While the days are short we can still enjoy the heartwarming effect of flowers and foliage long after the sun has gone down, simply by bringing a bit of nature indoors.
Indoor plants are worth their weight in gold at this time of year. Or take a stroll around the garden, secateurs in hand and it can be surprising what can be found for creative winter arrangements. And filling vases with beautiful bits of nature picked from your very own garden is one of winter’s best morale boosters.
Here are some treasures to look for when planting a garden that will always have lots of flowers and foliage for picking.
Every flower arranger needs an unlimited supply of attractive green foliage. The big leaves of the evergreen magnolias are a florist’s favourite with leathery leaves that are glossy dark green on one side and bronze velvet on the reverse. Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is a compact form for town sized gardens. If you have the space for a large tree, consider a puriri for lovely dark green puckered leaves. Viburnum ‘Emerald Lustre’, Prunus lusitanica and Griselinia lucida are other examples of large shrubs with attractive glossy leaves.
Small leaves contrast beautifully with big leaves. The New Zealand pittosporums offer some of the best foliage for picking with long straight stems and crinkle edged leaves for extra texture. The various Pittosporum tenifolium cultivars offer a range of interesting colours and variegations that shouldn’t be overlooked for picking. The rich green Pittosporum ‘Stephen’s Island’ makes a very attractive hedge and is sought after by florists. Other shrubs offering fine textured foliage are Corokia, Meulenbeckia, conifers and rosemary.
For foliage in shades of silver, the Australian gums are vase classics but for smaller gardens there are plenty of smaller shrubs in silvery tones including the lovely New Zealand Brachyglottis varieties and silvery Corokias. Grey-green olive and feijoa foliage provides subtle contrast. In bright sparkling silver, the South African silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum) is well worth growing if you have very well drained soil, as is the charming little silver cushion bush (Calocephalus) with its lacy foliage. Perennial Artemisia, small shrub Convolvulus cneorum and creeping Lamb’s Ear (Stachys lanata) are low growing options in silver.
Variegated leaves provide accent to a vase arrangement just as they do in a garden. There is no need to fill the entire garden with variegated leaves but one choice shrub with leaves in shades of cream and green can be a go to favourite for mid winter picking. Lovely lemon scented Pittosporum eugenioides ‘Variegatum’ works well in a vase. Other great variegated shrubs for picking include variegated forms of Hydrangea, Daphne, Pieris, Coprosma, Euonymus, and Hebe.
Some shrubs offer bright orange and red foliage that gets even brighter as temperatures plummet. The Nandinas are excellent long lasting vase fillers. The brightly coloured cultivars of shiny leaf Coprosmas are also great for picking.
Proteas and their close cousins Leucadendrons, Leucospermums, Banksias and Grevilleas are among the most valuable shrubs in a winter garden and they make excellent long lasting vase flowers. Choose from a wide range of exciting flower forms, colours and growth habits. Good drainage is essential for these plants, although Proteas will grow well on a heavy clay bank where the excess water can drain away. A delightful little Protea relative is Phylica pubescens (Flannel Flower) with furry cream star flowers.
The fresh fragrance of the Daphne is one of the most alluring nature has to offer. There are many varieties of Daphne to choose from, some with longer stems good for picking. Cool climate beauty, Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) blooms on bare branches. This tall old fashioned shrub produces it small pale yellow flowers on bare branches. Intriguing to look at, but best of all is the beautiful fragrance. Wintersweet flowers most spectacularly after a good winter chill. Another bare branched beauty is Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) with entrancing spidery flowers lined up along silvery zig-zagging twigs. For warmer climates the subtropical Luculia varieties offer sumptuous winter and spring perfume. Also, don’t overlook foliage with aromatic foliage, including the plants in your herb garden.
With some shrubs there’s no need to wait for the flowers to burst their buds before they offer something exquisite for picking. One of these is the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) but don’t pick too many because the flowers are equally as stunning when they emerge on their bare branches in late winter. Edgeworthia chrysantha is another shrub that’s charming in bud. In august its fragrant yellow flowers open gradually from the outside in.
Hebe is New Zealand’s most diverse and extensively bred flowering shrub, loved for its compact form and colourful flowers. The flowers bring bees and butterflies to the garden and they’re great for picking too. Many flower for long periods, including winter. Plant a selection and you could have flowers most of the year.
Hellebores fit easily into any garden, making a great ground cover in partial shade under trees and shrubs. They all make lovely lasting vase flowers and modern hellebores are being bred with more outward facing blooms. Like Camellias, Hellebore flowers also display beautifully when floated in a bowl of water.
Every winter picking garden should have at least one shrub with beautiful fruit or berries to enjoy as part of an arrangement or simply displayed on a vase of their own. Choose roses with good sized rose hips and delay pruning until the hips have ripened (this is good for the plant too). Glossy evergreen Holly (Ilex varieties) is famous for winter colour but needs low temperatures to bring on the berries. Deciduous shrubs to plants for berries include Viburnum trilobum and Callicarpa dichotoma with bright metallic violet berries on bare branches. A beautiful choice for a spacious garden is the elegant Berry Tree, Idesia polycarpa, which drapes its grape sized bunches of scarlet berries from bare winter branches. Be sure to plant a female.
A winter arrangement
Silver - Phyllica pubescens
Fiery - Nandina Gulfstream
Hebe Sunset Boulevard