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December's plants of the month are the winterstems29 November 2013
December's plants of the month are the winterstems: those wonderful shrubs and trees which brighten our borders even after every last leaf has fallen and the frost is hard on the ground.
Stems are often an afterthought in choosing a plant, well behind flowers, foliage and fruit. But at this time of year they are revealed as the fine bone structure of the garden, and you begin to really appreciate their beauty.
Look out for stems with brilliant colours, setting the garden alight even on the chilliest days as they catch low winter sunshine: Cornus alba 'Sibirica' has scarlet young stems, while the ornamental bramble Rubus cockburnianus reveals arching stems of a pure chalky white. Willows also come in lots of gorgeous colours: Salix alba var vitellina has butter-yellow stems, while 'Britzensis' is a dramatic jet black. Plant in groups to maximise their impact, and prune them down to the ground in late spring to encourage the brightest colours.
Many trees, too, have bark that's mottled, beautifully coloured or textured. Acer davidii, the snakebark maple, has green-and-white striped bark, while the mottled trunks of Eucalyptus trees reveal their full beauty in winter. Put them where the winter sun catches them at their finest for a true winter spectacle.