Bed in some colour to banish the winter blues
Warm hues in the cold season never fail to revive the spirits, writes Chloë Bryan-Brown.
According to the Met Office, we could be in for a long, hard winter, but bracing conditions don’t mean you have to give up on colour in your garden. With winter bedding you can brighten up even the chilliest of days. It’s the robin redbreast effect. We love them all the more for the colour they bring in the depths of our British winter.
Just like summer bedding, winter varieties consist mainly of annuals (plants whose life cycle lasts only one year), biennials (where the growing cycle is two years) and some perennials (plants that flower and grow for several years) that are treated as annuals and replaced after flowering.
For a good display of colour, it’s important to ensure you choose reliable winter-flowering varieties and don’t leave it too long to plant them out. Get them in the ground before the weather turns too cold so they can establish quickly and produce plenty of flower buds for continuous flowering in the colder winter months.
Some people like to grow bedding plants from seed. But don’t despair if you lack either the time or know-how. Multipacks of larger, ready-to-go specimens that can be planted out straightaway for an instant injection of colour are available from garden centres.
You’ll find there isn’t as much choice as in summer, but that makes what there is all the more welcome. A good tip is to go for bright colours that will show up more when the days are short and cold.
Winter-flowering pansies and violas are the mainstay of winter bedding. They come in a wide range of colours and can be relied on to give a show from autumn through to spring. Then there are the three Ps: primroses, primulas and polyanthus, which will flower intermittently in milder spells.
Dainty cyclamen coum is also a good choice. Its perfectly proportioned pink or magenta flowers – whose shape always reminds me of bishops’ mitres – and attractive marbled leaves will fill your garden with colour on the dullest of January and February days. All cyclamen, which are essentially woodland plants, look very effective planted in large drifts. But don’t worry if you don’t have the space to create swathes of colour. Planted in small clumps, they will brighten up any bed or border.
You’re unlikely to be in the garden much over the winter, so make sure you position your plants where you can see them from the house. You can create a special area or incorporate them in mixed borders to fill in the gaps left by herbaceous perennials that have died back. Beds in your front garden or containers on your doorstep will raise your spirits every time you come home.
Since plants grow very little during winter, make sure you start with good-sized specimens and plant densely and in sufficient numbers to ensure a colourful display right from the get-go – unlike summer bedding where you leave room for growth. Plants that are too small or haven’t produced any flower buds by the time you plant them out may only come into flower when the weather warms up in spring. Underplanting with spring-flowering bulbs, such as daffodil, crocus, tulip, hyacinth and allium will extend your beds’ life. Now is also the time, if you haven’t already done it, to plant out your hardy spring-flowering annuals such as stocks, wallflowers, forget-me-nots and sweet williams.
In terms of maintenance, winter bedding does not require much aftercare. All you need to do is deadhead regularly by simply pinching off any faded or scruffy blooms with your finger and thumb. This will enable them to last longer and mean that the words “winter” and “discontent” do not always have to go together as you enjoy the beautiful display.