WITH all of the leaves fallen and a cold spell putting plants into hibernation, now is a good time to take a look at the garden when it is stripped back to its bare bones, and consider where there is room for more winter interest.
Is there a gap where a small tree would look good? Is there a lot of evergreen trees or shrubs in one area and none in another?
Now is the time to observe these details and planting can be undertaken in the coming weeks, while the growth is dormant.
Trees providing winter interest in the garden cannot be under-estimated at this time of the year. Most winter interest will be provided by evergreens or attractive bark on the trunk of the tree or berries.
There are lots of trees to choose from and before choosing observe where it is to be planted. Is it sheltered or exposed, is the soil acid or alkaline, is there a lot of space for a tree to develop or is it limited by buildings or other vegetation? Is the soil free-draining or water-logged, is the location south-facing or a colder, north-facing aspect?
Considering the micro-climate of the location for planting is key. There is a tree that will be suited to every location and making observations before carefully choosing and planting them will ensure the job will only need to be done once.
Betula utilis subsp. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’, is a deciduous tree with luminous white bark - this is a glow-in-the-dark kind of bark! It is stunning and can grow to about 10 metres tall and have a spread of about 6-8 metres when fully grown.
You often see these trees planted in groups, giving the effect of woodland grove, which looks wonderful when planted with low growing shrubs and spring flowering bulbs.
There are also whispers of some gardeners actually washing the trunks of these trees to remove moss and algae and even further dazzle during the winter months!
Another tree with very attractive bark is chilean myrtle, or Luma apiculata. This evergreen small tree is particularly attractive when grown as a multi-stemmed specimen, it develops a peeling cinnamon brown bark as it matures which can be mottled with creamy white spots.
The leaves are small, oval-shaped, dark green and very useful for flower arranging. It bears cluster of white flowers from summer through into the autumn, which are followed by purple berries much appreciated by the birds - this tree has a lot to recommend it!
It is native to the central Andes and will survive up to -10C, so it does need a milder spot and has made itself at home in sheltered locations in Ireland like Glengarriff, where it can be seen seeding itself readily in the rock outcrops.
This small garden tree does best in full sun or partial shade and will grow in most soils, provided they are well drained.
Our native strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, is a slow-growing, small evergreen with attractive brown peeling bark and a bushy habit. It can get to about 8 metres in height and spread, and raising the crown over time will give more of a tree effect. It produces creamy white flowers in autumn followed by fruit the following year, which look like strawberries when ripe - they are edible but not amazing flavour-wise!
This slow-growing tree is often associated with Killarney as there are many specimens forming part of the native woodlands around the lakes. Like the chilean myrtle, this tree will do better in a milder location and it does also favour a more acidic soil.
As we cast out the Christmas trees, maybe it is time to consider potting up a conifer to use annually and return to the outdoors once it has done its job.
Eventually, the tree can be planted out into the garden when it gets too big to take in and out.
Abies koreana could be just the tree for this job. It has a very defined conical shape and produces beautiful purple cones from a young age. This tree is slow-growing but will get to over 10 metres when fully grown. Plans would need to be made for when it outgrows the pot and a suitable spot in the garden chosen to plant this beautiful specimen tree.
There are not too many winter flowering trees that make an impact in the garden, the winter flowering cherry, Prunus x subhertilla ‘Autumnalis’ begins flowering in November and continues right through until March. It is a deciduous tree, producing fine autumn leaf colour and flowering on the bare branches.
Growing to about 6-8 metres in height and width with an open spreading habit, it flowers well in our mild winters, with clusters of flowers opening pink and fading to white, providing colour and beauty in the garden during the winter months.
Remember to keep topping up those bird feeders as our feathered friends get hungry when the ground is frozen. You will be rewarded with hours of entertainment, watching all of the different species coming and going from the garden.
Squirrel-proof bird feeders are great for targeting smaller birds as the outer cage also keeps out larger birds like crows and magpies.