Cold comforts

The winter-flowering jasmine with its delicate yellow flowers.
The winter-flowering jasmine with its delicate yellow flowers.
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There are quite a lot of flowers which produce blooms in September and October – you just have to accept that you won’t have the masses of colour enjoyed in high summer.

But there is still plenty of choice if you’re prepared to go out and seek the likes of Echinacea purpurea, Saxifraga fortune, Viola odorata, Anenome japonica, Phlox paniculata, Sedum spectabile, many asters and Centranthus ruber, the lovely red valerian, which begins to bloom in early summer and carries on doing so well into late autumn.

And, of course, there are all the late-blooming dahlias (see Plant of the Week) which may demand plenty of care and attention but which are a joy to behold when the nights are drawing in.

And yet it’s shrubs which are considered to hold the key to autumn and winter colour – and if you have the room for them, there are several which are renowned for illuminating the garden from October onwards.

Several varieties of heathers (Erica) will bloom for months in any weather, and then there are potentillas, fuchsias, hebes, hydrangeas, calluna and abelia, and, if you can wait until November, you may be able to persuade the naked Jasminum nudiflorum to produce its delicate, beautifully scented, yellow flowers.

In fact, if you grow nothing else, grow the winter-flowering jasmine, tying its branches to a trellis or wall, or letting them sprawl their way over beds and borders or twine among other plants. Jasmine thrives in most soils and most situations, although if you want it to bloom profusely, don’t position it against an east-facing wall or it will sulk – justifiably so.

In March, give it a once-over with the secateurs, removing old and damaged shoots and cutting back all the side-shoots which have finished flowering.

The hebes (notably ‘Autumn Glory’ and ‘Midsummer Beauty’) make their mark in November, along with a couple of the more outstanding viburnums, while come December, it’s the turn of the likes of Mahonia japonica, Hamamelis mollis and the more understated Viburnum tinus to carry on the show.

Once again, if there’s room for only one, plump for H mollis, whose spidery flowers appear before its leaves and perfume the winter air. Just remember that it doesn’t like alkaline soil and it hates a heavy soil.

A sunny spot is ideal to virtually guarantee weeks of stunning flowers.