New Year Fireworks!!

January is the darkest month but there is always something to light up the garden and draw you outside. While many herbaceous plants are hibernating under the soil, there are lots of shrubs that flower at this time of year and are definitely worth some space in your garden.

Let me start with one of my favourites: Witch hazel, (Hamamelis x intermedia). Throughout the Autumn their bare branches have held onto masses of tightly closed buds, and these then pop open to reveal fragrant tasselled pompoms in rich fiery hues. They offer a real shot of optimism on the dreariest of days and are ideal for a sheltered sunny spot with good fertile soil. I have just treated myself to Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ with her spicy red flowers, but other excellent varieties include the warm orange ‘Aphrodite’ or golden yellow ‘Arnolds Promise’ - the choice is yours.

Another bright and cheery flower for this time of year is Mahonia x media ‘Charity’; its rich green holly- like leaves provide wonderful architectural structure, so it’s a perfect shrub for the back of a border, with dramatic bright yellow clusters of flowers exploding from the ends of upright branches. An added bonus is that its frost hardy flowers have a similar perfume to Lily of the Valley and will tolerate part-shade, so useful for a tricky spot. Yellow is not always a popular colour in the garden, but I think in the pale wintry light it is a brilliant contrast and focal point.

Something a little less showy is the pretty frosted almond pink of Viburnum bodnantense - another great addition. This deciduous shrub has small pale flowers appearing on the ends of branches and has an amazing fragrance. Another winter flowering Viburnum is Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’, an evergreen variety; abundant groups of rich carmine buds open into dainty white flowers, sadly not fragranced, but they bloom in tandem with the metallic blue berries from the previous year.

If you haven’t got much space and want something for a pot by the door or to fill a sheltered shady corner then my two favourite plants are Sarcococca coufusa and Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postil’. It is hard to believe that the tiny pale flowers of either plant can give off such heady scents, but they will make you stop to drink it all in every time you pass and will remind you that spring isn’t so far away.

Originally published in Focus magazine

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