A cluster of cyclamen.
GARDENING ANYTHING that provides colour and interest to the garden at this dour time of year — other than the falling leaves — is a real bonus.
One such choice is Juniperous, which, in its low-growing forms, provides pleasing and trouble-free ground cover and has been used to prominent good effect in the approach to Coppins Bridge where we have all had plenty of time to enjoy it.
The common experience of juniper is, of course, a strong-tasting product of Juniperous communis being much enjoyed with tonic, ice and a slice.
The berries — which are actually seed cones — flavour cooking, continental beers and, more commonly, gin.
In the garden, there are compact varieties of Juniperus. All are guaranteed to surprise with their colour effects and all are tough.
They really will look after themselves, as those on Coppins Bridge show, and bring beauty to every season.
Every garden needs structure all year round. Some plants deliver their goods in a rush — blossom on fruit trees, flowers on climbers or big, showy blooms on rhododendrons — but evergreens are constant.
It is this dependability that makes them a key building block in garden design.
They are also useful in a town, or city, environment. Evergreens are known to capture harmful particulates that are spewed from diesel engines. They adhere to the needles and eventually fall to the ground and may then be washed away down drains and sewers or come into contact with soil where micro-organisms can detoxify them.
Of the evergreens, Juniperus is an outstanding genus. With a range of between 50 and 60 species that includes prostrate shrubs to tall trees, there is a juniper for every situation, in rock gardens, borders and as specimen plants.
Juniperus squamata is popular in gardens because it can be a prostrate shrub, a spreading bush or a small upright tree (depending on variety).
Many of these have gorgeous 'glaucous’ or blue-grey foliage that adds a further interesting dimension.
Look out for Blue Star, a compact bush that tends to reach maximum dimensions of 18ins tall and 3ft in spread.
Holger has wonderful foliage effects, the new growth being sulphur yellow, which contrasts with the steel-blue of the older leaves. It has a height and spread of approximately 6ft.
Meyeri is different again, a larger shrub with arching branches and glaucous foliage. One for the much larger garden, it reaches a height of between 12ft and 35ft and a spread of up to 25ft.
The common juniper (Juniper communis) presents some flexible choices. For example, Compressa, which reaches a maximum height of less than 3ft, is ideal for growing in a trough or pot.
Hibernica is similar in that it is another columnar-shaped shrub but bigger and faster growing than Compressa, reaching a maximum height of 15ft.
Grey Owl is a low-spreading cultivar of Juniperus virginiana that is superb as a ground-cover plant.
Junipers combine well with other small conifers, heaths and heathers in a range of garden design styles.
Junipers are tolerant of many conditions and will thrive in quite hostile situations, such as hot, sunny sites or cold, wet ones.
Good drainage is certainly a help and, good news for the lazy or pragmatic gardener, is that very little pruning, if any, is required.
There are, actually, quite a few plants which can keep the garden looking good at this time of year, and none more colourful than cyclamen, which I always give a seasonal reminder of just about now.
Part of our front garden is a sea of pink although the cyclamen are not quite as successful as they were following the demise of the huge oak, which previously gave them shade before it succumbed to the greater need of stable foundations for the house.
Cyclamen have a twin bonus. They have very attractive marbled or glossy green leaves for at least nine months of the year, and a fine display of delicate, graceful blooms on slender stalks through the autumn months.
Cyclamen, are, quite rightly, one of the most popular woodland shade plants. The first blooms appear before the leaves start to come through and will quickly produce large colonies, useful for growing beneath trees.
They seed in often inhospitable nooks and crannies where they will not flourish if there is not the space and nutrient for their tubers to thrive.
I mainly have hederifolium, which produce a range of pinks before the marbled leaves appear.
But there is also coum, which has green foliage and pink flowers and blooms between January and March, and its white form, Album.
Pseudibericum flowers later still, between February and April, and has deep carmine-pink flowers with chocolate-magenta, ace of spades-shaped blotches towards base of each lobe. The leaves are dark green with grey-green, or whiteish, marbling. The added bonus of this one is that it is scented.
Dobies of Devon offers a cyclamen collection. These come in a range of pinks, reds, whites, purples and some bi-colours.
They are ideal for use in baskets, window boxes or patio containers.
They can also be used as an indoor plant if kept in a cool, bright environment, such as a windowsill or a cool conservatory.
If you are growing them in a container, water sparingly.
The Cyclamen Society has this advice: "Always wait until the compost feels fairly dry but avoid waiting so long that the plant becomes limp.
"You can water from either the top or the bottom but afterwards the pot should be allowed to drain properly, and any water remaining in the saucer or pot-holder after five minutes, should be tipped away. "If possible, avoid splashing the centre of the plant with water.
"You can feed with a pot-plant liquid food (for example, Baby Bio) about every two weeks but be aware overfeeding is more likely to produce foliage rather than flowers.
"Dead flowers or leaves should be removed carefully by giving their stems a sharp tug."
The cyclamen collection is available from www.dobies.co.uk and many varieties are also widely available at Island garden centres.