Typical images of sun soaked flower patches may coax you into believing that gardening is an activity belonging strictly to the summer season. However, we loyal horticulturists are fully aware that the annual winter chill provides ideal conditions for certain plants and shrubs to flourish.
Cool seasons actually bring a splash of colour to your garden right when you need it most. As for the adverse weather conditions that ensure that our new years get off to a rather damp start, a healthy balance of sun and rain will do wonders for your new designs.
Of course, some of your autumn collections will be less fortunate. In cold climates they will meet a rather quick demise but can be planted again in spring. To bridge this gap you must search for sturdy plants with strong leaf colour to make up for all that lost sun. I've been flowering shrubs in winter for years and here are some selections that I couldn't do without.
Lonicera x purpusii
One of my favourite selections is the Lonicera x purpusii, but you might like to refer to it by its other title: 'the winter beauty'. The semi-evergreen shrub almost carries the appearance of gleaming white tissue - the ends tipped by small beads of yellow honeysuckle. Your own lonicera will require around two metres of width and, in the right environment, will grow 2.4 metres high. A suitable set of conditions would be any well-drained fertile soil, in sun or partial shade.
Few shrubs can match up to the Aralia spinosa in terms of textural quality and foliage. Over winter, a circle of thorn-covered stems provide the focal point in this particular bunch, which switches its colour from dark blue-green to yellow and purple during autumn. Again, this 30-foot plant requires damp soil, part shade and an area free of similar types. In this case, you want to avoid contact with other thorns.
This plant will produce a wonderful bunch of lavender flowers during spring, but the Callicarpa americana is best known for its magenta berries, which start appearing in October. Don't let its slightly fragile appearance fool you, though, for the American beautyberry will happily rise above the rest in poor quality soil and part-shade. Not that you're invited to care for it in this way and you should revise guidelines for planting in winter before planting anything.
An old favourite of many years, the 'springwood white' is still the centrepiece heather in my winter collection. Its long white flowers against a dark background makes it so colourful and reliable, even in the wind and rain. It is a low-growing subshrub reaching just 10 to 25cm tall, though, so consider its dimensions when allocating space. Even so, its placement should provide vital colour at ground level in amongst your towering giants. Your own erica carnea will thrive in almost any soil and any damaged stems can be pruned during spring.
This particular plant is mostly used during summer, with sun to part shade recommended. However, I've discovered the plant is widely adaptable to different light, soil and moisture conditions. If you can achieve success with the 'Adam's needle', its strips of bright canary-yellow against a rich celedon edge will give your garden much needed sparks of vibrancy and light.