Garden guide

PUBLISHED: 05:20 23 February 2015




With much of the perennial border dormant at this time of year, Bergenias with their rounded evergreen leaves add some architectural foliage interest to the garden. As the weather gets cooler, many varieties develop winter leaf colours of purple, red and bronze, providing a fabulous foil for grasses and early flowering bulbs.

Primula silver lace purplePrimula silver lace purple

Among many excellent varieties is the locally bred B. Bressingham Ruby, which forms a compact plant with leaves that turn a dark ruby red in winter followed by red-pink flowers in spring. B. purpurascens also has good winter colour - its leaves a deep reddish purple, with deep pink flowers in spring. B. Bressingham White is an excellent white-flowered variety; these are produced in abundance in late spring, turning blush pink with age. It has good green foliage but little in the way of winter colour. Bergenias are adaptable plants and will cope with most garden soils in sun or shade (their growth is lusher in damp shade, but in a sunnier spot it provides the best winter colour).

Primulas are one of many shade-loving or woodland perennials which start to bloom in late winter and early spring before the tree canopy blocks out much of the light. Some of the most delightful are the gold and silver-laced varieties; they come a range of colours, from crimson, purple, and browns through to black, all with a golden yellow eye and a silver or gold edge. They prefer a moist soil with plenty of added organic matter and some shade from the hot afternoon sun. Clumps should be divided every three or four years to maintain vigour and keep them flowering well.

Plant of the month

Pinus mugo Carstens wintergoldPinus mugo Carstens wintergold

Pinus mugo Carstens wintergold

This dwarf pine is looking at its best now, its bright golden-yellow bottle-brush-like foliage glowing in the winter garden. Growing only five to 15cm a year, it’s perfect for a rockery or small garden and can be kept even smaller by pruning away half the new growth in spring. Pinus mugo will grow in most good garden soils but coming from mountain regions it does prefer good drainage, so on heavier soils this will need to be improved, or alternatively grow in a raised bed.

Question time

The leaves of my topiary Buxus in pots have gone an orange-bronze colour. How can I get them looking good again?

The discolouration is caused by lack of feed. Buxus (box) are quite resilient plants but if underfed will lose their colour and vigour. It’s a little early to start feeding yet, but in March top dress the pots with some fresh compost and some general purpose slow release fertilizer. If repotting, use a soil-based John Innes compost.

Catch up with Keith

Trim back winter-flowering heathers once the flowers have gone over to maintain a compact plant.

Snowdrops and aconites can be planted or divided now while “in the green”.

Cut back deciduous grasses before new growth begins.

Keep any seedlings in a bright position in the greenhouse to prevent them becoming weak and leggy.

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