Roll out the pink carpet: The changing season can still be a time of bright beauty
Your garden may look miserable this weekend, but that’s quite normal. Trees are bare, summer flowers are gone and the days are getting shorter.
But like the slow movement in a symphony, our journey through autumn to winter can be quietly beautiful.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, gardens can stay a joy deep into December. By then, winter bulbs are waking and snowdrops will soon appear.
To hold winter interest, a garden needs good design and skilful planting. Well-placed features such as clipped evergreens, hedges or pergolas provide attraction. But judicious planting is equally important, particularly for the short, dark days.
Splash of pink: Cyclamen hederifolium flowers add charm to any winter garden
Flowers will be scarce between now and January. But winter foliage brings quieter beauty. Patterned or variegated leaves show up strongly in low light. Leafless shrubs or trees can create distinctive winter outlines.
Late autumn also brings surprises. Violet-mauve crocuses are decorating my rough grass. Elsewhere, leafless autumn snowdrops are blooming among fallen leaves. Both would flourish in containers.
As autumn borders decline, you can hold interest with a few late flowers. Pink nerines and flowering Hesperantha coccinea create startling late features.
DARK DAY TREASURES
Bergenias have massive winter value, creating leafy evergreen carpets. They are native to Siberia and their leaves are totally weatherproof. Varieties such as Bergenia Eroica and Dark Damsel turn dark bronze in winter. Others stay green.
Siberian bugloss, Brunnera cordata, develops clumps of heart-shaped leaves which last into early winter. New foliage follows in spring, soon joined by misty sprays of tiny blue flowers. Varieties such as B. Silver Heart have silver-grey leaf markings.
Like Brunnera, lungworts are also forget-me-not relatives. The best known, Pulmonaria saccharata, has oval leaves stippled with silver-grey. Pink flowers open daily from late winter, turning blue as they mature.
Lovely as border plants, pulmonarias also make good ground-cover between shrubs or teamed with spring bulbs. Other carpeting plants for winter include epimediums, heucheras and evergreen ferns. Sweet violets are also charming beneath trees or between shrubs.
For ultimate winter charm, grow hardy cyclamen. The easiest, Cyclamen hederifolium, has pink or white flowers. Those are almost over now, but their leaves are just maturing.
Many have striking patterns in silver-grey and green. Others are subtly marbled and a few can be uniform pewter.
Slightly later, the delicate pink flowers of Cyclamen cilicium are peaking now. They will bloom into November, with the patterned, kidney-shaped leaves persisting into late spring.
Cyclamen coum are strictly winter plants. They are budding now but will peak at snowdrop time to finish in spring. The short-petalled flowers resemble tiny boat propellers. Typically they are vibrant pink, but there are paler forms and whites. Most of the flowers have dark carmine centres.
If they are happy, all cyclamens mentioned will self-seed and multiply, transforming your winter garden.