Create some garden winter WOW now

Small is beautiful for late winter wonder and early spring colour in your garden, says Geoff Hodge.

Mahonia 'Charity'

If your garden looks a tad on the drab side in late winter, into early spring, then have a go at these simple ideas for growing some choice plants that create wow right now. You don’t have to spend a fortune.

Most of these ideas will produce spectacular displays in containers, so they won’t take up much room at all, but we’ve also included some ideas to add a small beauty for your beds and borders too. Of course, if you’re looking to only brighten up your borders, they’re all perfect for growing there as well. So you can use these ideas to get you started and then build on them.

For container planting, make sure to use a good quality compost, such as Flower Power Premium Peat-Free Compost.

Bring on the bulbs

If you missed out on planting spring-flowering bulbs in autumn, don’t panic! Garden centres and nurseries should have a good range of small pots of already growing bulbs in winter and early spring. These small potfulls are perfect for displaying en masse or, better still, given their own star turn small pot.

Snowdrops kick off the winter celebrations in style with their white and green flowers, followed by winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis), crocuses, then dwarf and species daffodils, some of which flower in late winter, then carry on into spring along with tulips among many other varieties.

You can get a great show from as small as a 10-15cm (4-6in) ornamental pot crammed full of one type of these little beauties. They will look fabulous, especially if the pots are grouped together. Place them on a patio table where you can fully enjoy the individual beauty of the blooms close up.

winter aconite and snowdrops in small pot
Plant winter aconite and snowdrops in small pots. Image: Adobe Stock

And don’t forget to put a date in September in your Richard Jackson Gardener’s Diary (other diaries are available!) to start buying and planting up more spring-flowering bulbs for future years!

Baskets of pleasure

Don’t forget about your hanging baskets! Rather than put them away after the summer display is over, give them another lease of life with some autumn to spring planting. There are lots of plants that will put on a brilliant display in baskets. The standard stalwarts for this time of year are winter-flowering pansies and violas. Planted on their own they produce balls of delightful colour.

Or plant up a mixture of short evergreen shrubs, like euonymus and small skimmias, and dwarf conifers, such as Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Aurea’ as well as the pansies. You can edge the basket and get trails down the sides from ivies, Vinca minor, lamiums and ajugas. Then, for extra pops of colour, add dwarf bulbs, including snowdrops, crocuses, dwarf daffodils and tulips.

A window on colour

Long window boxes or mangers offer a wealth of possibilities, thanks to their length. Mangers, being deeper, can take larger plants that need a deeper root run. Both are perfect for massed winter displays using evergreens and winter-flowering plants. Stalwarts that you must include are Christmas roses (Helleborus niger), the various foliage colours of heucheras, dwarf shrubs and conifers.

And don’t forget to finish off the display with trailing plants at the front and winter- and spring-flowering bulbs for an extra blast of colour.

Bigger is better

If you’ve got the room, a large container, measuring around 45-60cm (18-24in) in diameter gives you free range to explore winter and early spring delights even further. In these, you now have more-or-less unlimited access for growing larger shrubs – even small to medium-sized trees – that need a good root run to thrive.

As these plants are very much long-term ones that will grow quite happily for several years in the container, it’s best to use a John Innes No 3 Compost mixed 50:50 with Flower Power Premium Peat-Free Compost.

Go all-out for a colourful display with mahonias, such as ‘Charity’ with masses of sweetly scented yellow flowers, early-flowering magnolias, like white, star-shaped Magnolia stellata, or how about a winter-flowering camellia, such as ‘Yuletide’ with Christmassy red flowers. As camellias are lime haters, you’ll need to use an ericaceous John Innes compost.

Camellia vernalis 'Yuletide'
Camellia vernalis ‘Yuletide’. Image: Adobe Stock

Border beauties

If you’ve got more space than a patio and have room in your beds and borders for some winter sparklers, then you can indulge in some medium to large shrubs. They’ll also grow in fairly large containers too.

Witch hazels are very slow growing shrubs, eventually reaching around 3m (10ft) high, which light up winters thanks to their spidery flowers that produce a delightful fragrance. Although these look delicate, they’re incredibly tough and will easily shrug off the worst the winter can throw at it. It’ll prefer a sunny site and will grow in any soil, apart from chalk, that has had lots of organic matter, such as compost, well-rotted manure, leafmould or composted bark, added. Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is one of the best with typical, bright yellow winter flowers. As long as the soil doesn’t dry out in summer, you’ll also be rewarded with an autumn spectacle of reddish or yellow leaf colours before they drop.

Or what about delighting in the wonderful fragrance of a winter-flowering daphne? Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is an upright shrub that is more-or-less evergreen. It is covered in highly fragrant purplish-pink and white flowers in winter, followed by black berries. It’ll reach up to 2.4m (8ft) high.
Remember to plant both of these somewhere you’ll be able to appreciate those delicious winter scents to the full.

Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. Image: Adobe Stock

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