Gardening advice: Five shrubs to add colour while you're waiting for spring
GARDEN still looking bleak despite the appearance of snowdrops and a few other early bulbs? Make the most of winter-flowering shrubs which should brighten up your borders.
These spiky evergreens offer terrific winter colour with their sprays of dainty zingy yellow flowers at the tips of the branches. They will grow well on virtually any soil in sun or shade, and make good architectural plants thanks to their deep green spiny leaves. Mahonias are also deliciously fragrant, so plant them close to the house, if you can.
These invaluable winter shrubs come in a range of shapes and sizes, both evergreen and deciduous, but tend to be easy to grow on most soils in sun or partial shade, but dig in plenty of well-rotted organic matter when you plant to give them a good start. Make sure you check on the label the final size of the plant you are buying, as they can grow to 3m, while others, like V. davidii, will remain small, at 60cm x 60cm and do well in pots or under trees. If you want a large type, V. tinus is a good bet, with its small evergreen leaves and flattish heads of white flowers which stay open all winter. V. carlesii 'Aurora' produces large clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers which are scented.
Again, these shrubs are often grown for their fantastically fragrant flowers, and among the most popular is D. odora 'Aureomarginata', a low-mounded type with evergreen yellow-edged leaves and purple flower buds that open to scented mauve flowers in late winter, followed by fleshy red berries. Good plant partners include Cyclamen coum and black ophiopogon and they are ideally placed in a mixed or shrub border in light shade, or near your back door where you can enjoy the scent. Alternatively, plant D. mezereum for its clusters of eye-catching purplish-pink fragrant flowers on bare stems in late winter and early spring.
The best one for containers in winter and spring is Skimmia japonica, which produces clusters of fragrant, white or pink-tinted spring flowers opening from red buds. This shrub has a long season of interest and female plants bear striking crops of red fruits which last throughout winter. They grow on most well-drained, fertile soils, need shade for dark green foliage and mostly don't need pruning. If you like cream flowers, go for S. x confusa 'Kew Green', a small shrub with bright green leaves whose green winter flower buds open to large clusters of cream flowers in spring.
5. Erica carnea
There are so many types of heathers on offer year-round, it's often difficult to know which one to choose, but if you have acid soil you can't go wrong with low-growing Erica carnea, an invaluable winter-flowering variety that comes in a range of colours from white to pink and deep purple-red. These groundcover subjects have attractive evergreen foliage and flower in winter and early spring, growing in sun or semi shade. Plant them at the front of borders with dwarf hebes and heucheras, or in alpine beds, or add them to late winter containers for extra colou