How To Plant a Winter Garden

Enjoy Scent and Garden Colour Even in the Depths of Winter

Many gardeners focus on building their garden to a peak in midsummer, leaving a boring, bare garden in the winter. It's easy to forget about the winter with the excitement and choice of summer flowering plants available. If the lack of colour in your winter garden is getting you down, don't despair... it's easy to add interest when you know which plants to choose from.

Leading UK garden designer Alice Bowe talks us through her favourite planting choices for the winter garden and shows us how easy it is to brighten up those dark winter days with garden scent and colour.

Step 1

Use evergreens, multistemmed specimens and ornamental grasses to create a strong winter skeleton.

My favourites evergeens are Yew and Holly (Ilex 'JC Van Toll' is a great choice for a small garden as it is self fertile) but there are a long list of evergreens to choose from. Use these to create a clean, green backdrop against which the other plants can sing out.

Step 2

Choose plants with interesting bark or stem colours so that their true beauty is revealed in fall as the plants lose their leaves. Trees with great winter bark that you might like to try include:

  • Acer griseum, with its flaky peeling bark
  • Prunus serrula, with its almost varnished stem
  • The ghostly Betula ermanii

For maximum impact, consider planting in groups or as a multistem specimen.

A family of shrubs that must be considered is the red and orange stems of dogwood. Cornus alba 'Sibirica' or Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' are two of my favourites and look great planted with Bergenia and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. Alternatively, for a more restrained colour scheme, partner the pale white-stemmed bramble (Rubus thibetianus) with Betula ermanii and white snowdrops.

Step 3

Add plants with winter flowers such as the pretty Prunus autumnalis. This winter flowering cherry is less blousy than its springtime counterparts but it is long flowering and works well as a cut flower if you cut a branch and bring it indoors. I love the delicate elegance of winter flowering plants - they brighten up the dark wintery days.

Another favourite is the scented Viburnum x bodnatense, which looks fabulous underplanted with snowdrops (galanthus) and the early daffodil Narcissus 'February Gold'. Don't forget Eranthis hyemalis, Hellebores and the bright blue of Liriope.

Step 4

Include winter scented shrubs to entice you out into the garden on a cold winters day such as Daphne odorata, or my favourite (but slightly fussy) Daphne bhoula 'Jaqueline Postill'. Witch Hazel also provides rich winter scent. I like Hamamellis 'Jelena' with it's reddish-orange spidery flowers. Underplant it with the yellow Eranthis and you are onto a winning combination. The evergreen Sarcoccoca is also a useful plant in the winter garden as it possesses both evergreen leaves and a powerful punch of winter scent.

Step 5

Choose plants that produce winter berries. Many of these will get devoured in the autumn and early winter by local birds but a few plants that tend to hold onto their berries a bit longer include: Viburnum davidii, Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum', Callicarpa bodnierii 'Profusion' and Sorbus vilmorinii.

Adding winter interest can seem like a daunting prospect if you don't know where to start - but with a little consideration, and a few sneaky plant suggestions, you'll soon have a garden that offers interest right through those dark winter months.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: