One of the things I love about having a new garden to play with is that even though it is winter, there is still plenty I can be doing, inside and out, to make it better, more mine. My last garden had been carefully planned to be very low maintenance, and there were rarely any jobs to do at this time of year, and no space to plant new things. Here, plenty of scope, and on the occasional dry day I love to get outside.

Earlier this week I decided to tackle another piece of my horticultural Rubik’s Cube (thank you b-a-g!). Every day I sit at a table that looks out over the front garden towards the sea to eat my lunch. (I know, lucky me.) Every day I linger after my meal, gardening in my head. I decided fairly early on that I wanted the border that runs along the fence to be full of Autumn, Winter and Spring interest, allowing the rest of the garden to take over for the summer. I began to plan where to plant the Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (smoke bush) and the Prunus incisa ‘kojo-no-mai’ (dwarf cherry) that have been languishing in pots for over three years. I found a red stemmed bamboo that I really want to plant as a screen to the compost bins. I started drooling over dogwoods. But there was the small matter of the Red Fence. Which is hideous. Nothing could be planted until I had changed the colour to something more appealing, less likely to put me off my food.

I toyed with painting it pale cream, because gardening-sil used this to great effect in her garden, but it’s just not right for here. I used to long for a bluey-green fence, but again, it just doesn’t fit. I was determined not to have yet another dark brown fence, inoffensive though that would be. In the end, it was easy. I already had three twisted willows and a mystery shrub which I have yet to identify but which I have rather fallen for despite the variegated leaves, pretty plants that should look good at this time of year, were it not for the Red Fence behind them.

twisty willow against black fence
mystery shrub against red fence

Normally I would be aiming to completely obscure the fence with (predominantly evergreen) planting, but I remembered seeing Diarmuid Gavin use black for a fence years ago, on some TV programme, and being struck by what a fantastic backdrop it made for the plants. There is a good reason so many stands at horticultural shows use black backdrops. So I’ve made a start.

twisty willow against black fence

Already, after just one coat, the twisted stems of the willow sing out.

mystery shrub against black fence

The delicate colouring of my mystery shrub is beautiful.

dying hydrangea flower against black fence

Even the dying hydrangea flowers look suddenly dramatic. I fear it may take three coats, but I am really happy with my choice – though I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste. And I am quite sure that the current state of play is raising some questions:

incomplete fence

I skipped a panel. Partly because I was eager to see what the mystery shrub looked like against the black, and partly to avoid yet more careful negotiation around the ivy. Mostly, though, it was to give me more time to ponder what to do with the three willows.

There is a huge holly – well, the stump is huge, the regrowth is actually quite petite at present – growing in between the first and second willow. Much closer to the second than the first. I seem to be managing to persuade the holly to revert back to plain green (it is “supposed” to be a rather garish yellow with green margins), but it is soon going to overcome the second willow, if not the first. And where the still-red fence panel is, the third willow is closely accompanied by a rose I want to rescue and use elsewhere and an evergreen that I just want shot of. Since the rose and willow combination was going to make painting that fence panel really awkward anyway, I decided I might as well hold off until I get a dry enough day to move things around.

I think I will keep all three willows, but move the second and third further up towards the house, where they will relate rather nicely to the mature native willows growing in the park behind us. The Met Office is currently promising me some dry days around the weekend, so hopefully I will be able to relocate the willows and rose, and get another coat on the fence. In the mean time, it is back to gardening in my head…

37 thoughts on “Winter Gardening

  1. Hi Janet,

    The black is doing a great job there, especially with the twisted willows!
    Not sure I’d dare have it here, but it is a great choice :)
    I like to leave mine ‘natural’, but really do need to stain my horrible red fence something else – cannot stand that colour!

    Glad to hear you’re getting out into the garden; wish I could do the same! Think I’m stuck indoors now until Jan/Feb.

    1. Hi Liz, hope you manage the occasional brisk walk at the weekends to remind you that the outside world still exisists… I agree about leaving fences “au naturel”, that softened grey is lovely, but not an option when you have a far-from-natural red to contend with. As you know!!

  2. I thought the red looked ok actually although I appreciate these colours can take on a life of their own if you’re surrounded by them. The black does make the plants look very striking though. I painted my larch fence “copper beech” or something like that but the overall effect is orange – a burden I have to live with daily.

    1. Hi Claire, each to their own! Orange sounds a little challenging, but given the hard work it takes to stain a fence, I imagine you will find ways to live with it.

  3. Glad you have found a colour you are happy with – it’s such an important decision and makes such an impact on the garden. I tried about half a dozen different ones before finding a Cuprinol Heritage Shade that I liked (Wild Thyme, which is probably the sort of bluey green you once longed for) – I used the others up on our very colourful compost bins. You have made some decisions about your plants too – may not be physically taxing, but still progress. Well done!

    1. Hi Cathy, I like the sound of your colourful compost bins, so much more fun that black or dark green plastic!

  4. Black is a fantastic choice to make the shrubs stand out, when the shrubs have grown a bit the fence will just fade into the background. Mental gardening is wonderful, non of the aches and pains that go with physical gardening!

    1. Hi Pauline, I am pleasantly surprised at the degree to which the fence already fades away, which is exactly what I wanted – the plants and the view shouldn’t have to fight with the fence.

    1. Thanks Annie, I’m pleased – I just wish the weather would let me get a second coat on!

  5. So black is the new fence, well there you go, great thinking! Loving the contrasts and the fact that you’re out. Twisted willow is lovely, I love contorted hazel too but only in the winter, I hide the pot full of gnarled leaves in the summer, thankfully the willow doesn’t suffer the same awful leaf curling! Lack of weather windows is hampering me (and extra work) enjoy the garden if your forecast is right.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about contorted hazel, though I think the purple form has more merit in leaf than the green one. Shame I planted the green one in my last garden! I dug it up and gave it to a friend, it bugged me so much once the leaves unfurled… The willows, though, are graceful, so they get to stay here and I will learn to garden around them, as they deserve! Almost Orkney-windy here today, so I am staying indoors and lusting after plants instead…

  6. Hi Janet I think your mystery plant is Photinia davidiana ‘Palette’ and its one of the few variegated plants that I like. Black is the perfect colour for a fence, the darker the colour the more the fence disappears, clients never believe this but it IS true. It looks perfect even after only one coat. Christina

    1. Hi Christina, thank you, I think that must be what it is – I had been expecting it to be deciduous! Another rather choice plant to have inherited. I’m like you, I rarely like variegated plants, but this is really pretty. I’m delighted with the black – I must admit I was surprised at the degree to which it fades into the background. I love it when something works even better than you had dared hope. I just have to finish painting it…

  7. The black certainly looks a lot better than the red – gone are the days when you could just creosote a fence and it would fade gracefully. It certainly makes the plants stand out.

    1. Hi Elaine, there really are so many colours out there that you can paint your fence – and everything else in the garden. Bewildering, and most of them would shout louder than the plants. As to the red, what were they thinking?!

  8. Interesting. At first when I read that you were planning a black fence I thought, “Oh, no.” But I rather like it! The Willows certainly look stunning against it! Wow! I actually like it in its current form–I’m not sure I’d bother adding a second coat. It looks great! Enjoy your days outside and the great views!

    1. Hi, I know, it is a bit shocking when you say it out loud isn’t it, blak fence, it doesn’t feel like it should work, but I love it. There’s actually quite a lot of red showing through in places, so sadly I do think I need to do another coat, it will really bug me otherwise.

  9. I love the black! It really is much more dramatic, and it shows off the plants, instead of the fence. Your post reminded me that I want a twisted plant in my garden. Yours are so interesting!

    1. Hi, glad you like it! Twisted stems are rather wonderful, but I would avoid the green version of the twisted haszle were I you, I had one, but the leaves are all twisty too, and smother the plant when in leaf, it winds up looking rather messy. I would happily have a purple twisted hazel though, as I think the different leaf colour would make up for the twistedness. If that’s a word…

  10. I wish I could garden more in winter…perhaps I should give it a try but I have little energy and want a rest…I love that black fence…I never thought of that but it is perfect and certainly makes the plants pop…brilliant!

    1. Hi Donna, for years I have been quite content to relax indoors with a mug of tea and lots of books and seed catalogues – it is only the enthusiasm of having a new garden to play with! Take it easy, there is a lot going on in your life right now!!

  11. Janet, I wasn’t aware of a red stemmed Bamboo, have to check it out further. Also the red fence wasn’t very appealing , look at it now, fabulous and showing up the plants very nicely thank you. Your mystery plant looks familiar, got Myra involved but couldn’t come up with it. I will have to look at your comments to see if it was named.

    1. Hi Alistair, I came across the red stemmed bamboo quite by accident and promptly fell in love. It is called Fargesia Jiuzhaigou. Glad you like the black! I love how the plants stand out against it. Christina did the business and identified my mystery plant as Photinia davidiana ‘Palette’, but thanks so much to you and Myra for looking in to it for me, I do love garden bloggers, would be lost without you all!

    1. Hi Janet, it doesn’t sound at all appealing on the face of it, does it, but it really does work well for setting plants off.

  12. Really like that you took that photo with the one red panel. You can easily see the difference of the plants against the different coloured panels. At first I thought, why would you want to get rid of red but after seeing the difference with the black I love your choice.

    1. Hi Marguerite, I suppose I just always think that fences are there as a backdrop rather than as a feature in their own right, and whereas the red shouted, the black just sets the plants off. I just wish it didn’t take so many coats to cover…

  13. what will the neighbours say Janet – you’re becoming quite an avant garde gardener! Black is definitely the background of contrast. I imagine Forsythia will look stunning aginst it too.

    1. I have amused myself by wondering what they think – the fact that none of them have commented says a lot… Very conservative lot round here! Forsythia really would light up against the black, but yellow is not a colour I am wanting in the front. Maybe in the back though…

  14. What a difference already, the black looks so much better than red. Hope the weather stays kind for you, there’s something quite delicious about gardening on a crisp sunny winter day.

    1. Hi Sara, it is certainly more fun working outdoors on the garden, even painting fence panels, that it was struggling with bindweed at the allotment, my last experience of proper winter gardening!! Frost so hard at present impossible to work outdoors, enforced rest!!

  15. Black was definitely a good choice – those coloured stems will look great against it during the winter and any colour will stand out on it the rest of the year.

    1. Hi Jules, thanks, I am really happy with the effect. Am now working out whether I can fit a dogwood in there somewhere, that would look really dramatic…

  16. I like hollies and willows as apart from their looks they’re good for wildlife.
    I suspect that few people would paint a fence black but it actually seems like a good idea in many instances. xx

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