden because, well, just look…
Tell me, have you got any of these in your garden?