Unveiling the beautiful Hellebore

Hellebores are stunning plants. I have pointed this out before, I know, but want to remind you that it really is worth braving the cold to trim back the old Hellebore leaves to reveal the unfolding flowers. Here is the ‘before’ example in a client’s garden this week:

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Then 5 minutes later after some careful snipping:

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See what is revealed! Not only are hellebores beautiful in cream’s, yellows, pinks, purples and blacks but they also provide nectar for early foraging insects. So everyone is happy. Some varieties do tend to droop their heads so we miss the beautiful markings within the flower, but planting them in a raised bed or container means we can see their beauty more easily.

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Surreal Snowdrops

Spotting the first snowdrop opening its nodding head amidst the wintery weather of late January or early February is always a landmark in the turning year for me. I know we are on the first stage of an inevitable journey towards the riches of spring and summer. So each year I try to visit a different garden which specialises in Snowdrops, to celebrate their brief glory. This year it was the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. There were lots of beautiful varieties of Snowdrops threading through the borders, under shrubs and trees, in the shady conditions they love.IMG_0336But someone on the staff had also come up with a rather more unique way of displaying the tiny flowers, so we could look right up into the pretty bells. Hanging like christmas baubles from one of the trees by the entrance to the garden were snowdrop spheres, covered in moss and twisting gently in the breeze.

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Great fun for children…and adults too actually!

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My grandson was intrigued! We were also impressed by the novel (I use that word intentionally!) ‘bug hotels’ that were hanging from another tree.IMG_0341

The roof was made from an old gardening book covered in plastic, with lots of canes slotted below to give ladybirds, solitary bees and other beneficial mini-beasts a place to see out the winter.As an ex-librarian this appealed to both the literary and the horticultural aspects of my nature! I am going to search for a battered copy of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s ‘Secret Garden’ and make one myself next winter. Chelsea Physic is a real ‘secret garden’ of London, tucked away behind  old brick walls in Chelsea, full of interesting treasures whatever the time of year.

Bright winter Gardens


Not many people go out of their way to create a Winter border when they are designing their gardens. We tend to forget in the midst of summer’s profusion that the winter months can still be interesting in the garden, even if only viewed from the house. Here are some ideas to brighten your borders in winter.

BARK & STEMS- include some trees or shrubs with interesting bark in the garden.

4-91A8B3C9-1274817-480 4-B2B44238-1824825-480 4-97A56DE3-1174327-480These are all varieties of Birch growing in a beautiful place in Devon on the northern edge of Datmoor called Stone Lane Gardens. This gardens holds the National collection of Birches developed over 40 years, and sells unusual varieties that you would not find elsewhere by mail order. A magical place, and venue for workshops and garden sculpture exhibitions each summer.

Try including shrubs with bright winter stems too such as red or yellow Cornus or the ghostly, silvery Rubus cockburnianus.DSC_0007

DSC_0017Try planting these in a spot that will catch the low winter sun which really helps them glow more brightly.

FOLIAGE – Evergreen foliage gives structure to the winter garden and if it is brightly coloured it will give a zing to your winter borders. Variegated Holly, and golden Conifers are traditional evergreens worth considering, but if you have a sheltered spot then Phormiums with variegated leaves can make impressive focal points.

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BERRIES – give great flashes of colour and provide food for birds.

imagesThis is Cotoneaster fridgidus ‘Cornubia’ in early winter. Including a rose which has lovely hips after the flowers fade means you get two season’s pleasure for the price of one.

rosehiptrailmix-featuredimageFLOWERS – Flowers blooming in the depths of winter is not an impossibility! This Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ will flower on and off through the winter in milder spells.

Prunus-subhirtella-Autumnalis-RoseaHelllebores start to flower in late winter and provide early nectar for bees. Helleborus orientalis ‘Pink Lady’ is stunning.

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SCENT – Don’t forget to add some scented beauties to your winter border, or underestimate the power of scent to carry on a still day in winter. I have a Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ by my front door, under the verandah, which begins to flower in mid January. The scent is deliciously sweet and heavy and cut stems will perfume the house for days.

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Sarcoccoca (Winter Box) has tiny, unremarkable flowers but the scent is amazingly strong especially when planted en masse. Viburnum farreri has clusters of pretty flowers which start to open in autumn and carries on through the winter.

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So next time you are revamping your garden don’t let spring and summer’s riches dazzle you into forgetting to squeeze in some colour, form and scent for winter in a special corner!