Beautiful right now: plants for winter

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…)

Prunus x subhirtella
Cherry trees in Regent’s Park

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

Prunus x subhirtella blossom
Beautiful blossoms in winter
prunus x subhirtella
Though just a few are left on the bare stems now…
Prunus x subhirtella
The branches still looks stunning

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

prunus serrula
That bark! What more can I say?

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

lonicera fragrantissima
If only you could smell this photo…
winter honeysuckle
The flowers are pretty, but the bare stems less so…

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

viburnum x bodnantense
Not only lovely to look at, but they smell wonderful too

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

Berberis darwinii
Could a winter plant be any more cheerful than this?!

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

Sarcococca confusa
The flowers may be small, but they smell wonderful

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…”)

7. Dogwood

Amazing fiery stems
Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'
Up close you can really see the bright red tops and orange bases

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?

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13 thoughts on “Beautiful right now: plants for winter

  1. I don’t think I knew there were this many winter blooming shrubs. What zone are you in? The red bark cherry almost made me moan it’s so lovely. My sister has the same interest as you. She could spew all the Latin names. I feel so overwhelmed in my garden Sabrina. Good luck planting even one new shrub unless your man can take orders.
    Love Ya’,

    1. Hey Shalagh,

      They’re beautiful aren’t they? I especially love the red bark cherry as well.

      I’ve seen stuff about zones on US websites, but we don’t really use them here in the UK, so I’m not sure what zone we are, I’m afraid. Generally, though, the climate is temperate and it’s never too cold at winter — usually the odd bout of snow but nothing that settles for months on end. (This year has been especially mild, no snow yet at all and only a few frosts…)

      And yes, I think the shrub planting will have to wait til the autumn, sadly. But it’s always good to dream and make plans in advance, right?!

  2. Oh my sorry I have just spotted that you joined in (far too late – bad,bad me).

    What a great way to spend child free time (oh I feel your Ra Ra pain!). I love learning the ‘proper’ names for things. Those bright orange flowers are just gorgeous as are the pinky ones (see – there I go reverting back to my plant identification technique!)

    Beautiful photos as ever and such a great sounding course – I must look up local ones. Thanks for joining in again and apologies for my slack-bottomness in commenting and sharing this week xx

    1. Oh yes, I really love the course, would definitely recommend it. It’s amazing how much more you notice once you know what a few things actually are!

      I fear I shall soon be boring everyone senseless with Latin names though, ha ha. I am developing a rather obnoxious tendency of saying, “oh, you know that’s a blah-de-blah” when we pass various plants on walks…

  3. lots of great tips here for a novice gardener like me! I love the bark of the tibetan cherry, and the Berberis darwinii too… beautiful! I do love a dogwood, there are swathes of it at Anglesey Abbey (which we visited a couple of weekends ago) and I would particularly like to have the midwinter fire in our garden x

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