Without trees and shrubs, a garden will never look settled. They provide a much-needed backdrop to the smaller flowering perennials we all know and love.
I like variegated leaves, but too many trees and shrubs with this kind of foliage in a small garden takes away from subtle planting. So when choosing shrubs, think about what they offer over the year. I tend to go for flowering shrubs with darker leaves that have their flowering season then fade into the background.
Getting colour into the garden at this time of the year can be a challenge, but with a few carefully chosen plants, your garden will look a lot more inviting.
As we await spring, we need to ride out the storms and greyness that make January and February feel so long.
I've never really had a soft spot for Mahonia, but I've come to appreciate the long yellow flowers that arrive as winter takes hold. They have no bother with semi-shaded areas of the garden, in fact, that is their preference. So if you have a shaded spot in the garden that could benefit from colour, this is the plant for you.
Try one called Mahonia x media 'Charity' for a big impact. It's a fashionable variety often used by garden designers as a specimen plant. Give it some space and it will grow to 3m. I put a small one in a border last year and it has had a huge amount of growth already.
They are quick to establish themselves given the right conditions. Well-drained soil is good, but they do well in the shade.
If you have one and are wondering how to prune it for shape or encourage flowers lower down, the rule is to wait until it has gone out of flower then take a branch or two out to encourage sprouting of foliage while maintaining the shape.
There are smaller ground varieties, and a lovely one I am planning to get is the Mahonia aquifolium 'Apollo'. It flowers in spring rather than winter and can grow to 1m. The flowers are vibrant yellow, and in winter the leaves take on a purple hue.
I'm going to give you a list of relatively hassle-free yellow-flowering plants. It's a wonder we don't see more of them in garden centres, but ask the staff and they will try their best to get one for you.
* Coronilla valentina glauca citrina: Flowers from autumn until May.
* Calceolaria tomentosa: Flowers from June until autumn.
* Forsythia x intermedia 'Spectabilis': Flowers in spring.
* Fremontodendron 'California glory': Train it on a wall that gets lots of sun for it to flower in the summer.
Unfortunately, none of these were to be found in the January sales, but they are an investment and worth the money you pay.
The Coronilla is easy to propagate from cuttings, as is the Calceolaria. I have a heated bench in the glasshouse that speeds up the process, but I have propagated these plants using no heat at all.
The Fremontodendron doesn't like too much moisture at its roots. Mine is on a south-facing wall, alongside a Coronilla and when one is out of flower, the other takes over.
I realised in the summer that a lot of the more subtle plants looked a bit washed-out after the strong sunshine, so this year I've decided to grow vibrant annuals to bump up the colour for a sunny summer.
My motto for 2014 is to keep the glass half-full. I bought 'My Secret Garden' by Alan Titchmarsh for Christmas.
While it lashed down last week, I sat and escaped into his beautiful garden for a few hours. You can't beat a bit of armchair gardening at this time of the year.