By December, the garden will be past its summer best but if you have planned carefully, you can create areas of colour that will cheer you up throughout winter. What you need is a few shrubs and under plant with some winter Hellebores and bulbs.
Evergreen dome shaped shrubs that do not get too large include Skimmia. There are a number of varieties so if you want flowers then choose Skimmia japonica Rubella with red flower buds, or Skimmia japonica Fragrans for lovely scented white flowers and red berries. Skimmia Nymans will also have berries. The leaves are rounded and rich green. These shrubs will grow in shady areas provided the soil isn’t too dry but are happier in damp soil.
I love the stems of the Dogwoods or Cornus. Cornus alba sibirica Westonbirt has scarlet red stems in winter as does Cornus Variegata (Elegantissima). The latter has variegated cream edged foliage and white flowers in summer. To get the forest of stems you need to prune the shrub down hard in February/March, feed well and ensure they grow on damp soils. In dry soils they just sit there doing nothing!
Another good winter interest shrub or tree are the Cordyline australis, but only if you have a sheltered garden. They do not grow well in open, cold, windswept areas. They can get tall to 3m or more and often will die off in really harsh winters but will regrow from the base. There are some stunning colours of rich pink foliage and creamy yellow. The one pictured is Torbay Dazzler or you can get red foliage with Red Star. As they grow up, cut off the dead leaves. Plant a large Euphorbia charcacias wulfenii alongside the Cordyline. This is a large shrub growing to 1m tall and wide with blue/grey leaves and in spring, bottlebrushes of lime green bracts. They can do well on drier soils but also like a moist, well drained soil in sun or light shade.
Hellebore orientalis have large flowers in winter and come in many colours from white, pink, deep plum colours and some creamy yellows. These perennials flower from December through to March and create large clumps in time. The Hellebore niger or Christmas Rose is smaller, flowers closer to the ground and can be disappointing so stick with the taller orientalis varieties. I love Hellebores but they are for gardens that do not have small children or pets around as the sap from the stems cause vomiting if ingested. So always wear gloves when handling these plants – wear them anyway as many plants can cause skin irritation or have prickles.
Finish pruning shrubs and apple trees in winter. Generally keep off lawns and borders unless you need to remove weeds or mulch the soil with a layer of well rotted manure.