With the onset of August, Western Australia is in the middle of winter so it might be a good time to review some of the beautiful winter shrubs available to gardeners in this part of the world. Shrubs that flower in winter brighten up an otherwise lean time. They may also provide suitable blooms for indoor display.
The following will cope with heavy frosts and grow well in all but tropical climates.
The Arbutus unedo or Irish strawberry tree is worthy of mention. The flowers are not necessarily spectacular but are attractive. They look somewhat like the lily of the valley. The sprays add charm to posies and small vase collections. Arbutus are classed as a large shrub or small tree. It may eventually reach about 15 feet and occasionally more but it can stand heavy pruning and constant clipping so it can be kept at almost any height. Its natural inclination is to make a rounded or dome shape. It is very adaptable and tolerant to heat, heavy frost and winds. It will even withstand salty winds making it ideal for seaside gardens.
Buddleia salvifolia (above) has large, branched heads of tiny pale lilac flowers in winter. It is useful for mixing with other flowers and has narrow, sage-like foliage similar to that of blue salvia. Cut back after flowering to keep the bush compact. It is quick growing to 15 feet, withstands salt wind and all but the heaviest frosts.
Chimonanthus or allspice is useful for indoor decoration. In winter, the bare twigs carry dainty, fragrant flowers. The petals look as if they are made of translucent wax or glass. Although the plant flowers best in cool climates, it prefers a fairly sunny position.
The Cotoneaster (above) is a popular garden shrub with an attractive habit and pretty berries. The varieties of C.parnosa and C.franchetti hold their berries into winter. C.lacteus will have bright red berries until early spring. However some become invasive weeds if they escape from cultivation. One of these is C.glaucophyllus.
Ericas or heaths begin flowering in spring and carry their gem-like blooms into spring. They last well as cut flowers. They have a reputation as a short-lived shrub but often they succumb to dryness in summer, poor drainage and/or clay soils which cake over the surface roots. Azaleas and ericas belong to the same family and need a fairly acid, lime-free soil. Ericas are even less keen on heavy clay and dryness than azaleas. A light, well-drained loam is most suitable. Improve water-retention of naturally sandy soil by spreading a 2 inch layer of previously moistened peatmoss over the few square feet of soil that surrounds the new plant. Mix this 4 to 5 inches deep. The peatmoss will also supply the right amount of acidity, unless the soil is naturally limy. There are over 500 species of Erica. Most are resistant to heavy frosts and prefer cool to temperate climates.
Garrya elliptica is an attractive and useful shrub well known in Victoria and Tasmania. Its foliage is attractive waved, dark, glossy green and rounded. In winter, it is decked with delightful bunches of long, tapering catkins ranging from soft lime-green to pale violet. Garrya lasts well indoors and grows in most aspects, preferring at least half sun. It has great resistance to wind and frost.
Japonica or Cydonia are a vivid beacon of garden colour. As a cut flower, the ethereal slender twigs link porcelain-like blossoms. When cut, buds continue to emerge but in soft, pearly tones much paler than their natural outdoor colour. Cydonia grow in most soils and aspects. Flowering is best where there is at least half sun.
Where frosts are not severe, Abutilon or Chinese Lantern carry flowers into late winter. It will thrive in any position from two-thirds shade to full sun. Frosts can attack them in some districts but they usually recover in spring.
The Banksia (above) becomes beautifully decked with colourful brushes in winter. Comparatively poor soils seem to suit them such as those of sunny, rocky hillsides. There are a number of spectacular varieties available.
Beloperone or shrimp plant does best in a warm, sheltered position. In frost free areas, the tawny bracts last through most of the winter and last well when cut.
Boronia should not be over looked as a winter flowerer. Boronia does best in light soils with plenty of water. They are usually short-lived but quick-growing and worthy of replacement.
Camellias (above) are a wonderful standby for house flowers in winter. The blooms are long-lasting. Any flowers on long stems can be prevented from falling by unobtrusively wiring the flower from underneath. Camellias do best in well-mulched, slightly acid soil with about half sun. Many of the double camellias need to be protected from early morning sun. This browns the outer petals and stops them from opening.
Daphne has a rich fragrance and subtle beauty and is especially appealing in winter. The popular one in Australia, Daphne odora, grows in sun or shade but is best in half of each. More importantly it should be planted where the soil will not be disturbed.
Geraldton wax (chamaelaucium) has a softly decorative effect in the garden. It is a great filler and lasts well. It grows best in light, well-drained soil but likes plenty of water. Allow the lower branches to sprawl on the ground for natural support and mulch to minimise cultivation.
Luculia is a beautiful flowering shrub with a great array of saucer-sized heads packed with clean, simply cut, fragrant pink flowers. Like daphne it resents root disturbance. It doesn't tolerate heavy frost. Growth will be more compact when grown in at least half sun.
Prunus campanulata is an attractive flowering cherry with upright growth and pendulous clusters of single, bell-like rosy purple flowers. It stands heavy cutting but is unsuitable in cold districts as heavy frosts damages the flowers.
Poinsettias grow well in any reasonably frost-free area. It will tolerate only occasional light frosts and will otherwise need the protection of a building or high fence.
Strelitzia (above) is a handsome garden plant and an old favourite. The quaint blooms last for many weeks on the plant and nearly as many weeks in water. Pull out old flowers as they wither and they will be replaced by new ones.
Teatrees (Leptospermum) should be pruned after flowering. They do tend to exhaust themselves after several years of prolific flowering but are quick-growing and easily replaced.
These are just some of the many winter flowering shrubs available. Your garden centre will be able to suggest others suitable for your area.