Annual Flower Show

In the previous garden one of my proudest achievements was to have something in flower all year round and in such a small space that’s not easy. There are times of the year where it can be a real challenge to “fill the gap” but judicious selection of plants means that as one thing is fading, there’s always another that’s beginning to flower. The sheer range of winter flowering shrubs, plants and bulbs available mean the dreaded winter-gap is no longer so daunting to fill. Exotic plants typically flower later in the season and will happily carry on flowering until they’re hit by frosts. Hardier exotics will carry on flowering through frosts and there are some plants that just don’t know when to stop, such as the hardy annuals. They will carry on until the winter-flowering shrubs take the stage.

Hanging Basket Begonias

In this current garden, we’re well on the way to reclaiming the annual flowering crown and that’s appropriate because it’s annuals that are currently keeping the show going. The begonias planted the hanging baskets are in full flower, the sweet peas are finally finishing but the fuchsias, lobelia and pansies are carrying on for the moment. The newly planted roses haven’t stopped either and there are still buds forming and flowers opening. Even the dahlias have rebounded after recent rain, all but ignoring the cold nights.

Tesco Dahlia

Many of the new plants in the garden such as the lupins, delphiniums and verbena were planted late and so are only getting round to flowering now, months after they would have otherwise finished. I’ll expect them to return to “normal” flowering times but the gap left behind will be filled by the plants I am planning for an exotic border that we will be creating next season.

Lupins on Judas Rise

There’s likely to be a long gap this winter though, but I am hoping for at least a few flowers on the small Sarcococca Confusa (Sweet Box) that I grew from seed from an original plant that was left behind in the old garden. We also have a young Chimonanthus Praecox (Wintersweet) but I’m not sure whether it is mature enough to flower and we are taking a risk with having planted it out so late.

In the coming years, I’ll be planning for many more winter flowering plants such as the Witch Hazel, winter-flowering honeysuckle, Mahonia, Daphne and Cornus. If you’re wondering where I got that list from then this RHS web page:

https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/articles/graham-rice/10-agm-winter-flowering-shrubs

makes for a must-have shopping list for winter interest.

In addition to all that, I’ll be planning for bulbs such as nerines, cyclamen, crocus, snowdrops, tulips, daffodils and bluebells to carry the flowering season through before the large Camellia shrubs we have burst into flower in early spring, followed by the Magnolia and Forsythia. Then we’re into spring proper and then it becomes easy again.

October Gertrude Jekyll

There are many “Winter Gardens” dotted around the UK, which will start coming into their own in a few month’s time and it’s well worth a visit to get ideas and inspiration to brighten up what otherwise could be a long, dark, dull period. Most winter flowering plants I know are also some of the most highly fragrant so while winter might be lacking in warmth, light and colour, it certainly doesn’t need to be lacking in scent.

Fading Hydrangea

6 Comments


  1. We don’t really have winter gardens as our winters are quite severe. It’s true, though, that some annuals keep blooming as if refusing to acknowledge autumn. In my garden the Nasturtiums, Marigolds, Zinnias, and ‘Mystic Spires’ Salvia all fit into that category. I’ve become a big believer in mixing annuals in with the perennials for the whole season to maximize garden impact.

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    1. Hello Jason, annuals were something that I never bothered with before, but they are starting to creep into the garden because of the flower power they give. Self-seeders will be the ones that find a place in the borders I think. It’s still too much effort to manually start a new set off each year.

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  2. My winter garden is completely dormant and looks dead. The only floral excitement comes from a Christmas cactus and whatever I happen to be growing under my grow lights. But as much as I love gardening, I enjoy the break and by the time spring comes I’m dying to get outside and get busy. Your begonias and lupin bed are just beautiful!! 🙂

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    1. Hello Tammy, I forgot that outdoor “Winter gardens” full of colour, flowers and scent are only possible in the milder temperate climates. It’s incredibly difficult, if nigh-on impossible if there’s snow cover from November through March and the temperatures are 20C below!

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  3. Sunil, Our hydrangeas add winter interest even though most of the blooms have faded to a greenish brown. Still, it gives us something to see until the hellebores and bulbs come up.

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    1. Hello Lynn, I’ve had comments back from people who live in areas where it is simply too cold and hence impossible to have winter flowering plants or interest. I continue to take for granted the fact that we can keep interest going all year round in the UK and that by carefully creating garden micro-climates, the range of what we can grow is huge, at any time of year.

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