Days may be short and dreary, light levels low, the nights long and cold but outside, even in this the bleakest periods, the garden is far from lacking interest. Lustrous ivies, clinging to walls and trees, shiny hollies, glistening laurels, each contribute form and a pattern to a bare landscape.
Evergreen shrubs in the winter garden provide structure, colour and fragrance. Skimmias and hollies add colour with their bright berries; the fragrances from Mahonias, Viburnums and Sarcococca (Christmas Box) waft across the garden. Include the coloured stems of deciduous dog woods to add colour and height.
Brighten up a corner with the variegated leaves of Euonymus, holly or golden yew. Create shapes with clipped box, yew or Japanese holly in your borders, hedges or in pots. They can add formality or smarten up your patio or either side of your front door.
Hellebores (sometimes known as the Christmas or Lenten rose) look great in pots, perfect for brightening up shady areas during late winter and early spring. Some species are grown for their striking evergreen architectural foliage. The Christmas or Lenten rose is a hardy and very long-lived perennial that flowers in the winter and early spring.
Replace the summer flowering plants in pots and containers with brightly coloured cyclamen, pernettya (bearing white, pink or red berries), ornamental cabbages, variegated ivy and underplant with spring bulbs for extended colour through late winter and early spring.
Whether they form bold patterns in a formal bed, fill in the detail of a mixed border, provide a splash of colour in a container, or create sweeping drifts beneath trees or in grass, bulbs bring vitality to the more permanent planting of the garden.
Snowdrops, crocus, daffodils the heralds of spring. When we spot them in our garden they bring a smile to our faces and the certainty that spring is on its way.
Top ten winter wonders
Mahonia x media Winter Sun – an erect evergreen shrub with dark green, sharply toothed leaves. Produces dense arching clusters of yellow fragrant flowers from November to February.Prefers sun, partial shade or shadow. Height 2.5-4m x spread 1.5-2.5m.
Sarcococca ruscifolia var. chinensis Dragon Gate – a compact evergreen shrub bearing small, scented, cream flowers in winter followed by red berries in summer. Height 0.5-1m x spread 0.5-1m.
Cornus alba Baton Rouge – is a deciduous shrub with green leaves turning plum- coloured in autumn and slender red stems that become bright crimson in winter. Height and spread 1.5-2.5m.
Euonymus fortunei Emerald Gaiety – is a small, bushy evergreen shrub, but climbing if planted against a wall. Leaves are rounded, with an irregular white margin, tinged pink in winter. Likes moist but well drained soil. Height 0.5-1m x spread 1m-1.5m.
Viburnum Tinus – is abushy, evergreen shrub bearing small white flowers in terminal cymes, over a long period in late winter and spring. Height and spread 3m.
Hammamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ – spidery flowers, heavily scented, bloom on bare branches of the Chinese witch hazel in the first weeks of the year. This is a deciduous shrub deserving of space and patience, for it is very slow growing and will take many years to reach its ultimate height and spread 2.5-4m.
Skimmia Kew Green – Prefers moderately fertile, moist but well-drained humus rich soil in shade. Full sun may be tolerated when planted in damp soil. Height 0.5-1m, spread 1-1.5m.
Ilex aquafolium Ferox Argentea – this holly positively sparkles with green leaves deeply edged in cream. Unusually, the prickles cover the entire leaf surface. Height 4-8m x spread 2.5-4m.
Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ – new shoots of intense scarlet make this an exciting shrub to include in the winter border. It needs acidic soil, height and spread 2.5-4m..
Helleborus viv Victoria – is a clump-forming evergreen to semi-evergreen perennial with saucer-shaped, maroon to deep reddish-purple flowers from late winter into spring.