A winter of content - red and white cyclamen pic

Planting winter colour outside is a great way to cheer up the dark season, says Peter Dowdall. 

It’s only this week that I have eventually come to terms with the fact that summer is over. It went on for so long this year — six months of good weather — that I had started to partake in that most dangerous of Irish pursuits — expecting it to remain fine.

However, the Jazz Weekend and Halloween are now behind us and the weather is once more wet and wild. Though it has remained remarkably mild. This is why it is only now that I have consigned the last of my summer flowering patio plants to the compost bin.

Petunias, Bacopa and Lobelia which gave so much colour this memorable year will soon be broken down and will be improving soil texture in the garden for many years to come. The tuberous Begonias, in particular, were difficult for me to take out as there were still some leaves and even flowers to be seen. However I had to be brutal for otherwise I would miss my opportunity to create beautiful winter and spring displays.

If, at this time of the year you normally consign the hanging baskets, window boxes and patio pots to the shed for the long winter only to shake them down again for next summer, let me urge you to use them to lift the mood this winter.

On the dark and dreary days that lie ahead, it seems nearly essential that we should use the beauty of flowers and colour to brighten the days. A hanging basket will be given new life now with some trailing pansies — two or three plants will be enough along with some trailing ivy to fill the basket. Simply keep an eye on watering and enjoy the display until next spring/summer when it will be once more time for the summer beauties to take centre stage.

Window boxes the same — why not try a few winter Heathers and beneath them a few dwarf daffodils or tulips which will breathe further life into the planter during next spring.

Ornamental grasses bring so much to the garden at all times of the year in terms of texture and also, in terms of colour. The airiness and movement they add to the garden can’t be created by any other group of plants and it is during these months that for me, they really come to the fore.

Festuca ‘Intense Blue’ likes a very well drained soil and so is great in a pot where you can control the growing medium. Add a good proportion of grit to the compost for this plant and surround it with some white pansies for a clean fresh vibrant look. The Pennisetums and Miscanthus will give a much more traditional and wintery look with their straw-coloured for the winter, remaining overground when other plants go to sleep underground for the cold season.

And for me that display is beautiful and seasonal. I don’t want everything to be evergreen, I love watching the seasons pass and one year moving into the next.

Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ with its artificial looking purple berries, Skimmias, Myrtus ugni, Crab Apples, and Pyracnatha are just some of the berried plants that will give great displays in pots and containers around the garden this year.

Of course the plant that I couldn’t be without during the winter or for Christmas, is Cyclamen. Whilst I adore a display of red and white Cyclamen for the dark months, there is something nice and warm about the purples and burgundies of the other Cyclamen and maybe won’t look so out of place in January. The reds and whites, however, can look a little sad, like a Christmas tree that has been left up until February.


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