10 AGM winter-flowering shrubs
Words: Graham Rice
There’s something specially valuable about shrubs which flower in winter’s short and often dreary days. Seeing these delightful and resilient flowers putting on a show through short, dark days and taking frost, rain and snow in their stride lifts our spirits and encourages us to get outside. Many can also be cut for indoor winter posies, and many are fragrant.
And although the end of 2010 brought us ice and snow, in general our hotter summers have encouraged more flower buds to set and milder spells in winter have fostered prolific flowering. All gardens should find space for at least some of these Award of Garden Merit winners.
Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’
A real star for both its colour and its fragrance, the buttercup yellow bells lack the inner purple segments of the usual form and this creates a brighter, clearer impact. The flowers line the branches, and the hotter the summer the more prolific the display the following winter. Can be kept to 6ft/1.8m on a wall.
Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’
The yellow flower clusters of Cornus mas have long been appreciated but ‘Golden Glory’ takes it to new heights. Making a small tree, or a large shrub, ‘Golden Glory’ is less spreading in its habit, more prolific in flower and also flowers as a younger plant. It also features red fruits, which are edible but acid, and reddish purple autumn foliage so has three distinct appeals. 15ft/4.5m
Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca This attractive twiggy evergreen, with a blue tint to its neatly divided leaves, can be in flower at almost any time of the year but in late winter and into spring it’s often at its peak – especially if planted against a sunny wall. The clusters of rich yellow pea-flowers have a peachy daytime fragrance, but none at night. The paler form, ‘Citrina’, has also been awarded an AGM. 3ft/90cm
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ One of the best of all fragrant flowering shrubs, its rather upright habit is appreciated by owners of small gardens and its red buds opening to large white flowers create an impressive winter display among the usually evergreen foliage. Then there’s the fragrance, which can be almost intoxicating. Appreciates shelter in colder areas. 8ft/2.4m
Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’
Old favourite ‘Springwood White’ is still the outstanding white winter heather. With trailing growth and long white flowers set against dark foliage it’s simply so prolific, so colourful and so reliable. And, like all forms of E. carnea, it does not demand acid soil so can be grown in any garden and is also a favourite for winter containers. 9in/23cm
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ Another valuable combination of colourful flowers and powerful fragrance. Raised at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts, ‘Arnold Promise’ is unusual in combining prolific flowering with a strong sweet scent and then in autumn also features red, orange and yellow autumn foliage colour. Other forms, ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Pallida’, have also been awarded AGMs. 12ft/4m, eventually.
Mahonia x media ‘Underway’
One of a group of outstanding AGM-winning winter flowering hybrids (‘Buckland’, ‘Lionel Fortescue’ and ‘Winter Sun’ also have awards), ‘Underway’ is the toughest of them all and is also a little shorter than the others. Its long vertical spikes of slightly scented yellow flowers are really impressive, especially set against the rows of dark, holly-like leaflets. 10ft/3m
Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’
We tend to think of skimmias as valuable for their bright red berries, but this is a form for which the flowers are the main feature. In fact the plant is male and never produces berries but the large conical clusters of fragrant creamy white flowers, set against aromatic evergreen foliage, are impressive over many weeks. ‘Kew Green’ will also pollinate female skimmias to ensure they produce berries. 3ft/90cm
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ Another deciduous shrub valued for its combination of colour and fragrance. Deep rose red buds opening to white flowers with pink tints are gathered in clusters along the bare branches and are usually produced so prolifically that twigs can be cut for the house without spoiling the display. The flowers are also unexpectedly tolerant of frost. 10ft/3m
Viburnum tinus ‘Gwenllian’
Evergreen viburnums are also invaluable in winter. My pick is always ‘Gwenllian’, raised at Kew about 50 years ago. While not quite as compact as ‘Eve Price’, or with the pure white flowers of ‘French White’, the combination of deep pink buds opening to blushed white flowers followed by generous blue-black berries – often all on the plant at the same time in winter – ensures it stands out. 10ft/3m