PLANT CHOICES FOR A WINTER GARDEN
BY MERYLYN CONDON
Winter gardens in Canberra can be quite different to those of warmer climes, but even between gardens in Canberra there are still many plant choices to be made, and we are blessed with a wonderful variety of plants suited to our climate..
I read Graeme Davis’ article (see Winter in Ainslie) and I thought about my garden. Certainly some of our plant choices are similar, with camellias and hellebores right up there with the best for our climate and of course, there are plenty of bulbs to be grown.
One little bulb which always delights in my garden is the winter aconite (above), a plant which only appears when all the fallen magnolia and maple leaves of autumn are raked back in anticipation of winter rains. Their cheeky little yellow petal cups quickly appear as if by magic and how they brighten my garden and my day, dotted amongst larger winter blooms..
Galanthus, the English Snowdrop, at least those I grow, multiply very well as the clumps thicken and more seedlings germinate. Once I used to record what species and cultivars I grew but now I simply enjoy letting them colonise. I’ve given up trying to figure out what I am growing and where it may be. Some have large blooms, and some are very tiny, some flower in autumn and then there are the doubles, and some insist on poking their heads trough clumps of edging plants where I least expect them, but they all demand to be seen, a most welcome site in the dead of winter.
A tiny climber worth growing as a feature either in a pot or a hanging basket is the pretty climbing bulbous nasturtium, tropaeolum tricolor, which though it has the botanical features of its larger cousin, is not easily recognisable as a relative. This one has tiny flowers which might easily be missed were it not for their colour, fine leaves and stems which twist like fine soft wire upon anything nearby.. If you see these bulbous plants advertised in bulb or seed catalogues, do try them, for you will enjoy them.
Another great plant is clematis nepalense, flowering mid-winter and dormant in summer, when a new gardener might well commit the plant to the compost heap as a garden casualty. Not so, for come winter, it will grow and flower beautifully.
Some of my shrubs are valued greatly because they help to cheer me up in winter.
Wintersweet is a treasure with wonderful perfume. Perched on the high side of a path, its yellow blooms contrast against the blue sky and it’s quite a pleasure to walk near it, though its perfume can be appreciated long before you come close to it. Viburnum farreri (syn. V. fragrans) is another fragrance of winter, though it’s more showy in appearance than wintersweet.
Another plant which should be grown more often in Canberra and other cold climates, is stachyurus praecox, for its greeny-yellow tassel flowers hang like pretty beads along its arching stems, making a great feature for the garden. It has the common name ‘Spike Tail’ though I don’t often hear that term, but only see it in books. .
There are other varieties such as stachyurus praecox ‘rubriflora’, (a pink flowered form), stachyurus salicifoliuis (a willow leaved form) and the less vigorous Chinese stachyurus ‘Magpie’. Magpie is well worth a place in any garden both for its tassel flowers and bright cream and green variegated spring foliage..
Another plant which vies for attention in a winter garden is callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii. That is quite a name a shrub that is fairly insignificant any time other than winter when its bunches of tiny bead-like purple berries cluster along its arching stems. These do not appear to be attractive to birds, and that’s a bonus..
The swelling furry buds of the magnolia give promise of spring, even though it’s not long since they helped to shed the old magnolia leaves of autumn. Some of my magnolias can be seen from the window where I can watch them on a cold day and be reassured that winter will not last much longer.
So if you live in Canberra or in an equally cold climate, then start searching and see what you can find to make your winter garden more enjoyable.