This month is a quiet time in the garden so time to get into the shed, outbuildings or greenhouse and give them a good tidy. Clean spades, forks, rakes and give them all a good oiling; clean all the empty pots with a weak solution of household bleach or detergent with a stiff brush. Get rid of any broken or cracked pots and seed trays, checking for hidden snails – I would put them out for the birds to eat, but you might want to drown them or resort to slug pellets, but everything has a use and the birds will be glad of the feed at this time of year.
There are plenty of flowering plants at this time of year to cheer the garden, none more so than the viburnums in general. These are hardy shrubs which thrive in almost all soil types. Frost and snow can cause damage to some blooms, but more will come to take their place.
Of evergreens, and one of my favourite top five shrubs is viburnum tinus – a medium to large shrub with glossy dark green leaves and is tolerant of shade. In full sun the flowers will come out from November to April – what other plant will flower for so long! Viburnum Burkwoodi is another evergreen with larger leaves and pink buds opening to fragrant white flowers; also look out for Ann Russell and Park Farm Hybrid – the latter are spring flowering.
Of the deciduous forms most have superb autumn colour followed by flowers – viburnum bodnantense which makes a large shrub with an upright habit with sweetly scented white flowers that tend to be frost resistant. Look out also for viburnum dawn – a clone with rose pink sweetly scented flowers. Another winter shrub, which sometimes is hard to find is the Christmas or sweet box Sarcocca confusa – it makes a small box like shrub, hence the name. The small white richly fragrant male flowers are out now with tiny insignificant female flowers.
A top winter shrub are the mahonias – evergreen holly-like shrubs. Mahonia Charity is a stately erect shrub good in tubs and it has large lemon-yellow fragrant flowers open for Christmas. Prune some growth back after flowering every year to keep it more compact and to get the full force of the smell. Also Mahonia Japonica and Pinnata with smaller leaves but slightly later flowering times. Mahonia aquifolum is useful for ground colour or growing under trees, not as prickly as the others and later flowering with blue black berries. Cut them back to the ground level every other year or so – prune hard this variety only.