Here’s a selection of colourful flowering plants that’ll ensure your garden looks fabulous even on the bleakest winter day
Leptospermum Spp. (Tea Bush)
Evergreen, with needle-like leaves, they make excellent background plants even in smaller gardens. ‘Cherry Brandy’, which has dark foliage and only reaches 50cm, is perfect for townhouse gardens. They are acid lovers, so keep them mulched with an acidic mulch like pine needles or bark. Half-hardy and wind tolerant, they should be checked regularly for signs of scale. Size: 2–3m.
Primula Malacoides (Fairy Primrose)
Fairy primroses with their candelabra of tiny flowers are an absolute delight in semi-shady areas, creating a gentle, woodland feel. They thrive in containers and are available in mixed trays or individual colours including white, carmine, wine, crimson and lavender. Plant in autumn about 20cm apart and keep them well fed and watered.
Frost hardy, they will continue flowering until the weather heats up.
Use P. acaulis and P. obconica for containers. Size: 16–20cm.
Combine them with visually compatible plants like white and lilac alyssum or cascading lobelia, verbena and violas. Best seen from above, they look good in low containers, or try planting them at a slight angle. Stagger them in window boxes or use them as a lacy border. These sun-loving, frost-hardy annuals come in green with white centres or rose with a lilac centre. Size: 45–60cm.
Chaenomeles Speciosa (Japanese Flowering Quince)
This is one of the first shrubs to flower in winter. The brilliant red, pink or white flowers, which stud the bare, thorny upright stems, create a brilliant display and appear almost luminous on cloudy days. They are suitable for borders and shrubberies in most gardens, and with their sharp thorns, they make good security barriers. Sun loving and frost tolerant, they benefit from regular watering but can withstand drought; they’re not at their best in the subtropics. Prune when cutting for the vase or after flowering to encourage new growth and to keep the centre open. Size: about 1m.
Iris Unguicularis (Algerian Iris)
This shy little iris is an absolute gem as its delicate lilac flowers appear quite unexpectedly in midwinter. Pick them to bring their fragrance into the house. Clump forming with attractive strap-like leaves, they make an unusual edging for paths and borders but also make good groundcovers. Plant them in sun or semi-shade, and while they can be mass planted in large gardens, they are quite at home in smaller townhouse gardens too. They need regular water. Size: 30cm.
Osteospermum Ecklonis ‘flower power double’
Osteopermum are rewarding indigenous plants and are now available from Ballstraathof with double flowers with a ruff of short tubular petals in the centre instead of the small dark eye. Unlike some other varieties, they stay open all day and night, and flower in winter, spring and autumn. These sun-loving plants are frost resistant and grow into neat mounded bushes. Choose from Berry/white, Pink, Purple, Silver, White and White/Bronze flowers. Cut back spent flowers to encourage reblooming and to keep the bush in shape. Size: 35cm x 50cm.
This new trailing or prostrate pansy, also available as Pansy Cool Wave from Ballstraathof, branches well and is a vigorous grower. It will quickly cover the ground, cascade over a low wall or tumble from a hanging basket. The medium-sized blooms hold up better in rain and inclement weather than the larger-flowered types. They come in Purple Wing, White and Lavender Blue and Frost, Violet Wing and Yellow. They produce fewer flowers during cold spells, but once the weather warms up, they soon produce new blooms again.
These simple sasanqua camellias are the first to flower, appearing in autumn and continuing well into winter. Usually open-faced with a good boss of yellow stamens, colours include white, pink and red. They tolerate more sun than the japonica camellias and often produce scented blooms. Superb container plants they can also be trained as espaliers and are perfect for restricted spaces such as townhouse gardens. Don’t plant them too deep; keep them well mulched and water them while their buds are developing. Size: Up to 5m.
Calendula Officinalis (Pot Marigold)
Not to be confused with Tagetes spp., the French or African marigolds, these flowers are grown as annuals and are treasured for their herbal properties. Their large sunshine-coloured, daisy-like flowers are one of the most cheerful winter-flowering annuals and are easy to grow from seed. They need a warm position in sun or semi-shade and well-drained, sandy soil. Plant them in the border, along paths, in containers with lobelias and pansies and interplant with your vegetables to help keep pests at bay. ‘Pacific Beauty’ are mixed and have large apricot, yellow and orange flowers. ‘Bon Bon’ are dwarf, have large double flowers and are available in orange, yellow and a mixed variety. Size: 25–30cm.
Lachenalia Hybrids (Cape Cowslip)
These compact bulbs are endemic to South Africa and originally come mainly from winter-rainfall areas. They make colourful container plants for sunny patios and are ideal for pockets in a rockery or retaining wall. New named hybrids come in a wide colour range; some are even bicoloured, varying from orange and red to lavender and blue. Water well in winter but keep dry in summer. Size: 10–20cm.
Buddleia Auriculata (Weeping Sage)
Scent is not often associated with the winter garden so it comes as a surprise to find an indigenous shrub with clusters of delicate creamy, orange or lilac flowers that fill the air with their fragrance in midwinter. The leaves are green with silver on the reverse side. Good at the back of the shrubbery, a heavy annual pruning after flowering can help restrict its size. Drought and frost tolerant, it attracts insects and butterflies. Size: 3-4m.