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Seedheads and Light in the Winter Garden.

Allow some plants to develop their seed heads for a spectacular autumn winter display - if there is sun!

When planting/designing a garden or flower bed, always take into account the effects that sunlight direction can have - especially the low angular sunlight of the winter months.

Plant subjects with interesting seed heads etc where they can be fully highlighted and appreciated with the sun shining through from the rear. If they can be planted against a dark background - so much the better.

Remember of course that more or less all backgrounds that do not receive autumn/winter sun are in effect dark for this purpose.

The Hydrangeas of the paniculata or arborescens group in particular make for a stunning display. the same is true of several of the Clematis - notably Clematis tangutica and slightly similar Clematis Bill MacKenzie. Several of the Clematis alpina types also have good seedheads that last well into the winter. However, the Clematis can look a little like soggy mops in wet weather, but soon dry out. 

 All images were taken at RHS Wisley Garden on Monday 3rd December 2007. Cold - but with a gorgeous low sun. 

   Stipa gigantea - The giant Golden Oat Plant Seedheads Clematis tangutica fall and winter seedheads against winter sun. Hydrangea arborescens seedheads benefitting from winter sunshine.

Left to right are Stipa gigantea; Clematis tangutica; Hydrangea arborescens. All of these can be used to good effect in the winter garden - positive gems of interest if planted with low winter suns filtering through the seedheads.

  many perennials can be left to provide seed for winter interest and to feed the birds Agapanthus seedheads with low winter sun from behind. Assorted ornamental grasses with seedheads in winter sunshine

Left to right - unknown; Agapanthus; Mixed grasses. Whilst the agapanthus is undoubtedly one of the great valuable summer flowering perennials, it can also be seen here as giving good autumn winter interest. The grasses are renowned for their place in the winter autumn and garden. Sunlight shining through or sideways onto the seed heads make for a great extension into the dormant months - so often thought of as lacking interest. If planted with a dark background - not difficult if you have the sun behind your main viewpoint - then the effect is truly superb

  Mahonia x media Buckland - single leaf showing the bright winter colours. Many salix - such as the Salix Btitziensis have very colourful stems if coppiced each year Pampas grass with winter sunshine through the seedheads.

 Left to right being Mahonia x media Buckland; Salix alba var vitellina Britzensis; Cortaderia selloana selected form. The highlighting of the Mahonia foliage with the late sun was purely accidental and could not be planned beforehand. The side lighting on the Salix is far better than back lighting to get the best effect from the colourful stems. The same applies to the dogwood group. The pampas - with the sunlight from the rear looks as though it is a mass of halos. 

   Mahonia x media Charity in mid winter. A firm favourite Hydrangea paniculata - great for seedheads as well as for the flowers Unknown ornamental grass being lit from the low winter sunshine.

Mahonia x media Charity; Hydrangea paniculata Grandiflora and ornamental grass unknown. The x media and japonica type Mahonias all flower with blooms atop the foliage canopy. They are sure to catch any sunlight at this time of year, and the actual aspect of the light source is best from front or side, in order to get the full colour of the flowers. Silhouetting in this case is not desirable. Different with the Hydrangea paniculata and grasses of all kinds, where the sun light from behind - or from the side - suits the effect to be gained from silhouetting.

To be borne in mind when planning for autumn and winter lit gardens, is the fact that the sun will be much lower on the horizon - and hence can be blocked out from bordering trees or large evergreen shrubs. It is advantageous to plant shrubs or perennials that are going to grow to a reasonable height. Low ground hugging plants can rarely give you any benefit from this.

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