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Planning a Winter Garden

Updated: Jan 24

Let’s enhance the beauty and discover what works best to create your winter garden.

First question to ask yourself is whether you want to improve a border with winter interest plants or whether you are going bold and want to redesign a part of the garden that is perhaps uninspiring or overgrown or that lacks the winter magic.


Structure plants are the essential ingredients.

They can have vertical interest, visual content and often colour and scent. They can be evergreen or deciduous and can include plants from each of the layers.

In addition to plants there are the hard-landscaped areas in the garden, like paths or structures like arbours or pergolas and there is also garden statuary – a bench, a tall pot, stone statues and even a rusted gate leaning against a tree will all add significantly to our winter landscape.     

 Look out from your principal windows and check what you can see. Most of the time in winter we are looking out from inside where it’s much warmer and drier and so these views are essential. If you have a modest garden, then every plant must count and be working hard to earn its place.


The top storey planting is all about trees. Every garden is big enough to support one and trees are the foundation of our winter gardens. There are many with fascinating bark, such as the white peeling bark on birch trees (Betula Jacquemontii) and the pink tones on a variety known as Betula Albosenensis.

Some trees have magnificent coppery or cinnamon colours – look for Arbutus unedo; Prunus cerifera ‘Nigra’ and Prunus serrula  are also shiny and tactile and Acer Griseum has all of that with a shaggy look.

Amelanchier multi-stemmed trees will add graceful elegance as too many of the crab apples some of which hold their apples all through the winter, feeding our birds along the way. My favourites are Malus Transitoria for shape and Malus Red Sentinel for fruit.


We often use hedging as a backdrop of winter garden planting. They can be used on the boundaries but also to create rooms within your garden and can be evergreen or deciduous. For evergreens consider yew or ilex or a combination if you are looking for an informal organic look.

Hornbeam will add more texture, holding onto their winter leaves that turn bronze after their butter yellow appearance in the Autumn.  In the Spring they are a vivid acid green and crinkly like crinkly crisps! 

Evergreen shrubs are also really important because they create a foil for our other plants including the emerging spring bulbs.  One of my favourites is Viburnum Eve Price which flowers white and pink through January and February and has rich dark green foliage. I often use this as an informal hedge.


The flowers on Camilia’s are about to flower or are already; these shrubs are evergreen and over time can get to quite a size; they prefer shade or dappled shade but avoid an easterly situation because morning frosts can sometimes destroy the young buds.

Evergreens don't have to be green - Pittosporum Tom Thumb has burgundy leaves with crinkly edges. When it's growing the tips are acid green.

It grows neatly in a mound and is a valuable foliage plant for year round interest.


No garden is complete without a daphne – the flowers on Daphne Adora is the most intense of all scented plants and so easy to look after as long as it has some shade.  It is a slow grower so won’t take up too much space either.

Plant Sarcococca Confusa near the house, alongside a path to get the most from another sweetly scented evergreen.  They work under trees because they don’t mind a bit of dry shade or create a dwarf hedge and in no time you will have something very special and long lasting.

Mixing evergreen textures creates for an interesting border. Here the low growing skimmias are planted closely to Carex morrowii Ice Dance. The flowers on the skimmia are just emerging soon to fill the air with a wonderful scent.

If you have a shaded corner or if your garden has more of a woodland feel to it then I would recommend planting a witch hazel. They flower yellow or orange from January and the best for perfume is Hamamalis x intermedia Jelena which is reminiscent of oranges.  

Underplant with grasses such as Hakonechloa Macra or Liriope or with Hellebore orientalis.


Ornamental grasses make for a different layer in a winter garden, the colour of them drained through so that they look like they are standing still in time.  They create  movement and softness and compliment the solid structure of evergreens. When sprinkled with frost they become ethereal and in the winter light are charming additions to my own winter garden.

My favourites are Pennisetums and Miscanthus or Stipa Gigantica.


We all love colour, and every garden needs some even in winter. There are so many plants that provide just this in their foliage or in their coloured stems. The coloured dogwoods are so vibrant and dazzling.

Set them in front of something evergreen and the colours will really stand out. They prefer a damp situation and don’t mind sun or shade.

Leucothoe’s are low growing plants that prefer shaded areas – they have red and mid green leaves and look great as underplanting to our mid layers. They will compliment a deciduous shrub or small tree.

I like nandina’s too. These red/orange leaves rustle in the wind – and they prefer sunnier areas in the garden and do a similar job to Leucothoe’s helping to lift areas of the garden that are otherwise bare at this time of year.

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