Winter gardens are a thing of beauty – there is no need to assume that the garden will only be lovely in the summer, but you do need to plan for some particular winter interest otherwise you can end up with a disappointing period waiting for the Spring colour!
1) Structure, structure, structure
Structural planting serves you well year round and I have written before on this topic (see 5 steps to your perfect garden on structural planting from our blog series on designing your own garden).
In winter what is typically holding the whole garden together is the structural planting – hedges, trees and evergreen shrubs. Banks of grasses can do a similar thing, in a more variable way.
This garden by Richard Bloom is a great example, using both evergreen yew hedging and clipped topiary shapes (the brown domes in the background are hornbeam). The grasses beyond also look great in the frost.
Structure can be achieved with the individual planting or with blocks of planting to give a splash of colour or texture and neat edges and good shapes…
Garden lighting is not just for summer – in fact with the evenings drawing in, it becomes all the more useful in the Autumn and Winter. Lanterns and tree dressings don’t need to be Christmassy (although some are, and still look great!)
Leading from the first point, any structure in your garden will look good lit in winter – this includes hard and soft landscaping – walls, fire-pits, trees and borders still look brilliant lit in winter.
3) Bright/striking stems
The classic winter planting is to use the wonderful colourful stems of Cornus – variety “Midwinter Fire” is in the background here, shown with Silver Birch (Betula utilis) and heathers. The latter are only useful in acidic soils, but can be a great addition to a winter planting bed if that is what you have.
Pulling back a bit on the same garden you can see how effective this is with a combination of the structural shapes of the multistem birches and block- planted cornus and a large clump of Miscanthus grass in the foreground
4) Late and early bulbs
Bulbs are a fantastic and cheap way of getting a real splash in a garden – look for bulk purchases rather than just buying a few, there are lots online now. Below you can see cyclamen coum en masse with snowdrops and block planted Liriope grasses, leading to structural standard Betula utilis trees underplanted with tall Miscanthus grasses. Theres even a bit of hedging, some Cornus stems and a neatly edged path so this image capture pretty much all my winter tips in one image!
Winter aconite is often the first bulb up, and whilst a bit expensive to buy, they do naturalise over time and make a wonderful show. Mix with some snowdrops and then create a succession into the standard spring bulbs for a long season particularly in areas shaded by tree cover later in the year.
5) Man-made structures – water features/planters/pergolas and the like
Man-made structures come into their own in winter as they come to the fore when the planting begins to die back.
Some water features are turned off in the winter, but many look wonderful and retain movement and sound when there is little else going on. Most pumps, if left running, create enough heat to stop them freezing in the South of the UK, although you do need to ensure there is enough water circulating for them not to freeze solid! Birds will also welcome somewhere to continue to drink.
Pergolas, moongates and other structures still look fantastic, framing views and creating focal points..
Investing in a chiminea and some nice blankets to allow an outside coffee or hot chocolate can be particularly good for the modern covid world!
A mix of early/later flowering plants, great structure and lovely shapes with a few touches of magic can make your garden a winter haven, inviting you into the space and allow you to enjoy it all year round
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