You don’t need large borders to enjoy winter-flowering shrubs. Blooming when the rest of the garden is gloomy and lackluster, witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, and winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, will bring it back to life. Grow them in large pots on a patio; you can then use their leafy growth later as a backdrop to spring and summer flower displays.
Winter-flowering shrubs are a luxury in a small garden where every plant must earn its keep, but you can still make space for these seasonal stars. Plants like Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis, can be grown in a pot on a patio or balcony and then placed in a prominent spot when the heavily scented, spidery yellow flowers appear on the naked stems. Choose a witch hazel from a palette of yellow, orange, red or purple flowers, and look out for those with twisted or crimped petals.
The winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, is another prized plant, with highly fragrant, creamy-yellow flowers, which are produced in greater numbers when it’s grown in a sheltered spot.
Planting in pots
To prevent bushes from becoming waterlogged, add a layer of broken clay pot pieces to the bottom of the container so that the drainage holes do not clog up with compost. Add a layer of compost and place your shrub on it to check that the top of the root ball is 2 inches (5 cm) beneath the lip of the pot. Then slip the bush out of its pot, place the pot on the compost and fill in around it with more soil. Remove the pot to leave a hole exactly the right size for the bush’s root ball. Place the bush in the hole, firm around the roots with compost, water well and add a mulch.
Pruning witch hazels
These bushes can be pruned when the flowers start to fade in early spring. First, remove dead or diseased wood, any branches that spoil the shape, or crossing stems that are rubbing against one another. Hamamelis are very slow growing, so avoid cutting back very hard or too frequently. Prune back shoot tips to keep plants within bounds and to encourage bushy growth.