Charm of the winter garden; Far from being a colourless and gloomy time in the garden, winter can bring a surprising charm and warmth, says Sean Murray.
Evergreens can bring your garden to life in these dark short days and can lift your spirits with their dazzling display of leaf colour, texture and shape. Used repetitively across a design evergreens can bring a sense of permanence and cohesion to your garden. In winter they really come into their own.
Often little noticed in the razzmatazz of summer they now have their own turn to shine and perform.
Now is a great time to plant evergreen trees, consider including Arbutus Unedo, the strawberry tree. Fully hardy, this small spreading shrubby tree has white flowers in autumn followed by red strawberrylike fruits.
Chamaecyparis Pisifera Filifera Aurea is an interesting, moderategrowing tree 10m to 18m tall with golden, thread-like needles on drooping branches. It grows well in heavy clay and provides a cascade of gold that illuminates my garden all winter, it's also great for snipping and including in your Christmas garlands if you are making one.
Thinking of your Christmas decorations, holly is a useful addition to any planting scheme. Ilex Aquafolium Argentea Marginata is slow in growing with silver-margined leaves and is great for coastal gardens.
Camellia Japonica Bonomiana with its dark green, glossy leaves and double, rose-pink flowers in late winter is a favourite of mine and looks smashing under-planted with snowdrops.
Evergreen perennials work hard for you in the winter months and Helleborus Winter Bells is flowering now in my garden and will continue well into the spring. Its delicate nodding, lime-green, cup-shaped blooms really are a tonic.
Euphorbia Characias Wulfenii is amazing with its 1.5m, erect stems topped with lime-green panicles. It is a showy must have.
For vertical spaces try Hydrangea Seemannii. Its self-attaching wooden stems support leathery leaves, greenish cream flowerheads 15cm across, appear from early summer and last well into the autumn.
Although hardy, it will need winter protection in our North East gardens. Pyracantha Cadaune on the other hand doesn't. A 3m its bright yellow berries provide a bit of pizzazz to your winter colour palate.
Topiary works well in a winter garden and can bring a feel of maturity to even a relatively new garden. A clipped sphere used singularly can act like a full stop or focal point at the end of a busy border.
Grouped together in a chorus they can look amazing when given the cloud-pruned effect.
Resembling a living sculpture, it can bring stability to the most chaotic planting scheme. Buxus Semperivens continues to be the obvious choice, however, with the threat of box blight always just around the corner I would recommend Ilex Crenata for its disease resistance.
Any small-leaved evergreen that lends itself to intense clipping is ideal for the art of topiary.
In my own garden I've planted Buxus spheres to punctuate my reclaimed brick path. They bring a sense of order not appreciated in the frothy overspill of summer. For inspiration visit Levens Hall in Cumbria where the world-renowned 300-year-old topiary characters stir up a real Alice in Wonderland fantasy of childhood memories.
With Christmas just around the corner what better time to harness your inner child and get creative with evergreens, both indoors and outdoors.
Sean Murray runs a garden design company based in Ashington, Northumberland, www.gardennarratives.co.uk
Helleborus Winter Bells and, <B below, a bright wreath made from winter greenery and berries
Left and above, evergreens brightening a garden in winter <B