Planting for Winter Colour – Planning and Planting for the Year Ahead

Speaker: Steve Austin
28th January

Steve Austin

Steve Austin – Image by Hillier Nurseries

Steve told us he was a product manager at Hillier Nurseries.

To find out more about his job visit

He explained he had been to Writtle College, near Chelmsford to do his Diploma in Horticulture and then had a year out at the Beth Chatto Gardens, near Colchester. He is a passionate plantsman and travels around sourcing new plants for the nurseries. He had brought along some lovely plants for sale including saxifrage, colourful heucheras, several hellebores and the sweet smelling sarcococca.

Steve started his PowerPoint presentation by showing us a complex garden design, he reassured us that a simple idea of what the end point of our garden will look like is all that is needed and a bit of knowledge of our plants and soil. He also told us to envisage, how the garden will look throughout the year.


Would the setting be:

Formal with columns and sculpture – Visit other gardens for inspiration.

Contemporary – Hard landscaping with grasses to soften.

Informal but contained – 3/5 varieties within box hedging. Visit East Ruston Gardens.

Informal – Visit Longstock Park Water Gardens.

Classical – Visit Mottisfont Abbey.

Modern – Visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden.

View Points – Visit Alnwick Castle.
Steve than went though some basics including ground preparation, dig over and add manure with the intention of planting in March. Buy smaller plants in small pots unless specimens are needed in which case invest in bigger plants. Several samples of the same plant are a good idea and the overall structure is important. Always place the plants first, then have a think, look at the overall design before planting and fertilizing. Sketch out the plan first.

He described some trees and shrubs that would be useful and decorative, Ginko Biloba which he said is “bomb proof”; Cornus kousa “China Girl” or alba “Elegantissima”; the Spindle Tree; Magnolia “Iolanthe” or “Stellata”; and Malus “Katherine”; Prunus “Shirofugen” which is strong growing and late floweing; Acer “dissectum” which requires shelter; and Callicarpa “profusion” for berries.

Steve recommended:

For winter interest

Cornus “Anny’s Winter Orange”; Pieris “japonica”; Witch Hazel which requires slightly acid soil; Sarcococca  “confusa” (sweet box) which is drought tolerant; Helleborus “niger” (Christmas Rose) and Helleborus “orientalis” (Leneten Rose); Pittosporum ”Elizabeth” and Viburnum “Dawn”.

For Spring interest

Ceanothus “Concha”; Cistus “Thrive”; Heucherella “Sweet Tea”; Vinca Minor “Ralph Shugart”; Viburnum “Ann Russell”; Primula “candelabra” for damp area; Tiarella “Spring Symphony” and various Hostas.

For Summer / Autumn planting

Stipa “tenuissima”, remember to comb out the old thatch or burn it; Sedum “Matrona”; Lavendula, trim off the old brown flowers to keep it looking nice; French Lavender is not so hardy; Veronica “Adoration”; Helenium “Wyndley”; Verbena “bonariensis”; or the “lollipop” variety which is shorter; Rudbekia “Goldstrum”; Aster “Monch”; Anemone “japonica”; Geranium “Rozanne”; and Echinacea “purpurea”.

Steve also recommended a growing medium of grit, organic compost and John Innes No. 3. This was a colourful fact filled talk, well presented and inspirational.

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