This delightful deciduous shrub is known for its unusual and colourful late winter and early spring flowers. These typically appear before the foliage emerges and are arranged in pendant catkin-like racemes that hang from the branches. The foliage can turn rosy red and yellow during the Autumn season. The genus comes from the Greek word Stachys meaning an ear of corn – hence the hanging flowers appearance. Plants in this genus are sometimes commonly called spiketail also in reference to the flowers. Native to Japan it was introduced to UK cultivation in 1864. It can be grown by seed or summer cuttings taken with a heel in late July and given bottom heat. Layering is also a method – do this in summer months and the new plant should be ready to detach the following spring. It grows well in fertile soil that is free training in full sun or partial shade of a woodland. In terms of garden design it is a perfect shrub for woodland gardens or it can be effectively trained against a wall with southern exposure.
The art of Kokedama is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and is a simple and highly adaptable design concept. Kokedama is a Japanese technique that means “moss ball” – it is the art of binding plants to create string gardens and can be traced back centuries. These living plant moss balls suit any space inside or outside your home. You can experiment with this innovative plant design – they are perfect for small urban spaces, the plants can live for years and do not require repotting. To make a Kokedama you will need soil, string, a plant and moss. Firstly mould the soil round the roots of the plant – wet sandy soil works best. Then bind the soil ball with moss and secure with string keeping it tight. Select plants that are evergreen like ferns or choose seasonal plants and change the display more frequently. Then hang up with a piece of string in your desired location. Soak them once a week in a bucket of water. You can also add liquid fertiliser to the water to feed your plant. Have fun and get creative!
Ditch your boring Autumn planters this year and step up your pumpkin decoration skills. Unleash your creative flair in your house, garden and at your door. Try planting up your pumpkins with plants of all kinds. Pumpkins can be large or small and integrated with shrubs and perennials for interest. You could use all forms of grasses, mini succulents, or floral arrangements displayed within the pumpkin. Use moss or normal potting compost to support the plants in the hollowed out pumpkin. Your designs can be classic planters that are autumn inspired or have fun with Halloween influences. Ophiopogon nigrescens is a black grass which can be used and contrasts perfectly against the orange skin of the pumpkin to give that spooky effect. Once decorated the Autumn planters can be displayed indoors or outside and should last for the month of October.
Meandering through an archway of glowing yellow Laburnum flowers is a magical experience that you too can create in your own garden. This deciduous tree or small shrub puts on a wonderful show- stopping display each year during early summer. It has impressive pendulum flowers that are similar to that of Wisteria and are fragrant. It has commonly been referred to as the golden rain tree. It is a small genus that is found within the plant family Fabaceae and has trifoliate attractive foliage. However this plant produces shiny black poisonous seeds so take care when planting in areas with young children and pets. They make wonderful specimen trees or alternatively try the horticultural technique of training them over an archway or pergola to create an impressive display. It is best to select cultivars to suit your situation and some have been bred to have very long flowers. Once the main framework of your archway is created it will need little pruning. They are similar to Wisteria in that they only require spur pruning in early winter. Be careful not to create large pruning wounds as they do not heal quickly and can as a result split the tree. They can cope with poor soil but do best in well drained and fertile soil.
The world famous Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden is well worth visiting.
Topiary is a living green art form. This evergreen structure is typically made from Box, Yew, Ilex and Conifers which keep their shape well. They provide excellent winter interest with a strong structure of crisp clear lines and a focal point for the visitor’s eye. If snowfall is heavy gently knock it off the branches to prevent them being damaged by the weight of the snow. They will need an annual trim to maintain their creative shape and they can be trained into any form to resemble almost anything from a boat to an eagle! The only downfall is these topiary structures can take many years to grow until the desired shape is achieved. Often started using a wire or bamboo frame to help get proportions and dimensions correct. As a grower you must remember that these plants are living and will require feeding and watering just like the other plants in your garden. Play with your imagination to create topiary balls, cones, spirals or lollipops for striking evergreen focal points or if you feel brave try to create your own shapes especially animals which often bring a touch of whimsy to the landscape.
One of the latest trends in horticulture are terrariums where you can create and assemble a miniature plant world to admire in your own home. A terrarium is a small glass case that allows you to grow plants with little effort or specialist skills. They act as a unique living space between indoors and outdoors. This is not a new concept as in 1800 Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward discovered he could grow a plant in a sealed glass bottle which would provide enough carbon dioxide and oxygen, plus moisture for it to survive. After this the Wardian case, a sealed portable mini greenhouse, was invented by Sir William Hooker. The Wardian case was used by many plant hunters to bring back live specimens of plants from far away places. They would arrive in perfect condition after being at sea for months. Terrariums act in the same way like mini greenhouses which can be decorated with coloured pebbles, moss, lichen and pine cones. When designing your terrarium select small plants and nestle them into a mix of soil and light grit for drainage. If the terrarium is sealed select plants which prefer high humidity such as orchids, ferns and venus fly traps and create a mini greenhouse. If the terrarium is not sealed you can select drier plant species such as cacti and succulents. Let your imagination run wild and create a miniature plant landscape for your home.
Winter’s cold palette can even curb the interest of the most enthusiastic gardener. Colour is a very important element of any garden as it creates the scene that awakens the senses of the visitor. Winter doesn’t have to be depressing. Work with that palette to create subtle tones, highlights and contrasts of colour. Once the trees and shrubs have lost their deciduous leaves their skeleton branches become the backdrop of the garden. The gardener must work creatively to use striking flaming red and golds against the paler winter hues. Flashes of carefully placed plants will provide surprise, shock and joy. Brightly coloured berries look magnificent against evergreens like yew and holly. Allow the winter sunlight to filter through the branches onto the white trunks of birch trees as this will add atmosphere to any garden in winter. Each season nature presents a different array of colours that we must work to enhance and create the desired landscape we are drawn to even on the dullest winter day.