Winter Colour in the Garden – Richard Ford


Winter Colours

At our meeting on 15th May, with the temperature dropping below ten degrees, nearly sixty people packed into the village hall to hear Richard Ford speak on Winter Colour in the Garden. When the Committee planned the programme we had not expected the weather to be quite so in keeping with the subject of the talk.

Before his recent retirement Richard ran a specialist hosta nursery and before that he lectured at a horticultural college. That experience showed in the quality of his presentation and in the amount of well illustrated information he gave us. He began with slides from a variety of well-known gardens showing how effective winter colour can be. We are fortunate that, perhaps, the best winter garden in the country is easily accessible to us at Anglesey Abbey. Richard conceded that it is easier to make a good show of winter colour when you have the space to make a dedicated winter garden but he argued that every garden can make provision for winter interest, especially when plants with attractive features in more than one season are chosen.

The slides made the point that brilliant colours and strong contrasts are available in winter but Richard said that blacks, browns and white were also useful and that shape and texture were particularly important.  All groups of plants can be used for winter interest with a huge variety of shape, bark, foliage, flowers, fruit and seeds.

Richard then went through each of the groups of plants with specific examples to show what they have to offer. All deciduous trees reveal the variety and beauty of their structure in winter and some have eye catching bark; notably the white of Betula jaquemontii and the polished mahogany of Prunus serrula. Some trees, such as Prunus subhirtella, flower in winter over a long period . The fruit of Crab apples have a variety of colours and others ,like the Sorbus family(rowans) have coloured berries.

Conifers are less popular than they used to be, and they have the disadvantage that they grow too big over time, but they do provide a useful range of colours.

Shrubs offer many possibilities. Notable for the variety of their coloured foliage are hollies, phormium ( vulnerable to extreme winter cold), euonymus and ivies, of which there are over 250 varieties.

Probably the most brilliant winter colour is provided by the bark of dogwoods and some varieties of hazel. The colour is best when plants are cut back annually but this can weaken the plant  and Richard’s advice is to cut back every other year and then not too drastically.

Some of the shrubs that flower in winter are Daphne, Viburnum bodnantense, Skimmia japonica, Witch Hazel and winter flowering heathers. Garrya elliptica has fine catkins and Cotinus coggygria  smoky-grey inflorescences. Viburnum, cotoneaster, some hollies  and, above all,  pyracantha are good for brightly coloured berries. There are also a few perennials that give winter foliage such as heucheras and Aurum italium Marmarotum. Helebores give lovely flowers in late winter and early spring as do many bulbs including winter aconites, snowdrops and early narcissus.

Richard concluded his talk by stressing the value of grasses and even dead foliage of perennials which can be left through the winter to give structural interest until being cut down in February.  [Images reproduced with kind permission of Richard Ford]

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 19 June when TV gardening presenter Christine Walkden will talk on “Plants for difficult places”. This is a ticket only evening.

Jeremy Arthern

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