Garden design Bristol, Somerset & London
January in the rain is often the moment when a garden can start to look its most forlorn. The lovely skeletons of last year's perennials and ornamental grasses are beginning to buckle, and will need to be cut back soon. However there are many beautiful evergreens that come into their own at this time of year.
One of my favourite evergreen plants is Mediterranean Spurge, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. With glaucous grey-green leaves arranged in fulsome whorls on pinkish stems, it provides colour, structure and textural interest all year round.
In early Spring it produces large heads of lime-green to acid-yellow flowers that last until early Summer. It's a big plant (classified as a sub-shrub) with a height and spread of up to 1.5 x 1.2m, and needs full sun. If your garden is too small or shady, happily the Euphorbia family contains considerable diversity in plant size and tolerance to different conditions, some also offering eye-catching colour variations.
Mediterranean Spurge sits well with a number of other evergreens that lift gloomy Winter days with classic sophistication: elegant plants in subtle shades of green, cream and yellow, including gorgeously-scented Mahonia varieties; the luminous white flowers of Helleborus niger; graceful Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream'; and the striking glaucous/pale-green leaf-flower combination of native Helleborus foetidus.
Essential to this collection is an evergreen shrub that I can't imagine being without. At first glance Sarcococca confusa Sweet box might not appear too remarkable. Look closer and you'll see, partly veiled by its elegantly tapered, lustrous green leaves, clusters of glossy blue-black berries and white tasselly flowers. It's the latter that make Sarcococcas a joy to the senses, with the most beautiful perfume that can fill a garden even on the dullest day. Its hardiness and wide-ranging tolerance means it will work in just about every garden. With a large choice of attractive varieties and cultivars, this is a classic evergreen that is always worth making room for.
All of these plants were photographed in the first week of January, and will continue as star performers until the colourful early Spring flowers start to take centre stage.
Happily, not only does this collection of plants look elegant and coolly beautiful this time of year, but they all provide a vital food-source to early- and late-season pollinators. With such a rich source of nectar, your garden will be a haven to early-emerging bees, moths and butterflies, as well as a feast for your own senses.