Magic of winter garden

Pyracantha berries light up the dull days of autumn and act as a great food store for birds and insects.

The magical world of nature is often far more straightforward than we think. It is we humans that confuse the issue.

Have you noticed the berries on the trees this winter? They are dramatically more abundant than normal. Tradition will tell us that this is nature taking care of its own. Trees providing a healthy food source for birds, squirrels, hedgehogs and so many more animals. Preparation for a harsh winter perhaps? I don’t know yet, but it is logical.

Such a crop of berries also ensures the continuation of the plant species and if the winter is so severe or the winds are so high as to remove a particular tree from our landscape, then the seeds in the berries ingested by the local fauna will make their way into hedgerows and germinate, and so it goes on.

I am not sure whether the profusion of berries is indeed a portent of a severe winter or the result of a warm dry summer or something altogether different, but what I can say for certain is that it adds so much beauty to the winter garden. The garden in the winter is just as active as it is during the summer months. The aesthetic beauty may be more subtle and less ‘in your face’ than the showy bedding displays and striking herbaceous flowers, but stop to admire and you will indeed be struck by the beauty of what is all around.

The dramatic winter stem effect of a delicate Japanese Maple, for instanct, or the icy looking, peeling bark of the Himalayan Birch. Maybe other barks are there to admire, such as Acer griseum, the Paperbark Maple or indeed Prunus serrula, The Mahogany barked Cherry, probably my favourite bark of all trees. Other attractions to keep your eye open for during this season include the herbaceous plants still over the ground, holding aloft their seed heads, such as Sedum spectabile and many of the ornamental grasses. But the most colourful spectacle in the winter garden is that of the trees and shrubs laden with berries.

There is a beautiful Sorbus vilmornii right across the road from where I work. The pink/white berries of this species of Mountain Ash will stop you in your tracks if you are awake to them. It is this time of the year when the garden is truly all around us. You don’t need to pay admission to some stately open garden with impeccably maintained beds and borders to admire the winter in the green, for it is everywhere.

Each road that you travel on your daily commute, each laneway that you walk down on your day off, indeed even looking out a window from your house, can offer a visual sensation.

But be aware of it. As you hurtle down that road at speed or amble down that laneway, it is all too easy particularly with all the stresses of the current day to be blind to the magic and beauty that is all about us. And this is part of gardening, the beauty is always transient and if you miss it for this year then it will be another 12 months before you get the chance again. Time and tide and all that.

My father used to refer to Ilex as a university-educated Holly as this is the botanical name for our winter berried favourite and let me urge you to plant some holly in your garden over the next 12 months, as it is at risk of becoming endangered.

There are dozens of varieties available, some self fertile and more which will require male forms to pollinate the female forms so that they will produce berries.

Hawthorn, Guelder Rose and Spindle Tree are just a few of the others to look out for in our native hedgerows and roadsides. The garden doesn’t stop during the winter and if our eyes are open, we can admire and be aware that we are only part of the natural world, there is so much magic happening all around us.


Mulching is an important part of gardening and a job for this month. Use well rotted farm yard manure, (FYM), or Celtic Gold as a mulch around your rose bushes and herbaceous perennials.

This will result in an increase in nutrient levels which in turn will ensure healthy growth next year, but this mulching will also have the benefits of protecting the plant roots from the worst of the winter frosts and snow, along with suppressing weeds.

You don’t need to spend a fortune or even a penny on this task as your own homemade compost can also be used. If you have been busy all year composting grass cuttings and green waste then now is the ideal time to use the end product.


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