So are you looking out at your garden at the moment and thinking, ugh it looks like one big drab, empty patch of mud? Well it doesn’t have to be like that, even in winter. I promise, it’s not that hard to make a big difference if you follow a few simple rules;
Consider winter Sight-Lines
First thing to do is think about what areas of the garden are visible from your house and focus on these spots. Unlike the rest of the year, in winter most of us only really see our gardens from the indoors looking out. So focus on adding seasonal interest plants into those sight-lines, from your most used rooms only and don’t worry about what you can’t see.
Then the easy bit, plant more evergreen shrubs, these should create the backbone of your garden all year round. Ideally to brighten up your garden in winter, pick shrubs with interesting foliage. There are so many but here are a few of my favourites; Pittosporum tenuifolium, which come in purple and variegated varieties and is so easy to grow. I used to be very sniffy about Choisya ternata but I have been using the yellow leaved version, to enhance my cut flowers all winter. The same goes for variegated holly, if it produces berries even better. Euphorbia come in a range of colours and can really add a splash of colour; have a look at Euphorbia x martini and Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. I also love the red tinged of Nandina domestica and feathery Pinus mugo ‘dwarf golden’ and P.sylvestris (but go for a small variety like pixie). At RHS Wisley they have created a whole knot garden with interesting and varied evergreen foliage.
Plants That Die-well
Now add plant specimens that die well to the mix, by that I mean they over winter attractively. For Example: seed heads of teasel and grasses like Miscanthus sinensis and Stipa calamagrostis Karl Foerester, which will also add vertical interest. The exposed coloured bark of Cornus alba comes in varieties with acid yellow, red and purple bark (see example in the header image). It’s also worth considering a multi-stemmed silver birch or Purnus serrula if you have the space. Oh and my Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ has been flowering all winter, clever tree.
Bulbs are a great option for winter interest and can be planted amongst the options listed above. Either at the front of borders or in pots you can position into those indoor site lines. Learn from my mistake though and make a wee note of where you’ve planted your bulbs so you don’t forget and dig them up later in the year. Early flower bulbs include; snowdrops, crocus, Iris reticulata, Crocus and Cyclamen coum.
Now here’s my top designer tip; looking at an area from one view point, for example from your kitchen window, foreshortens that areas perceived depth. So a flower bed, that’s say 2 metres deep, will look a lot shallower. This means that if you have something, low at the front of the bed, say some hellebores and bulbs and a larger evergreen shrub, at the back like a Sarcococca confusa. You will not see or really be aware of the gap in between these plants. You can then fill the gap with more exciting herbaceous perennials or annuals for maximum impact in the spring and summer months. At which point those evergreen plants make a pleasing frame but take a back seat to the more exciting flowers.
POsitioning WINTER POTS
As I have alluded to, pots can also do a great job of filling up the visual gaps in winter, created by deciduous die back, even in borders. I like to create pots with a combination of an evergreen shrub say Skimmia Japonica ‘redruth’, then a trailing plant like Muehlenbeckia complexa or a variegated ivy and winter bulbs of snow drops or Liripoe muscari. Then I plonk the pots somewhere I can see them from the house that need brightening up.
The one tricky area for seasonal interest, are front gardens as they are on show all year round. This makes designing them more challenging, so if you don’t have a lot of plant knowledge it’s probably worth investing in some professional help. It doesn’t cost the earth to pay a designer to do a planting plan and execute it. Often part of the cost can be offset by the discount on plants your designer will obtain. Added to which a great looking front garden, adds curb appeal making your home stand out, and possibly adding value. I look at a lot of front gardens and I rarely see a great one, it’s no coincidence.
So get planning this spring and next winter you’ll find your garden uplifting. Let’s face it we need all the wee bit of uplifting, once the festive period is over and springs feels a long way off.
I plan to try and get to the Cambridge Botanic Gardens in February, which knocks winter interest planting out of the park. So if you haven’t subscribed to my blog yet, then register HERE so my next blog will be waiting in your inbox, with images galore of winter interest plant combinations.