We all need something to raise our spirits right now and our gardens are ready to do just that. It is not great gardening weather but a few plants are wowing us with winter blooms. I have always been a fan of winter flowers because, no matter how small the blooms may be, each one is a special joy right now.
The great thing about having a garden is that we can all grow what we like and that suits our personality – gardens are very personal places. But even with that in mind there are some shrubs and some perennials that I always think should be in every garden. I would call these my top ten – plants that I would recommend to a beginner gardener because they are either easy to look after or that bloom (or do their thing) for a long time. It is always an advantage if they don’t cost too much either!
And in any list of essential shrubs, at the very top will be Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’. If you can’t cope with the ‘bodnantense’ just call it ‘Dawn’ – everyone will know what you mean. (It was raised at Bodnant in Wales – and it could have been a lot worse if it was raised at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.)
Viburnum ‘Dawn’ is a hybrid of Viburnum fragrans and V. grandiflorum, neither of which is very common in gardens. In fact the first time the cross was made, by Charles Lamont in 1933, the resultant seedlings were considered no improvement on the parents. But the cross was made independently at Bodnant in 1935 and of the the seedlings raised one was thought to be best and was named ‘Dawn’. Ironically, one of Charles Lamont’s seedlings was eventually propagated and is now also available, under the raiser’s name.
‘Dawn’ is a wonderful shrub. It is deciduous, and has an upright habit. It is not fussy about soil but a sunny spot is best to ensure good blooming. It will bloom as a small shrub but once it is a few years old it sill start to produce tall, rather angular shoots. These produce side shoots as they get older and an unpruned bush can become increasingly wide. Once a plant is more than five years old it is worth pruning out a few of the oldest, twiggiest shoots, at the base, every spring after flowering.
The foliage is neat and tidy but it is the flowers that are so special. Buds start to open in November if the weather is mild, often just s the leaves are starting to drop. Once mature, a plant can produce an amazing number of flowers, but they do not all open at once. The small, tubular blooms are produced in tight clusters and they open in mild spells throughout winter. The open flowers are damaged by hard frost but closed buds are not, and the plant keeps on opening flowers throughout winter and into spring. If the weather is mild there will be few buds left by March but if winter has been cold then there will be an astonishing display of pink as the weather warms up.
But a cloud of pink is not all you get. The flowers are sweetly fragrant and it is one of the best-scented shrubs of the whole year. Daphnes may be sweeter but they can be temperamental while ‘Dawn’ will grow anywhere and for anyone.
Being a customer of Nag’s Hall your soil could be light and or heavy clay on chalk! ‘Dawn’ is happy in all of these. Ultimate height is 3m but a little pruning, to keep it young and tidy and you can expect a height of 2.4m and a width of 1.5m. The foliage cover is not too dense and it is easy to plant right up to the multi-stemmed trunks.
Of course there are many viburnums and most are worth a place in all but the smallest garden. Surely the most popular is the evergreen Viburnum tinus. This will grow in sun or part shade and is in bloom now too. Unfortunately the flowers are not fragrant – I think they are vaguely unpleasant – but the deep pink buds, opening to white or pink-tinged blooms, are a welcome sight. This is a plant that is suitable for a large pot, filled with John Innes compost, and is a good structural patio plant.
Remember that evergreens need water all year and if in pots, especially beside the home, may not get much rain. They need watering all year. More bay trees die in March than at any other time and this is not usually through cold but because they dried out in winter.
Your pots of pansies and violas will need watering too. And keep removing dead flowers to keep plants tidy and prevent seed production.