Give borders a Midas touch

Brighten up the seasonal gloom with golden flowers, grasses and shrubs. Here's our top 10 plants for winter bling

Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite)

by Liz Potter |

Once the days start to get longer, the winter sun begins to gain some warmth, prompting the earliest bulbs to flower against the bare brown earth. The jauntiest have cheerful yellow flowers that lighten up a late winter’s day. These early bulbs need a warm, sheltered situation to flower early, so position them where they catch the full warmth of any available sun.

In shadier parts of the garden, where it tends to be dark and drab in winter, splashes of golden-yellow and green cast their own pattern of light and shade, even on grey days. They brighten up those dull corners and the mixture of green and gold goes particularly well with miniature blue bulbs such as Scilla siberica and blue-flowered pulmonarias. Pure gold foliage, without any green at all, only keeps its vivid colour in brighter light, so that needs careful placing too.

These early touches of gold, whether provided by stem, leaf or flower, run through the garden like a spinning golden thread, bringing spring a giant step nearer.

Eranthis hyemalis Winter aconites tend to choose their own position because they spread by self-seeding after the pale brown seeds have dispersed. They desperately need to set seeds, but their globular buttercup flowers only open once temperatures reach 10C (50F). It’s vital to give them as much winter sun as possible, otherwise they won’t set any seeds at all. They hate their raisin-like tubers to get baked by summer sun, so they often do best shaded by a deciduous tree or shrub. Establish by planting in the green, in spring. H8cm (3in) S5cm (2in)

Heucherella ‘Catching Fire’
Heucherella ‘Catching Fire’

Heucherella ‘Catching Fire’ This striking heucherella has golden-yellow lobed leaves in winter. Each lime green to yellow leaf has a cherry-red zone that darkens to mahogany-red in summer. Most yellows and limes scorch in full sun, so this does better in shade. Conversely reds, oranges, purples and blacks need a sunny spot. Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’ is another stunner – good in shade, or in a container. H25cm (10in) S40cm (16in)

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’
Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’

Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ Raised in 1943, this exuberant yellow trumpet daffodil is the earliest full-sized narcissus to flower – as early as December in some sheltered spots. It was originally called ‘January Gold’ by its English raiser, HF Chapman of Rye in Kent. The vivid yellow flowers have a wide frilly trumpet surrounded by a ring of wide petals. This widely available and affordable daffodil resists wintry weather, lighting up the garden from January onwards. Plant bulbs in September. H30cm (12in) S15cm (6in)

Phyllostachys aureocaulis
Phyllostachys aureocaulis

Phyllostachys aureocaulis Bamboo can look gorgeous lit by winter sun, although it’s not for the faint-hearted because the growth rate can vary from place to place, depending on temperature, rainfall and soil. Wherever you grow it, the low sun gives a lacquer to the canes and warms the avocado-green foliage. The leaves rustle and tremble when the wind blows, casting a flickering pattern of light and shade, like a huge magic lantern at play. Take out any thin and old canes before winter. Needs well-drained soil and a bright spot. H6m (20ft) S4m (13ft)

Choisya dewitteana ‘Goldfingers’
Choisya dewitteana ‘Goldfingers’

Choisya dewitteana ‘Goldfingers’ Many gardeners are familiar with the golden evergreen foliage of Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’, but ‘Goldfingers’ is a more recent hybrid with slender rosettes of softer yellow foliage. It’s a golden form of ‘Aztec Pearl’ and needs to be grown in sun or bright shade to keep its vivid colour. There are two flushes of fragrant flowers, in spring and summer, and it’s compact enough to be grown in a pot or front of border. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’
Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ This ground-hugging, evergreen Japanese sedge looks like a green and yellow starfish on the ground in winter. It can get ragged, so tidy it lightly in spring and again in late summer, but don’t cut it back in autumn. It’s best planted in numbers, around colourful red or green cornus stems, or in front of ferns such as Polypodium cambricum ‘Richard Kayse’. It’s effective in containers too, with winter-flowering skimmia or sarcococca. Newer ‘Everillo’ has brighter lime green foliage surrounded by dark green edges. H30cm (12in) S35cm (14in)

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’
Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ This slow-growing evergreen shrub has dark green, slight wavy leaves liberally daubed in bright yellow. The surface of the leaf looks slightly dusty in winter light and the cinnamon-brown stems show up well. Tiny, fragrant flowers appear in late autumn, when little else flowers. ‘Maculata’ is tolerant when it comes to soil and you can grow this as a specimen, or as a hedge and it’s also suitable for coastal gardens. Although it will withstand bright sunshine, the foliage looks far more dramatic in dappled shade. H and S4m (10ft)

Galanthus ‘Spindlestone Surprise’
Galanthus ‘Spindlestone Surprise’

Galanthus ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ This substantial hybrid snowdrop has single flowers, but the ovary and the sinus mark on the inners are a distinct cool yellow. It bulks up well, but needs to get winter sun to develop these liquid-gold highlights. Yellow snowdrops grow naturally in certain wooded areas of north-east England. ‘Spindlestone Surprise’ is similar (or possibly the same as) ‘Primrose Warburg’. Buy them as pot-grown bulbs from a reputable nursery. H20cm (8in) S10cm (4in)

Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’
Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’

Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’ This dwarf mountain pine burns brightly in winter when the foliage turns gold. It’s slow growing and, in winter light, the radiating crown of needles frame chestnut-brown stems and tips. The rounded mound of foliage turns green in summer. Good in a rock garden or any sunny, well-drained spot, it can be kept compact with careful pruning in late spring. H60cm (2ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tandara Gold’
Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tandara Gold’

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tandara Gold’ Pittosporums are highly attractive evergreens in winter light because their neat crinkly-edged foliage is liberally spaced along wiry, dark, almost-black stems. ‘Tandara Gold’ has small dark green leaves colourwashed in yellow that look very vivid in winter light. These New Zealanders need sun, good drainage and an open site to thrive. However, they also require shelter because they’re only hardy to -5C (23F). Don’t cut them back hard – give them a light prune and shape in early spring to keep their shape before the sap begins to flow. Tiny fragrant flowers follow in May or June. They form a columnar shape, growing quickly at first before slowing down. They tolerate coastal conditions and don’t suffer from honey fungus. H3.5m (11ft) S3m (10ft)

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