Winter Wonders - cheer up your garden during the long winter months

PUBLISHED: 16:46 02 February 2011 | UPDATED: 20:36 20 February 2013

Snowdrops - always a welcome sight

Snowdrops - always a welcome sight

Horticulturalist Martin Fish suggests some flowering plants guaranteed to cheer up any garden during the long winter months

On first impression February may seem like a non-event when it comes to gardening. We are still in the depths of winter and very often the weather during the month can be very cold and not particularly inviting. However, with lengthening days and the sun starting to get higher in the sky, the garden is slowly waking up to reveal some special and colourful flowers.

Late winter flowering plants often flower through to the end of March and beyond. Many are also sweetly scented in an attempt to attract what few pollinating insects there are in the garden at this time of the year.

Here is just a selection of these winter wonders:
One of the first flowers to push through the cold earth is the snowdrop or galanthus. This tough little bulb never fails to amaze us in February and March with an abundance of beautiful white flower. Also known as Fair Maids of February and Candlemas Bells, galanthus takes its names from the Greek for milk flower. Totally hardy, once established the bulbs will multiply to form large clumps of flowers. For snowdrop aficionados there are many different species of galanthus, but for me the common single snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis takes some beating.

One of the toughest garden shrubs is mahonia and there are many different types that flower from late winter through until late spring. Mahonia Charity is perhaps one of the best known for its attractive foliage and flowers at this time of the year. In mild winters Charity can start flowering as early as December, but the normal flowering time is from late January through until March The sulphur yellow flowers borne in long racemes have an attractive fragrance and really add a splash of winter sunshine to the garden.

Another group of shrubs that are really good for winter colour are the dogwoods with their colourful stems. This is a shrub that I wouldnt be without in my garden and for the best effect they are best planted in groups and pruned back to ground level every March to encourage strong and colourful new stems.

For colour, one of the best to plant is Cornus alba Sibirica which has bright red stems that really stand out on a winters day. Other dogwood with colourful stems include Cornus Flaviramea which has yellow/green stems and Cornus Midwinter Fire which has red, orange and yellow bark on the same stem.

The Christmas rose or Helleborus niger has long been a winter favourite because it flowers very early, regardless of weather conditions. This clump- forming plant is very tough and once established will grow for many years undisturbed. Over recent years, Helleborus orientalis or Lenten rose has grown in popularity because of the many new and exciting hybrids. These strong growing plants have dark green, deeply lobed foliage and saucer-shaped flowers that are produced from the centre of the plant from February until April. Colours range from white through to deep purple, with many cultivars having spotted petals.

Cyclamen coum is a lovely flowering plant that is guaranteed to add a splash of colour to the garden in February and March. The delicate looking plant is very hardy and will withstand temperatures as low as minus 28 degrees centigrade. The plant grows from a small corm which can be planted in autumn although in early spring, plants in flower are widely available in garden centres. Flower colour varies from white, through pink to magenta. For best effect when growing in the garden, plant in clumps and do not disturb the corms during the summer months.

Ive also seen Cyclamen coum naturalised with great effect in lawns around the base of trees. They can also be grown in containers using well- drained compost with added grit.

For fragrance in the garden the winter flowering honeysuckle takes some beating and on a sunny day their heady scent will carry across the garden.
Its a shrubby plant and needs very little attention in the way of pruning; in fact it flowers best when left to do its own thing. The two forms you are likely to find in nurseries are Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii Winter Beauty, both of which are equally good. In a mild winter the shrubs retain some of their foliage, but this year they will have lost it all. However, regardless of the weather, come late winter masses of tiny cream-coloured flowers start to open and give off their scent.

Martin's Flower is also the image for the Yorkshire Life February 2011 Desktop Calendar

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