As autumn slowly merges into winter, structural plants in the garden are at their most valuable. A good planting scheme needs to have structural elements running through it to ensure the scheme looks good all year round, even when the main peak of interest may have passed.
Take another look at the humble conifer
Although conifers may have gone out of fashion a little in recent years, they are invaluable plants to use at this time of year as they provide fantastic evergreen interest. Many conifers make huge specimens but there are also many others that are fine choices for the small or medium sized garden. Pines are a big group of conifers ranging from tall trees to smaller varieties. I hesitate to use the word dwarf as most conifers do not remain dwarf, instead they are very slow growing and over twenty years this variety will reach around 1m in height and spread, which makes it great to use in a mixed border.
Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’ is compact and bun-shaped, with a flat top and ascending branches. It is grown primarily for its coloured needles which are a rich yellow with the strongest colour produced in the sun, and many of the needles are green on the inside of the plant where they do not receive the sunlight. The common name of this pine is the dwarf mountain pine and it is used to growing in exposed situations, on mountain sides in central Europe, and the cold air will often strengthen the colour of the needles.
In a garden setting this pine prefers to be grown in a well-drained soil in a sunny situation. At RHS Garden Hyde Hall you can find several varieties of P. mugo, including ‘Ophir’, on the Dry Garden where they provide great evergreen structural interest during the winter months and they are able to survive the low rainfall during the summer.
Add structure to your border
Although conifers can often be overlooked, many of them are very adaptable plants and can be used in many different situations to great effect. P. mugo is often used in mixed plantings at Hyde Hall and the variety ‘Winter Gold’ can be found in the Gold Border where its golden evergreen needles are utilised year round. It is also a great plant to use in a winter theme planting where it provides a backdrop to the winter flowering shrubs, but still gives structural interest through the summer months.
Structural plants for winter