Winter garden: tips to keep your garden beautiful all year round

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 February 2016

Hellebore flowers in winter

Hellebore flowers in winter


Colour and interest need not be confined to the summer months if you plan your planting in the garden. Philippa Pearson visits Langthorns Plantery 
at Little Canfield near Dunmow for tips on how to brighten winter days

Teasels in winterTeasels in winter

Winter gardens needn’t be dull and boring, and with a bit of planning and good plant selection, you can have colour and interest all year round. The silhouetted shapes of shrubs and trees add structure and focal points in borders while this is the best time to appreciate the coloured bark and stems of some plants.

Winter flowers are precious jewels and there are plenty of choices available to brighten up corners and containers. And don’t be too quick to cut down plants in autumn either, as seed heads add architectural interest, especially with a touch of snow or frost on them.

Ed Cannon, owner of Langthorns Plantery at Little Canfield near Dunmow, believes that winter shows off the best features of some plants.

‘A full-sized native silver birch on a sunny winter’s day really is a spectacular sight,’ Ed says, ‘and many plants radiate winter beauty if you take the time to choose the right ones.’

A bird's eye view of Langthorns PlanteryA bird's eye view of Langthorns Plantery

The family-run Langthorns Plantery is a nursery with an eye for good plants. Though best known for their wide range of hardy herbaceous plants, there is plenty of choice of plants for all areas and situations including alpines, shrubs, trees and climbers, especially clematis. The grounds surrounding Langthorns are filled with interesting planting combinations and there are several display beds on view. Ed took over the nursery from his parents, who started the nursery in the hot summer of 1976.

‘Everything had to be copiously watered in that drought year,’ Ed remembers. Ed’s parents were keen gardeners and grew many unusual and interesting plants in their own garden and began to propagate these and sell them on a table at the end of their driveway.

‘My grandfather was also an avid plant hunter,’ Ed recalls, ‘and had an amazing garden in Northumberland full of very unusual, rare and interesting plants which my parents took cuttings of, collected seed from or divided and increased their sale stock.’

The nursery was championed as a place to go to for unusual plants of good quality. ‘At that time, in the early 1980s,’ says Ed, ‘there was really only Beth Chatto and ourselves selling interesting and unusual plants in the south east.’

Red stems on DogwoodRed stems on Dogwood

Ed inherited the family enjoyment of gardening and plants, and trained for a HND in horticulture at Cannington College in Somerset, getting a job as head gardener in Cambridgeshire once he left college.

‘I hadn’t planned to take over the running of Langthorns,’ he says, ‘but the opportunity presented itself in the early 2000s, when my parents wanted to retire.’ The nursery he took over had moved from selling plants at the end of the drive to a purpose-built centre within the grounds of the family home that offered a tempting range of plants of all sorts and sizes. Ed has since put in some display beds to inspire visitors on how to plant up their own gardens and, of course, he offers plenty of help and advice.

For winter interest, Ed looks to shrubs with brightly coloured stems. He explains: ‘Dogwoods have stunning red stems from Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, yellow-green from Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ and black-purple from Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’. Hard pruning produces the best stem colour and the best time to do this is around the end of February or early March. Prune back to 10cm/4in above the ground and feed well afterwards.’

Other shrubs he recommends are ornamental brambles Rubus with white or red stems and willows Salix with bright orange or black stems.

Beautiful barks of trees and shrubs bring a variety of colours and textures too, as Ed advises. ‘Some of my favourites are the paper barked Maple Acer griseum, the mahogany barked Tibetan cherry Prunus serrula and the Turkish hazel Corylus colurna with its grey, soft corky bark.’

For winter flowers Ed recommends Christmas Box Sarcococca with its fragrant white flowers, Viburnum tinus that seem to be forever covered in flowers or berries, Bergenia with pretty white or pink flowers and evergreen foliage, Pulmonaria and the Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybridus which flowers from mid-January to late March.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is one of my favourite plants with large, creamy white domed flower heads in summer which dry like tissue paper and then remain on the shrub throughout the winter. Simply prune by half or above ground level in early spring and feed well afterwards.

Visit Langthorns Plantery

Little Canfield, Dunmow, Essex , CM6 1TD, 01371 872611,

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