Perennials For A Green January
I think everyone will agree that this Christmas has been a total washout – at least for all those gardeners who live in the west and north of Britain. Incessant rain has left the ground totally sodden making it impossible to get near any borders, let alone on to them and it is now time to cut back leaves and stems that are brown and soggy.
But not all is lost, there are a few green rays of hope – not ones promising spring, but perennials that have stayed evergreen throughout the early months of winter.
SPRING FLOWERING EVERGREENS
These are by far the most useful perennials for providing colour throughout the year. Most perennials with evergreen leaves flower in spring because they need to bloom, and encourage cross pollination, before taller woody plants (shrubs & trees) produce their canopies of leaves.
I have to say I am, unashamedly, a lover of Bergenias. In recent years, these once rather dull plants have gained a new lease of life with the introduction of varieties that not only produce handsome leaves, but that can flowers on and off from spring to the end of summer. Not all bergenias are reliably evergreen. For instance well known Bergenia ‘Silberlicht’ is only semi-evergreen. The best ones in my garden include Bergenia ‘Pink Dragonfly’, which has small, oval deep green leaves that are burnish shiny maroon, Bergenia ’Beethoven’ with a thicket of large, deep green leaves and the not so common B. ‘Mrs Crawford’ with lovely velvety dark green leaves and lightly fringed edges.
Along the edge of our small copse I have planted lots of different pulmonarias. Like bergenias these are not fashionable at the moment, but I simply would not live without at least one pulmonaria in my garden. Both the leaves and flowers are attractive and many varieties keep a full compliment of foliage through winter. The best seem to be varieties with plain green leaves. Pulmonaria mollis and P. ‘Barfield Regalia’ still possess lush mounds of soft green leaves, and Pulmonaria ‘Barfield Regalia’ is already pushing up flower stems although these will not be in full bloom until March. The most handsome Pulmonarias are those with spotted leaves, but I find that the leafy rosettes flatten out during winter, which makes them difficult to see in a woody area or near shrubs (as in my garden) when they become covered by fallen leaves.
Epimediums are not suitable for all gardens. But for those that have a semi-shady spot with soil that does not dry out in summer these lovely low growing perennials are tough and long lived. In my garden I have planted them under trees and shrubs where they will benefit from humus created by autumn’s decaying leaves. Not all varieties are evergreen and some only keep a few leaves, while others die right back in autumn. In recent years there have been many new varieties coming into cultivation. Not all are easy to grow, so sticking to the old and established varieties might be best for those new to growing these delightful plants. These are the evergreen ones I have in my garden: Epemedium × warleyense ‘Orangekönigin’ (orange flowers), E. × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ (yellow flowers), and E. pinnatum colchicum (also with yellow flowers).
Of course Hellebores are perhaps the best known evergreen perennials, but I would advise taking time to choose which ones to grow. Over the years I have bought many hellebores on the spur of the moment for the beautiful flowers only to be disappointed later on. Many have turned out not to be hardy, others are slow to establish, producing very little foliage that is sensitive to wilt later in the year. The best hellebore in my garden is the old reliable Helleborus x hybridus (nee Helleborus orientalis) with simple cupped white or deep maroon flowers and a just about evergreen clump of deeply fingered leaves. Helleborus argutifolius and Helleborus x sternii both produce very handsome evergreen foliage and there are some lovely hybrids of these around. Last spring I bought Helleborus ‘White Beauty’, which I understand to be a cross between H. niger (barely evergreen) and H. argutifolius. It has deeply divided pale green leaves that are patterned with paler veins. Sadly the flowers were rather unspectacular, but the leaves remained consistently good throughout the year in a pot on the shady side of the house.
SUMMER FLOWERING EVERGREENS
All the plants mentioned so far produce flowers in the spring and clearly a flower garden would be dull if was made up of just spring flowering plants. There are plants that flower from late spring onwards that have evergreen leaves.
I grow a lot of Geums, including ‘Lemon Drops’, ‘Prinses Juliana’, ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’, ‘Lady Stratheden’, ‘Mango Lassi’, ‘Totally Tangerine’ and ‘Flames of Passion,to name but a few. Strewn about the borders these are still sporting dense mounds of rough, mid-green leaves that although not particularly handsome, are useful. Once spring arrives a steady stream of colourful, strawberry like flowers is produced for many months. They
are also great for wet soils.
Phlomis russelliana is a useful plant for a garden with any type of soil. The whorls of yellow, hooded flowers are neatly placed up tall, stiff stems, which in autumn turn sculpturally brown. This plant now dominates one of the borders near the house, the brown flower stems rising above a dense carpet of thick, heart shaped soft green leaves.
Here are a few notes on other plants with leaves that still look great in January
Anthemis puncata ‘Cupaniana’, some leaves are a little yellow, but most are still silver
Campanula persicifolia still remains densely set with long, shiny green leaves
Centaurea montana types – these are semi-evergreen but a thick tuft of silver leaves remains
Digitalis ferruginea produces fabulous rosettes of long, deepest green leaves
Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ is a lovely fern, whose leaves are still as good now as they were in summer
Euphorbias – many of these are evergreen including the lovely dark leaved E. x martinii
Geranium x oxonianum types – still has heaps of green foliage
Irises – especially the very evergreen Iris foetidissima
Leucanthemums – some varieties still have lush, mid-green leaves
Senecio polypoda – still has a thick clump of long, mid-green leaves
Stachys byzantine types – although semi-evergreen, the silver leaves that are still showing look lovely
Tellimas – I especially like Tellima ‘Forest Frost’ for the lovely mound of maroon marked, mid-green leaves
Verbascum nigrum is rather ungainly, but it still has a useful clump of long floppy, pale green that look like kale.