Winter is the time you’ll really appreciate vases of flowers and foliage around the house. Now you might think homegrown flowers would be in short supply but it is amazing what you can create if you grow plants that look handsome outside and last well in water indoors. One of my favourite shrubs for winter flower arrangements is witch hazel. It flowers profusely on bare stems during mild spells from now until late March.
The spidery flowers come in yellow, gingery-orange or red, depending on which variety you grow and you can easily pick enough twigs to fill a vase. I like them arranged simply with evergreen foliage.
There are several smaller plants that make charming miniature vase-fillers suitable for “smallest rooms”, a mantelpiece or telephone table.
Try winter-flowering heathers, which come in various shades of pink, mauve, purple and white.
Their great advantage is that, even after the stems have dried out, the dead flowers keep their colour so you can continue using them for months in dried flower decorations or arrangements with whole spices, potpourri or nuts to make a Christmas bowl decoration.
However the real mid-winter charmer for special occasions is the Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis). It needs a hot, sunny spot in which to grow and plants need to be left well alone – they won’t stand disturbance.
Yet once you have a few clumps thriving they’ll send up little short-stemmed blue iris flowers in mild spells throughout the winter.
They usually last longer in vases – several days or more – and if you pick them just before the petals unfurl you can watch them open indoors in an hour. You don’t need many for great effect. One or three (for some reason odd numbers work best with cut flowers) are enough.
Then add some striking evergreen foliage – perhaps a few strands of grassy-looking carex and just one big fatsia leaf. However just one solitary flower looks wonderful in a tiny specimen vase.
If you have some Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) in flower and are prepared to snip a stem or two to bring indoors then you could use that in much the same way.
HOWEVER there’s lots you can do without any flowers at all if you mix coloured stems of dogwoods with some large architectural leaves and a few berried pyracantha stems or branches of late crab apples.
For the full festive effect, combine red berries or twigs with hollies and ivies or variegated evergreens and sprigs of mistletoe. They are natural partners that make delightful table decorations.
The great thing about growing suitable flowers and foliage down the garden is that it costs nothing to throw together simple arrangements that look amazing for free. When they start to look jaded it’s easy to pop out and fetch the makings for more.