Closeup of pink and green acer tree

Acers provide beautifully shaped and colourful foliage
Image: Acer palmatum ‘Taylor’ from Thompson & Morgan

It’s easy to fill your garden with colour through the summer when many plants burst into bloom. But which varieties should you choose for a vibrant display all year round? We asked trained horticulturalist, Sophie Essex, for her expert advice on the plants, flowers, shrubs and trees that represent the best of every season. Here are her suggestions…

Browse our wide variety of garden plants for even more ideas.

Best plants for spring garden colour

Two containers with pink azaleas

This unusual azalea is perfect for pots or borders
Image: Azalea ‘Starstyle Pink’ from Thompson & Morgan

One of the easiest ways to give your garden a burst of colour at the beginning of a new year is by planting spring-flowering bulbs. Starting in January, delicate white snowdrops are quickly followed in February by yellow daffodils, a joy to behold as they nod gently in the crisp breeze. These sunny blooms soon make way for the bolder pink, purple, orange and red tones of crocuses and tulips which carpet the garden with colour. Ideal for planting in the ground or containers, many bulbs will also naturalise over time if you bury them in the right spot. And if you create a bulb ‘lasagne’ in a large container, you can enjoy a continuous wave of flowers as one seamlessly transitions into the next. See our top ten spring bulbs if you’re looking for inspiration.

More spring suggestions: 

  • Amalanchier lamarkii: If you have the space for a tree, Amalanchier lamarkii is a wonderful option. The elegant white blossom that emerges in March is perfectly backset by newly unfurling pink leaves. Planted in a prominent spot, it will continue to provide interest throughout the year as the foliage matures to yellow-green before turning a fiery crimson in autumn. It also produces a flush of dark red berries in July.
  • Magnolia stellata: With a compact habit, this small specimen tree can also be grown in a large container. The star-shaped flowers emerge through March and April, before the tree is cloaked in mid-green leaves.
  • Forsythia: You’ll know spring has sprung when you spot a forsythia in bloom. This popular shrub is completely smothered in bright yellow flowers from early March onwards. Perfect as part of a mixed hedge or border, it also makes a spectacular addition to a patio when grown in a large container.
  • Azalea: A great shrub to help your garden transition from spring into summer, azaleas come in a variety of colours, sizes and flower shapes. If you love a hot border, choose from bright yellows, fiery oranges, hot pinks and reds. For a cooler colour scheme, pure whites and crisp purples offer a striking alternative. These low-maintenance shrubs prefer acidic soil, but will also thrive in containers. Some varieties like ‘Japanese Red’ also cope well with shade.

Best plants and flowers for summer garden colour

Pink and white tipped lilies

These compact lilies make a big splash in the summer border
Image: Lily ‘Dazzler’ (Ground Cover) from Thompson & Morgan

Summer is definitely the season for herbaceous perennials. From exotic looking alstroemeria and dahlias to bright yellow coreopsis and rudbeckia, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to colour and interest. Perennial salvias are an excellent choice for beds, borders and containers. For masses of flowers from June to October, try Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’ – its blackcurrant-scented foliage is an added attraction.

More summer suggestions: 

  • Allium ‘Globemaster’: One of our top ten summer-flowering bulbs, these magnificent spherical blooms appear in June and July, rising up through beds and borders to bring height, structure and texture to your planting scheme. Some allium varieties start flowering from late spring, so a clever combination could take you from May through to August, with the seedheads adding further interest into autumn.
  • Summer lilies: Whether you prefer compact Asiatic lilies that come in a range of exotic colours, Oriental lilies with their large trumpet-shaped flowers and powerful scent, or majestic tree lilies like the extra tall ‘Pink Explosion’ that reaches the towering height of 2.5m within two years, there’s something for every garden here.
  • Hydrangea: There are many different types of hydrangeas, from delicate lacecaps to huge paniculatas. Available in various colours, some of the newest varieties like Hydrangea serrata ‘Euphoria Pink’ have been bred for beautiful variegated foliage as well as colourful blooms.
  • Buddleja: Available in pale pastels through to intense purple, these cone-shaped flowers are covered in butterflies from July to October. For smaller gardens or containers, Buddleja ‘Butterfly Candy Little Ruby’ is a dwarf variety that produces dense spikes of unusual deep red flowers against grey foliage.

Should you need a quick fix of colour to fill gaps, flesh out containers or brighten up baskets, summer bedding plants are a quick and easy solution. Read our top ten summer bedding plants for ideas.

Best garden plants for autumn garden colour

Red, orange and yellow cercis leaves

Warm your hands on Cercis ‘Eternal Flame’ in autumn
Image: Cercis ‘Eternal Flame’ from Thompson & Morgan

For spectacular autumn colour trees, very little can beat an acer. Ideal specimen plants that can be grown in large containers or planted in the ground, their elegant growing habit and pretty leaves lend structure and texture to every planting scheme. In particular, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a sight to behold as it delivers a fiery blast of deep crimson leaves just as other plants start to fade. But far more than just a one-trick pony, this acer also produces bright pink new foliage in spring that darkens to deep purple by early summer.

More autumn suggestions: 

  • Cercis ‘Eternal Flame’: This hard-working shrub or small tree is an excellent choice for small gardens. Its beautiful heart-shaped foliage emerges in deep red, before turning burnt orange and then yellow. It continues to cycle through these colours until the leaves finally drop, sometimes featuring up to five different colours of foliage on the same stem. Come spring, a stunning display of hanging pink blooms kicks the show off again.
  • Festuca ‘Sunrise: This clump-forming ornamental grass provides warm colour even as the temperatures start to drop. Its blue-green foliage is tipped copper-orange in autumn, following a late summer display of orange-red flowers. It makes a particularly useful addition to autumn containers, seamlessly bridging the transition into winter.
  • Cotoneaster: Weighed down by eye-catching ornamental berries in the autumn, this low-maintenance plant provides a splash of colour and a feast for the birds. Some varieties like Cotoneaster horizontalis are best suited to training against a wall, while others, like Cotoneaster suecicus ‘Coral Beauty’ grow into a manageable shrub of about 1m tall.
  • Crocus sativus: These autumn-flowering bulbs appear like little jewels in grass through October and November, and are perfect for rockeries. borders and planting beneath deciduous trees. A bright addition to patio containers, the deep purple petals provide an excellent backdrop for the bright orange stigmas which you can harvest to make your own saffron.

Best plants, trees and bulbs for winter garden colour

Orange and yellow witch hazel flowers

Vibrant orange flowers coat Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ in January
Image: Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ from Thompson & Morgan

Winter gardens don’t have to be bleak and bare. Hanging baskets and containers can be filled with evergreen grasses and winter bedding plants like violas and pansies, while colourful stems, flowering shrubs and pretty bulbs all combine to brighten the darkest days. See our top ten winter-flowering bulbs if you’re interested in low-maintenance colour that returns effortlessly year after year.

More winter suggestions: 

  • Hamamelis: One of the most striking winter-flowering shrubs, hamamelis flowers look like tiny twists of orange peel and smell divine. The spider-like blooms appear on bare branches from December to February, and come in yellow, orange and red varieties. One of my favourites, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’, produces stunning yellow and orange autumn leaves, followed by deep orange-yellow flowers on the bare branches.
  • Mahonia x media ‘Charity’: A welcome sight in the winter months, this superb evergreen shrub produces large yellow flower spikes from November through to March, bringing colour and a sweet fragrance to shaded corners of the garden. The firework-like racemes of yellow rise from glossy dark green leaves before being replaced by bunches of purple berries.
  • Cornus: Also known as dogwood, many varieties of this shrub provide powerful kerb appeal come winter. Effective planted alone or en masse, the exposed stems provide flashes of yellow, fiery red and white. Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ is particularly special.
  • Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’: Late winter is the time to admire this shrub’s tiny star-shaped, sweet scented blooms. Flowering from January to April, this hardy evergreen shrub has a rounded, compact habit, and glossy, gold-edged leaves. Perfect for growing in patio containers and borders, it’s a good way to add structure and interest through the coldest months.

We hope you can enjoy all-year round colour in your garden with this treasure map of ideas. Carefully planned, your garden can produce a colourful display to admire each and every month of the year. For more information and advice on winter flowers, visit our dedicated hub page. And for timely inspiration, follow us on X and Instagram to keep up with our latest gardening insights and exciting new releases. 

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