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Assessing the damage

2018 has been a strange year for gardeners. The winter seemed to last forever, then spring was gone in two weeks. We had the “beast from the East” bringing powerful, cold winds that burnt the leaves off evergreen plants (on one side, at least) and grounded pollinating insects so that the fruit crop is variable according to where you live and how cold it was.

Then there was the long, lovely hot summer. That was great - and made a change - but cost many of us our lawns and any plants that were unlucky enough to dry out. Even the autumn has been drier than usual in many parts of the country, but we know that this will change and things will even out again.

Looking at the garden and seeing the plants that are dead or damaged, it can be easy to feel like giving up, but this is the very time to be excited. Autumn is the best time for planting, because the soil is warm and the roots of the new plants will start to grow immediately. They will pause briefly in the cold of January and February before starting again in March, giving the plant a good start to the new season.

This is also the ideal time to change the garden, when you are removing some plants anyway. It's tempting to replace like with like, but there are some fantastic new varieties out there and you can swap colours, shapes and sizes for a whole new look. It's a bit like decorating: same room, but different.

Choose plants that will provide interest throughout the year, so the garden never looks dull. Add some flowers for cutting and bringing indoors to brighten the tables. Always include some bulbs for splashes of colour throughout the year and, most of all, include fragrance. Too many people ignore the way plants smell. Yes, the cat pee smell of juniper leaves may not be to everyone's taste, but the berries are excellent for gin, winter remedies and pot pourri.

Even now, as the leaves are beginning to fall, there is a huge amount of fragrance in the garden. Cercidiphyllum is an unremarkable tree for most of the year, but fills the air with the scent of candyfloss as the leaves turn colour. Elaeagnus x ebbingei is an evergreen shrub that comes in a variety of forms, but all of them bear tiny white flowers in autumn with a lovely, powerful fragrance. You often don't realise the flowers are there until you investigate the scent, because they hang down beneath the bronze-tinted leaves. Winter-flowering Viburnum is just coming into flower and will continue to bloom on bare stems throughout the winter during milder spells. Sarcococca is in bud and will bear white flowers, some tinted pink, over the winter months amid evergreen leaves.

Most of all, don't forget the conifers. They add shape, structure and form throughout the winter as well as colour. Shades of blue, grey, gold, yellow, bronze and green are all there to choose from and many have fragrant leaves. Thuja, in particular, has leaves that smell of oranges, even when they have fallen and are disturbed.

So, head to the garden centre or nursery for a good look around before you make your selection. As ever, check for size and soil preference before you buy, but then have fun choosing your new housemates!

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This story was published on: 06/10/2018

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