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Shapes in winter. Beauty, not a beast, awaits those who care to notice.

There's nothing like a gloomy winter's day to make you aware of what looks cheerful and uplifting in the garden. If you want flowers, there's a limitation on the number and variety of what might be available right now. But let's take heart and look a little closer. What can you see outside? Above all else, it's SHAPE that catches the eye. Those beautiful trees without leaves have the most appealing outline. Have you noticed how different they all are? Take the common Hornbeam, for example. Carpinus betulus. How do you know what you are looking at? It's all about the trunk which is grey/brown and fluted, and the goblet shape of the actual tree. Once you begin to notice these things you'll be hooked.

The goblet shape of a Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, is unmistakable once you know what you are looking at. The Beech tree, Fagus sylvatica, with its smooth, silver-grey bark with ripples which look almost like muscles. Look at the twigs – the leaf buds are often known as ladies fingers because they are angled closed to the stem in a graceful manner.

The narrow buds of a beech tree, Fagus sylvatica, are described as 'ladies' fingers' because of the graceful shape. The majestic oak tree, Quercus robur, with its terminal clusters of buds. It has a broad head of rugged branches, a shape which is unmistakable when growing naturally.

A winter oak, Quercus robur, has a broad head of rugged branches and the twigs have clusters of terminal buds. Many people are able to identify trees throughout the winter, just by the shape and the appearance of the buds. Some are easier than others. Take Horse Chestnut, for example. Aesculus hippocastanum has big, sticky buds and the trunk of the tree is erect and columnar with a smooth, grey/green hue. The branches are widely spreading.

The sticky buds of the Horse Chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, are easy to spot. Then there’s the Ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior. It has characteristic, upturned buds and whitish stems which look a bit like paintbrushes that have been dipped in black paint.    

Upturned Ash twigs in winter look as if they have been dipped in black paint.  

Colourful evergreens for the winter garden

There is also plenty of colour about, once you start looking. Many evergreen shrubs provide the backbone of the garden in winter. The rounded shape of Coprosma, for example. These shrubs are ideal for sheltered sites and even on balconies and window boxes. They have small, waxy leaves and most show lovely colours including 'Lemon and Lime' and 'Tequila Sunrise'.

Cosprosma 'Tequila Sunrise' has a cheerful, rosy hue

Coprosma 'Lemon and Lime' brightens up dark corners in a sheltered site. How about Lophomyrtus , another evergreen with small leaves? 'Magic Dragon' is particularly appealing with its burgundy-coloured twigs and hints of pink.

Lophomyrtus 'Magic Dragon' has warm tones of pink and burgundy Of course there are plenty more plants that have colourful foliage, including Phormium such as 'Jester'. The shape of these provide great structure during the winter and they are a delight to behold.

Phormium 'Jester' has lovely streaks of magenta in its strappy foliage. A great structural plant. Then there are smaller evergreen shapes and colours including a wide variety of Heuchera. All providing winter interest in the garden, whatever the weather or the season.

Heuchera 'Glitter' is a sparkly little number that will shine all winter long.

Heuchera 'Lime Ruffles' gives a bright splash of lemon-lime in the winter garden. 

Heuchera 'Zipper' for that wonderful orange/magenta hue, all winter long. Planning and growing a winter-interest garden isn't difficult. it just takes a bit of attention to detail. Notice the shapes and colours of your own garden and see what you can add. It will brighten up the season until spring arrives.    

By Perfect Plants


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