Winter feels like it is well and truly here in Whanganui now.
We are still fairly mild compared to some areas but cool enough to have had some great autumn colour. Ginkgos in their golden yellow, red oaks and liquidambars with red and crimson tones are some of my favourites. Another great autumn colour tree not seen as much is the claret ash with its bright claret red foliage colours through March, April and May.
We truly live in a beautiful city with some great trees. Think of some standout specimens you have seen this autumn and see if there is a spot for even one tree in your garden. If every home planted one tree imagine what it would do for the streetscape of the city and the birdlife too.
With the arrival of June on Monday we are now officially into the first month of winter. If you haven't already, here is a reminder to prepare the garden. Frost cloth should be at the ready to cover tender plants on clear nights.
A lesser known but effective frost protection is using the spray Vapour Guard. This is diluted and sprayed over the plant and offers two to three months of frost protection to -3C.
In the cooler months of winter, colour in the garden can become more scarce and we have to be intentional in our plantings if we want to have a colourful garden during these months.
There are a lot of plants that flower during the winter months and planting some of these around your home is a great way to lift the garden when the weather is cold and the days are short and grey.
One of the most prolific flowering plants is the bold, bright, colourful cyclamen. They are a very popular colour plant to grow during the winter months. 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 variation in leaf marbling (colour).
Cyclamen can be generalised into two main sizes - the miniature or smaller type and the larger flowered and leaved type.
Cyclamen are a bulb although they are most commonly available as a potted plant. They die down and go into dormancy during the hot summer months, emerging into growth as the cooler, damper autumn weather arrives. As a winter dweller they do not need a lot of sun and are very happy in shady positions with little or no direct sunlight.
They are very versatile for use in the home garden situation. Cyclamen do best in a well-drained situation. If the soil becomes saturated the bulb can be prone to rot. Wet soil combined with lack of air movement can also cause botrytis.
In Whanganui, cyclamen will grow outdoors in the garden or in pots. They are also regularly used indoors as flowering houseplants and then planted outside in the garden when the flowers die off. When kept inside, the flowering season is usually shortened by the heat of being indoors.
Growing in pots is probably the most popular use for cyclamen, where they can provide bright, cheerful and happy colour throughout the cold, dark winter months.
Over the winter they will grow successfully pretty much anywhere in pots from a sun-drenched north facing patio to the south-facing front door which doesn't even get a ray of sun.
Cyclamen can be grown in hanging baskets where they make an excellent centrepiece surrounded by pansies or other winter flowering annuals.
To get maximum flowering from cyclamen they should be fertilised with dried blood (sold as Tui Flower Booster). Yep, it is what it sounds like, the dried blood from the meatworks. This product is extremely high in nitrogen which these plants love, not to be mixed up with blood and bone which is not as suitable.
For the best results, flower booster should be applied at the time of planting and every few weeks subsequent. It is also the preferred fertiliser for pansies and polyanthus.
In the shrub garden we have a number of plants that present stunning flowers or foliage in these cold and darker months.
Coprosma and nandina are two whose foliage deepens to some spectacular colours as the cold sets in.
Coprosmas have had much breeding and selection with a number of new varieties being released in the past few years. A popular variety that was released in 2010 is Coprosma Inferno. The rich deep orange, red and pink hues of summer change to deep reds for the winter.
It grows in most soil types and almost any position from shade to full sun. Like all coprosmas it needs protection from harsh frost so it's not so good in colder climates like the central plateau, but grows great throughout Whanganui.
Nandinas are one of the most popular shrubs for a number of reasons. They have a tidy compact growth habit that makes them good for small and narrow gardens. They grow well in full sun or shady conditions, windy conditions and pretty much all soil types. They don't need trimming or pruning and look good all year round. Nandinas are probably the closest thing to a no maintenance plant you can have.
The two most used cultivars are Nandina Pygmy and Nandina Gulf Stream.
Nandina Pygmy forms a rounded shrub with a tidy compact habit. Its leaves are initially green and yellow tones, but darken to a dramatic red as the weather cools through autumn and into winter. It can be used in gardens, borders, patio pots and containers. The leaf colour is actually more intense if the plants are kept a little hungry.
Nandina Gulf Stream has more finely divided and pointed leaves than Nandina Pygmy. It is highly decorative and valued for the wonderful autumn colour which intensifies to a brilliant red in winter. Easy care and tolerant, Gulf Stream makes the ultimate minimal care garden. It looks wonderful planted in a group.
One of my favourite winter flowering plants is Camellia Yuletide which is flowering now. Camellias on the whole are experiencing a resurgence of popularity. They offer year-round structure in a garden as well as a long flowering period, lending themselves to be used in many types and styles of garden.
To grow camellias well, they are best provided an abundance of summer moisture, relatively cool summers and soils that are rich in organic matter.
They can be grown successfully all over New Zealand and perform well in Whanganui. If you take care to provide suitable soil conditions, shelter from strong winds and provide some light shade they will thrive. Soil conditioning with the addition of peat moss will improve the texture of the soil and increase the acidity. Always use acid fertiliser to feed these plants and never use garden lime.
Other plants that grow well with camellias are daphne, lily of the valley shrub (Pieris) and other acid-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons.
Camellia Yuletide is an early flowering sasanqua type variety. It's in flower and bud now which provides good colour and interest in the garden through the winter. Yuletide makes an ideal specimen for a garden, or as a patio specimen in pots and containers. It makes a beautiful flowering hedge with blooms lasting from April through June.
So if your garden is looking dull, check out some of these plants. There is a good range of plants that can be planted to offer colour through the winter months. I haven't got space to also mention ericas, grevilleas, camellias, leucadendrons, proteas, leptospermums and hellebores, which all offer vibrant colour through the winter.
* Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre