Your monthly gardening column with Michelle Unsworth, from So Plants Boutique Garden Centre, Preston Road, Longridge.
Winter gardens need not be dull and boring, with the odd conifer here and there.
After the autumn colours have faded and the leaves have fallen, there are dozens of superb plants that perform beautifully during the winter months, many of which are scented and can tolerate low light levels. Look out for hamamelis (witch hazel) skimmia, helleborus, sarcococca, eleagnus, mahonia, bergenia and corylus contorta.
Try to choose plants that evolve with the seasons, such as hamamelis, which has fantastic autumn colour followed by spidery, scented flowers in the depth of winter. Together with evergreens, consider drifts of coloured stems such as cornus midwinter fire, which displays golden autumn leaves followed by yellow, merging into coral red stems, which glow in the winter sunshine.
Underplant shrubs with hellebores, ophiopogon nigrescens (black lily grass) teamed with spring-flowering bulbs such as crocuses and miniature daffodils to create a layered colour scheme, lasting well into late spring.
Containers can look amazing at this time of year with a wider range of winter interest plants suitable for tubs. Winter bedding such as the new hardier bedding cyclamen, violas, pansies, primula, polyanthus and ornamental kale add instant colour. Team with dwarf evergreens and more interesting plants such as heucheras, rosemary, bronze and black grasses, pernettyas and gaultherias with brightly-coloured berries to add extra interest.
When planting containers it is helpful to choose decent-sized plants, as little or no growth is put on during the winter months. Use frost-proof pot or plastic containers, and lift off the ground with pot feet or bricks to help drainage and reduce frost damage. In very cold weather, pots can be insulated with bubble wrap.
Watering is still key at this time of year – check your containers regularly, as they should not be allowed to dry out or to be waterlogged. However, feeding your plants is not necessary at this time of year.
The main jobs this month are to clear up fallen leaves, especially from lawns, ponds and beds, and store in sacks to rot into mulch.
This is a great time to dig over your garden, allowing the frost to break down soil, making it easier to work next spring.
As it gets colder don’t forget to feed the birds, and ensure they have a clean water supply – not only will you help them, but it will cheer a dull winter day to see them.