From 24th September to 2nd October is National Conifer Week.
As days shorten toward winter, the summer flowers in our patio containers fade away, leaving bare soil and unrealised potential behind. What’s a gardener to do? Luckily, elegant, dramatic conifers make an excellent choice for container gardens. You can count on conifers to provide twelve full months of colour.
Dwarf, slow-growing conifers come in an amazing array of exciting colours, snazzy shapes and diverse textures, so gardeners can find superior selections to compliment any style of home. Not only beautiful, conifers are durable plants by nature, with tough, trouble-free constitutions that make them easy to grow. They need little care to maintain their elegant good looks. Most dwarf conifers grow so slowly that, with appropriate care, they can thrive for years before outgrowing their spaces. Add seasonal flowers to change the scene during the year and to complement the structure of the conifers.
The popularity and availability of dwarf and slow-growing conifers has grown dramatically in recent years. Today, Woodbank offer small conifers that serve as the vertical accent for container arrangements: narrow spires and conical forms in colours that range from blue and green to yellow and white. Gardeners can also choose dense, compact conifers shaped like globes or buns, also in a range of colours, with a fantastic selection of textures. Some of them sport a soft, fluffy feel; others offer sturdy, stiff needles; and still others produce fern-like foliage that curves and twists or delicate needles that weep and drape. The options for dwarf conifers to fill containers are limited only by the imagination of the gardener.
The plant of the month for August is the hydrangea, a plant with a natural charm of its own. With its blousy blooms of pink, white and blue this much-loved cottage garden favourite has delicate colour and an old-fashioned prettiness that belies its easy-going nature.
There are two types of flowering hydrangea: the mopheads, producing large round pompom-like flowers, and lacecaps which have flattened, lacy flower heads.
Those big, showy blooms will continue into late summer, after which you can cut and dry the flower heads for indoor decoration. Hydrangeas are fully hardy and need only dead-heading in spring, snipping away the spent heads back to just above a pair of emerging leaves.
Plant them in moist, free-draining soil in full sun to partial shade. Interestingly the flower colour can change according to the acidity of your soil: on acid soils, they’re blue, while on neutral to alkaline soils they take on pinker hues. If you have your heart set on a blue hydrangea but have a soil with a high pH (alkaline) there are also several dwarf varieties happy in containers of ericaceous (acidic) compost.
Surely everybody knows pansies and their little cousins, violas, with their pretty “faces” smiling bravely through the winter! A must for containers whatever the season, they are most valuable for late colour but are just as welcome during spring and summer as well. Their colour range is hugh, with single colours, bi-colours, with or without markings, in purples, reds, yellows, blues, the list goes on. There must be some just right for you.
Part of the Ericaceae family there are over 4,000 varieties of Heather to choose from, one to suit every garden. They make a welcome addition to any garden bed, border or pot, providing splashes of white, pink and purple colour all year round, while foliage colours vary from bright green, olive green, and golden, with many turning terracotta red in the coldest months.
Heathers are best planted in beds and small evergreen shrubs can be added as complementary companion plants to provide contrast in height and form. Hebe ochracea ‘James Stirling’, a dense, low, spreading evergreen dwarf shrub with bright ochre-coloured leaves and small white flowers, and Rhododendron ‘Praecox’ a small, evergreen shrub with dark, glossy oval leaves and widely funnel-shaped, rosy-purple flowers, look great growing along side. The Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’, a miniature daffodil, will also add a delightful touch with its neat clusters of bright yellow trumpets.
Read all about the garden plant of the month here.
With the dark months creeping in, there is no better time to spruce up your garden with Helleborus. Also known as the Christmas Rose, the Hellebore is a traditional garden favourite, making it the perfect choice for our Plant of the Month for January.
With a colour range of pure white through to deep purple, pink, cream, yellow, and red flowers, Hellebores are guaranteed to light up a damp, shady spot in your garden winter.
Hellebores are evergreen, perennial flowering plants. They are often used for decorative purposes and are popular with gardeners for their early flowering period during winter and spring and are frost resistant, making them ideal for this time of year.
They are excellent for bringing early colour to shady herbaceous borders and areas between deciduous shrubs and under trees.
Helleborus are often very tolerant of dry shade conditions and look fantastic planted in borders with snowdrops, Erythronium, Primula, Pulmonaria and Tiarella.
They are also wildlife friendly and are a valuable source of pollen for early bees.