The Garden In Winter
by Harry Roberts

When the last of the Michaelmas daisies and of the out-door chrysanthemums have cast their blooms, many gardeners are apt to think that the interest and beauty of the garden are over, and that for three months there is nothing to be done but to dig and enrich the soil, and to wait patiently for the onset of spring. This is a narrow and an ill-informed view, for, though through the months of winter we cannot hope to see many or gaudy flowers, we may yet have our gardens bright and interesting with evergrey and evergreen shrubs and herbs, with the delightfully-coloured barks of willows, dog-woods and other trees, and, not less interesting, with the often beautiful stems of the last season's growth of herbaceous plants, usually sacrificed to the tidying spirit of those who would tidy the floor of heaven itself. Moreover, even in winter, flowers of no mean rank may be had in the open borders of English gardens.


The Christmas and Lenten Roses or Hellebores alone can be so used as to make a border interesting during the whole of the winter months, for not only do they all possess handsome foliage, but their flowers also are very beautiful and varied in colour. They are easy of culture, liking a deep, fairly stiff and rich, though well-drained, soil, and thriving best in dense shade, under trees or on the north side of a hedge or wall. The Hellebores are impatient of disturbance and meddlesomeness. The flowers, coming as they do in the rainy season, should be saved from being soiled with splashes of mud by having moss placed on the earth beneath them. Of the many species and varieties, the old Christmas Rose (H. niger) is by far the most valuable. Its large white flowers, appearing at the end of the year, when most flowers have succumbed to numbing cold or blighting winds, stir the imagination in the same way as does a beautiful face in the Bow Street dock or a butterfly in a foundry. The so-called Helleborus niger maximus, or H. altifolius, has larger flowers, which, moreover, appear earlier than those of H. niger, but the colour is not so pure, many of the flowers being tinged with pink. The crimson H. abchasicus, and H. colchicus with flowers of darkest purple, as well as some of the hybrids derived from them, should be grown in every garden. The green and inconspicuous flowered varieties, such as H. fútidus, H. lividus, which came from Corsica about the beginning of the eighteenth century, and H. viridus, are well worth growing for their foliage, and indeed for their flowers also, if there be any shady moist corner where few plants will thrive.

A plant somewhat related to the Hellebores, though smaller in every way, is the pretty little Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), which brightens the ground early in January with its yellow cups resting on the daintiest of green ruffles. It looks its best when it has become well established and naturalised in grass, or among trees and shrubs. Long after the flower has fallen, the beautiful foliage continues to drape and decorate the earth during the early months of the year. In warm, sheltered situations, two species of Scilla often produce their flowers in January:—Scilla bifolia, which sends up spikes of dark blue bells, the spikes being about eight inches in height, and the much smaller and somewhat later S. siberica, with flowers of peculiarly intense blue. Some of the anemones often begin to flower in winter, especially the Blue Wind-flower of Greece (A. blanda), and in warm situations the old A. coronaria itself. In any case the foliage of anemones, and beautiful foliage it is, is one of the ornaments of the hardy winter garden. Some of the species of crocus, also, belong to the section of winter bloomers, notably the mauve C. imperati, and the pale lilac C. pulchellus. In sheltered shady spots, where it can enjoy well-drained leafy soil undisturbed, the round-leaved Cyclamen (C. coum) and its white-flowered variety (C. hyemale) produce abundance of welcome little flowers often quite early in January. Those who fear the assaults of evil spirits should remember a couplet quoted in Folkard's "Plant Lore, Legends and Lyrics":—

St John's Wort and fresh Cyclamen she in her chamber kept,
From the power of evil angels to guard him while he slept

Its potency as a drug was so thoroughly believed that Gerard fenced round all his cyclamens, and also laid sticks over them crosswise lest any unfortunate individual might tread on the corms, and so bring about the direst results.

In wild waste spots, or under trees where few things will thrive, the fragrant Winter Coltsfoot is well worth growing. It spreads at a terrible pace, and must therefore not be introduced into the mixed borders. The common primrose and its garden varieties, as well as many other species of primula, are of the utmost value in the winter garden, both for their foliage and for their flowers, which in some cases begin to appear soon after Christmas. One of the very earliest is the purple Caucasian Primrose (P. amúna), which bears its umbel of flowers often in the very depth of winter. All the primroses like shelter, partial shade, deep moderately-rich soil, and "peace and quietness."

But of all the flowers of winter, the most beautiful is the fragrant Iris reticulata. No description can convey a tithe of its effect. Two grass-green sheaths drape the lower part of the flower-stalk, the sheath on the convex side becoming at its margin so thin and transparent as to seem to melt into the stem itself. The flower-stalk up to this point is of a curious green colour veined with purple, but gradually, as the flower is reared, the purple increases so as to colour the whole surface of the stem; and, indeed, at the root of the petals the stem becomes almost black. Nor is the flower itself unworthy so dainty a support, for the colouring and form are exquisite. The falls, which are coloured on the outside a dull purple with centrally some green spotting, turn at about one quarter way from their extremities suddenly outwards almost at a right angle, thus forming horizontal landing-places. The inside of the fall is of a rich light violet colour, running up the centre from the claw's root being a white patch with yellow and dark purple markings, terminating at the horizontal blade in glowing orange. The effect is slightly reminiscent of that produced by a leopard's skin. The standards are bright violet with relief of yellow pollen just below the centre, above which are little stigmatic ledges which brush pollen from entering insects. The flower stalk is definitely arched as though the flower were too heavy for its strength, but near the flower itself the stalk becomes erect, thus giving the whole an appearance of health and vigour. The early Irises are not difficult to grow in moderately light and well drained soil, but they should usually be afforded a warm and sheltered site. Other fragrant species which bloom in winter or very early spring are the soft blue Iris stylosa, of which there is an equally beautiful white variety, and the purple and rose Iris histrio, somewhat resembling Iris reticulata in habit and colouring.

The flowers which usher out the winter and announce the near approach of the spring, the winter gilliflowers or snowdrops, have long been among the treasures of English gardens. Naturalised in grassy lawns or orchards, or grown undisturbed in shrubbery borders, the single and double common snowdrops (G. nivalis) almost invariably thrive and increase. The common snowdrop is on the whole the most important and most valuable, but in light warm soil the handsome Galanthus Elwesi should be grown, and in any soil the broad-leaved G. latifolius, and a fragrant hybrid derived from it, G. Alleni, with large flowers and leaves almost like those of the tulip.

Several of the periwinkles, notably the lilac Vinca acutiloba, bear flowers during the months of December and January, and in warm sheltered spots violets and roses may often be picked in the open air.

Among the shrubs, several of the most beautiful bear their flowers in the depth of winter. The fragrant yellowish flowers of the Winter Sweet (Chimonanthus fragrans), which is one of the many gracious gifts of Japan, are among the best of winter blossoms. The Chimonanthus is worth a place against a warm wall facing south. After flowering, the young shoots should be pruned back to the old branches. The variety known as Grandiflora bears somewhat larger flowers. The scarlet flowers of Cydonia japonica (the Japan Quince), are familiar to everyone although it is but a nineteenth century introduction into this country. Other species and varieties of Quince, however, are equally well worth growing. C. Mauleii, with orange-red flowers freely produced seemingly over the entire plant, C. nivalis, with large white flowers, and C. cardinalis are all good.

When the climate is mild, and the soil not too heavy, the Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) is of great value in winter and early spring. The yellow Jasmine and the shrubby Honeysuckles, Lonicera fragrantissima and L. Standishi, are easy to grow, and should be seen in every open-air winter garden, as also should the old Daphne Mezereon, single and double, the double Furze (Ulex Europaeus flore pleno), and the evergreen Garrya elliptica with its hardier variety Thuretii. The Garrya is hardy enough in many gardens, but in exposed or cold situations profits by being afforded the shelter of a wall or other screen. Many other winter flowering shrubs and flowers might be named, but I must refer readers to the list of winter bloomers which forms an appendix to my "Chronicle of a Cornish Garden."

Great, however, as is the importance of growing as many as possible of the plants which bear flowers through the months of winter, the value of evergreen and evergrey foliage must not be overlooked. Among the latter may be named Lavender, Rosemary, Pinks, Carnations, Mulleins, Alyssum, Lavender Cotton, Stachys chrysantha, Achillea umbellata, Achillea moschata, Silene maritima, Hieraceum villosum, H. gymnocephalus, Cistus (of sorts), Artemisia lanata, Agrostemma, Senecio leucophyllus, Teucrum aureum, Cerastium tomentosum, Arabis variegata, Gypsophilum repens, Festuca glauca, Sedum Turkestanicum, Olearia insignis, Agrostemma coronaria, Onopordon arabicum. To give a list of useful evergreen plants would require much more space than I have to spare, but the following names may possibly be of some help. Of evergreen trees and shrubs, Yew, Hollies, Box, Tree Ivies, Pernettyas, Ruscus racemosus, the silver-edged Euonymus radicans variegatus, Berberis aquifolium, Aucuba Japonica (and other kinds), Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendrons, Ericas, Sand Myrtles, Dwarf Partridge Berries, Andromedas, Skimmias, Olearia Haasti and Phillyrea Vilmoriana, are among the most useful and interesting. The number of valuable evergreen border plants is almost infinite; the following list includes some of the best:—

Evergreen ferns should be grown in gardens much more than they usually are. The following are a few of the hardiest kinds:—

The British species of Asplenium, Blechnum, Ceterach, Polypodium, Polystichum and Scolopendrium are often useful and always available.

End of The Winter Garden by Harry Roberts