These are my five featured star performers for January. . .
Probably the most beloved of winter flowers – perhaps because they are so easy and every garden has a space to tuck a few in. They are ideal under deciduous shrubs and trees thriving even under a dense summer canopy. Once planted they can be forgotten about and left to clump up. Often thought of as a British native, it is believed they were brought in to Britain from Europe in the Fifteenth century by monks and they have been planted and enjoyed ever since.
This plant is commonly called Christmas Box and although it rarely flowers for Christmas, the leaves do look a little like a Box. Its main claim to fame is the wonderful smell of its flowers – often described as vanilla and honey. The scent travels on the air and therefore the plant works well near a door or path. It is shade tolerant, experiences no issues and is evergreen. There are other varieties available but they are all very similar.
The witch hazels are a beautiful family of plants – this one is yellow and like the whole family wonderfully scented with a sharp sweet scent. They have great autumn colour too and look right in a mixed shrub border or woodland setting. They are called witch because they were used originally for medicinal reason and hazel because the leaf shape reminded early settlers of the hazel back home.
Skimmias are a really useful range of plants being evergreen, extremely shade tolerant -in fact they need some shade or the leaves tend to go yellow – and drought tolerant too. This variety is male – so no berries – but you do get the bigger flowers. The buds are deep red all winter opening in to scented heads of white flowers in the spring and the bees love it!
Acacia dealbata ‘Gaulois’
A bit of a left field choice perhaps but with climate change, an increasingly viable one. It is evergreen with attractive feathery leaves and at this time of year, clusters of small fluffy yellow spheres appear which are loved by early bees. It is fast growing but can be pruned regularly to keep it under control – if you leave it you will end up with a small tree.
There is always something to feature plant-wise even in the middle of winter, and you could use these plants together to create a real winter highlight. The Snowdrops, Sarcococca and Skimmia would look good underplanting the Hamamelis. Gathering plants together that flower at the same time creates much more impact than having them scattered across the garden.
The exception would be the Acacia which I would use on its own as a feature or planted with other exotica such as Palms, Cordylines and Tree Ferns.
Good luck planting!