© Gap Photos/Friedrich Strauss
Relish the fresh start and the chance to practise a little creative window dressing for the new season. A bag of John Innes No 2 compost has enough nutrients to keep plants happy and has more guts than a lighter, multipurpose compost. You will need to provide drainage, so make a base layer of polystyrene packing chips.
© Gap Photos/Mark Bolton, Design by Bob Purnell
Adding colour to a winter garden
The new season's bedding is built to last, so that whatever you buy should bloom, on and off, until early spring. What makes great sense is to invest in a basic backbone of evergreens — variegated euonymus, bay, lime-green dwarf conifers, upright rosemary, even bronze grass Carex comans — that can stay in year-round, providing a good foliage contrast to frothier flowers. Best to avoid box, because of the potential blight problem. Use ivy with care, snipping it frequently: a trail or two of dainty birds' foot ivy looks pretty, whereas a cascade looks funereal.
For front-of-house chic, white or icepink cyclamen is unbeatable; the dinky size looks pretty at close quarters, but the larger blooms have more pavement appeal. Senecio foliage will enhance cyclamen, making a lacy, silver ruffle. Ornamental kale, with their frilly heads of lilac, pink, fir green and white, are novel, but they can outstay their welcome, emitting school-dinner scent; they are cabbages, after all. Universal pansies are surprisingly robust, and need regular dead-heading; avoid the tempting plums and violets because it is the paler colours such as sky blue, tangerine or navy-blotched white that will light up dark, wintry days. Smaller violas have country-garden appeal, and are better suited to patio containers.
Include berries for bright colour, but gaultheria, a long-living dwarf shrub, has the edge over more popular scarlet-berried skimmia, with larger, china-bead berries in colours from milk white to sugar pink and crimson; contrast the mass of berries with the upright flowering spires of tough-as-old-boots heather — avoiding white, which tends to turn brown at the tips.
Essential bulbs for your winter garden
Winter bedding will not spread as much as summer bedding, so plant more closely, but leave enough space to shoehorn in — and in fact a shoehorn is useful for this — a handful of bulbs, deep into the compost. My choices are blue grape hyacinth and Narcissus Tête-a-Tête, which generously produces several golden flowers per stem, thus providing, come spring, the essential host of golden daffodils, albeit on a small scale.