This last week the weather has taken a turn for the worse, with our daily high temperatures having dropped down a notch and a few days full of rain reminding us that it is indeed winter.
There are a number of plants that are looking great at the moment, and it is well worth having a few of these in your garden to bring winter cheer.
Erica: Many varieties in the Erica genus flower through the cooler autumn and winter months. The flowers of many varieties are loaded with nectar, making them attractive to both birds and bees.
Particularly in the northern hemisphere but also by some New Zealanders, ericas are commonly referred to as "heaths" or "heathers". Ericas are renowned for their ability to endure hot sun and poor soil, making them ideal for the sandy areas of Whanganui. They will in fact grow in any well-drained soil, and will handle full sun or a part-shade situation. They prefer an acidic soil, so use acid fertiliser to feed them as you would camellias, rhododendrons and daphne.
Daphne Perfume Princess and Perfume Princess White: There is an old saying which implores that "every home must have a daphne and a lemon tree". These two plants remain as some of the top plant gifts for house-warming presents. Daphne Perfume Princess is a recent release bred by well-known Taranaki plant-breeder and nurseryman Mark Jury. It is a cross between the traditionally grown pink Daphne odora 'Leucanthe' and Daphne bholua. Perfume Princess boasts the largest flower size of all the daphnes, as well as the longest flowering period, being both the first and last to bloom.
Daphnes are grown for the noseful of scent that any passersby derive from this outstanding plant.
Protea: Proteas are a flower recognised around the world. Proteas produce a long-lasting flower display and are an excellent cut flower. They are sometimes referred to as "sugar flowers" because of the high nectar levels the flowers can produce, meaning they are highly attractive to birdlife, such as tui, and are effective at bringing them into the garden. The flowers of proteas are produced during the winter months and are some of the larger flowers amongst regular home-garden cultivated plants.
Leucadendron: For the most part, plants in the genus Leucadendron generally grow between 1m and 2.5m in height and width. The flowers look like they are an extension of the stem, with a kind of cone sitting down below the leaf-type bracts that is not seen unless the plant is viewed close up. As the winter cold sets in the flowers become more obvious, with the leaves intensifying in colour and putting on a real show. The colours vary, from creamy yellows to orange-yellow to intense reds. One of the most well-known and widely grown Leucadendron varieties is "Safari Sunset". It has boldly coloured red bracts and is a strong plant, excellent for cut flower production and as a garden specimen.
Hellebore: Commonly known as the Winter Rose or Lenten rose. Recent years have brought the release of many new varieties of these delightful plants. Colours range from pure white, pink, apricot, purples, reds and many spotted variations as well as double-flowered forms. These are highly desirable plants to have in the garden.
They flower for six weeks from late winter into spring. In the northern hemisphere, this coincides with the Christian festival of Lent, hence the common name.
Camellia: Many varieties flower during the winter months when there is little other colour in the garden, which is another bonus for this winner of a plant. The flowers may be single, double or semi-double, and colours range from pink, red, occasionally white, or mixtures of all three. There are a few creamy-yellow varieties too. Camellias are suitable for growing in containers on the patio and in the garden.
If you want a plant that is green, keeps its form without regular trimming, is not susceptible to many pests and diseases, provides tidy structure, has lovely flowers and is generally pretty hardy, then look no further than a camellia.
Wintersweet: A delicious name for a delicious plant. Chimonanthus praecox, commonly known as wintersweet, produces deliciously sweet-scented flowers during the middle of winter each year. The cold air of June and July seems to bring out the fragrance more actively from this deciduous shrub. This plant has waxy yellow flowers with dainty purple markings. The flowers run along the bare branches which are leafless during the winter months. In spring the plant comes out with fresh green leaves which turn yellow in the autumn before dropping. It is well placed in the back of a garden, where it provides backbone and structure with its green backdrop during the summer months. Planting smaller growing shrub varieties in front, such as hydrangea, callistemon or hebe can provide colour and interest during the summer months.
Left to its own devices, wintersweet will form a shrub 2.5-3m high by 2m wide. However, its size can be contained with a pruning in late winter/early spring each year before it comes into leaf.
Wintersweet originates from China, where it was domesticated during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It is a relatively tough and versatile plant, hardy to cold, and grows well in sun or partial shade.
A highly recommended plant for offering some winter joy on a dreary day.
Miniature cyclamen: One of the most prolific flowering plants is the bold, bright, eye-catching cyclamen. They are a very popular plant to grow during the winter months because of their vibrant colour. They start throwing flower buds as the weather cools in March and continue in mass profusion through into September. As a result of selective breeding, a range of different cyclamen are available. In addition to the bold bright single colours of red, violet, white and many shades of pink, there are some with frilled flowers, butterfly double-type flowers as well as variations in leaf marbling (colour).
Look for a gap in your garden and choose one of these to bring some colour, joy and even fragrance into your garden during the dark winter months.
For more information visit www.springvalegardencentre.co.nz
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre