Winter Wonderland Planting

It may sound strange but if you give your winter planting the same kind of attention and care that you would automatically lavish on your spring and summer garden you may just discover one of gardening’s best kept secrets – namely that a well planned and planted winter garden can be the most spectacular garden of all.

Hard to believe? Perhaps… but clever planting means that instead of relying on exuberant blooms and splashes of colour, the winter garden celebrates structure, form and a kind of elegant decay that we refer to as ‘senescence.’ It’s true that this kind of spectacle is not achieved by chance and that what is required is a more subtle and artful kind of planting scheme but try it, and you will be guaranteed a winter wonderland garden that will create as much visual and wildlife interest – and give you as much pleasure – as the seasons that have gone before. When it comes to shapes, colours and textures you are going to be looking at plants with a slightly different eye and although some of the plants we can suggest will offer statements of colour, it really is shape and form that underpins a successful winter garden planting scheme.

Let’s start with the shrubby dogwoods which come in a range of inspiring colours including red shoots (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) black/purple stems (Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’) and even fiery mid winter orange (Cornus alba ‘Sanguinea’). It is the younger stems that produce the strongest colours so you will need to cut back to get the best showing but as well as colour interest, the dogwoods give a strong vertical silhouette interest to your borders at this time of the year. When thinking about bigger shapes like trees, you need to also consider bark colours, textures and branches. Imagine the tree you plan to plant covered in frost on Christmas morning and you’ll start to get the idea of the winter wonderland we are creating here. Willows and witch hazels and shrubby honeysuckles all bring great elegance to a winter planting plan, as do the stunning Thistle-style plants including the gorgeous silvery grey and shimmery eryngium.

The winter garden provides a space for serenity and pause in the cycle of life and can also bring hungry birds and other wildlife into the garden when you are planting with an eye on berries, seed heads and winter blooms. The red-berried Rowan tree is often totally ignored planted along the edge of a supermarket car park but bring this trees with its other berry colours and varieties into your winter garden and the finches will soon follow. As well as the study dogwoods we talked of earlier, grasses lend themselves beautifully to a winter planting scheme where silhouette is actually more important than colour.

A hazy late winter afternoon light dancing through the pale ponytail plumes of miscanthus is simply stunning and for a dark leafed contrast plant calemagrotis molinia in the winter garden border. The slender pale pink catkins of the sanguisorba (officianalis) create another elegant focal point in a winter border and when planted in amongst variegated grasses, really will make you question why you ever thought the winter garden dead and dull.

The challenge is to remind yourself with every plant you choose that you are no longer depending on fruit or flowers for the aesthetic and that once you start to think shape, height, trailing branches, fluttering arches and sparse splashes of winter colours you have to hand a palette every bit as exciting as the spring, summer and autumn garden you have already enjoyed.