Create a garden full of colour, scent and interest this winter! Here’s our pick of the flowers, climbers and shrubs to help you to enjoy an all-year-round display and raise your spirits through the colder months. Looking for a little drama once the leaves have dropped? Here’s what to plant for a bright and colourful winter wonderland…
Best winter flowers
Pansies are a staple of the winter garden and they thrive in cold, icy weather. Pansy ‘Matrix™ Mixed’ is easy-to-grow – and extra strong. Specially bred for their branching habit and super-size flowers, the compact, sturdy stems hold their flower heads high, whatever the temperature. Plant them in hanging baskets, window boxes, containers and borders to ensure your garden is filled with vibrant colour throughout the coldest months.
Primroses are another ‘toughie’ for winter and spring colour, and will even push their brightly coloured blooms through coverings of snow. Primrose ‘Husky’ Mixed offers a vibrant rainbow of flowers that brighten the gloomiest of winter days.
While primroses feature single bloom stems, polyanthus produces a cluster of 15 or more flowers at the tip of a stem. Polyanthus ‘Firecracker’ is an eye-catching plant bearing yellow blooms edged with a fiery orange-red. Or try Polyanthus ‘Most Scented Mix’ for a bright and fragrant addition to your winter beds.
Cyclamen are the perfect ground cover plant for rockeries and woodland gardens and provide a stunning winter display. Cyclamen hederifolium will self-seed freely to create carpets of foliage and flowers from autumn to spring, before the foliage dies back in summer.
Winter-flowering perennials like hellebores, prized for their elegant, cup-shaped flowers, brighten up tricky shady corners and winter containers from December right through to the first signs of early spring. They’re also a popular choice for evergreen ground cover beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. Hellebore x hybridus ‘Mixed’ brings welcome shades of white, red, pink and purple to the garden. Meanwhile, the new ‘Winterbells’ variety – a unique hybrid of H. niger x H. foetidus that was once thought impossible – has a delicate pale green bloom with a pink flush.
With a gentle nod, snowdrops usher in the first signs of spring into your garden. A lover of dappled shade, these winter bulbs add colour in the most unexpected places. They’re also happy in containers and window boxes, should you want to get closer to the delicate honey scent of these cheerful little blooms.
Best winter climbers
For winter climbers, nothing beats a clematis. Evergreen, winter varieties will appreciate a sheltered site which offers protection from wind. Plant them against a warm house wall so you can appreciate their winter flowers from your window. Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ is a beautiful, evergreen clematis with lush foliage and delicate, white, waxy, bell-shaped flowers that bloom from December to March.
Or try Clematis ‘Advent Bells’, a winter-flowering climber that has dainty blooms from November to the end of January. Its nodding, cup-shaped flowers are creamy-white outside, with showy, red-speckled markings inside and a prominent cluster of stamens. It will happily tolerate temperatures down to -10°C.
Unscented, canary yellow blooms smother the bare stems of Jasmine nudiflorum from February onwards – a sure sign that spring is on its way. This vigorous winter jasmine has a loose sprawling habit that can be trained with wires, but is equally happy to scramble over walls in a cascade of stiff, bright green stems. Fantastically hardy and easy to grow, this versatile climber requires little aftercare – but does benefit from regular pruning.
Wonderfully seasonal, creamy white flowers and red berries vie for attention on Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle). But, as with many honeysuckle varieties, it’s the heady fragrance that’s the real heavy hitter. Whether you’d prefer it as a climber or a shrub, make sure to plant it somewhere you can get up close (even if it’s in semi-shade) to really appreciate its scent.
Best winter plants and shrubs
For winter fragrance, plant Sarcococca confusa, an easy to grow shrub also known as sweet box – or, even more seasonally, Christmas box! Its creamy white flowers might be inconspicuous, hidden beneath leathery foliage – but you won’t miss their powerful, honey-like fragrance. The flowers are followed by red, purple or black berries, which may last into the following winter.
For many gardens, flowers are in short supply during the winter, which is why it’s important to make the most of structure and texture. Enter: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, a hardy, herbaceous perennial. It adds fantastically black, grass-like foliage – a bold choice that leans into the darkness of the season – and graceful bell-shaped blooms to the space. For the most dramatic impact, interplant it with snowdrops.
Who needs foliage when you have the ‘Winter Flame’? One of the best shrubs for winter colour, Cornus Sanguinea (also known as dogwood) lights up cold, grey gardens with a shock of fiery red, orange, and yellow stems in the autumn and winter. This deciduous shrub is a year-round showstopper, with the warmer months seeing it produce tiny white flowers, glossy black berries and verdant green leaves.
A great addition to borders or wildlife gardens, Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ adds both colour and fragrance to the winter garden. Beautiful by any measure, the flowers bud in the darkest days, offering dark pink blooms on bare stems. While the flowers are remarkably tolerant of frost (and last longer than other winter flowers), should you want to cut a few stems for some indoor colour – go ahead! ‘Dawn’ is pretty prolific so you won’t see any ill effects.
Top tip from our horticulturist Peter Freeman: plant it next to your front door so you can enjoy the sweet, rich fragrance as you pass by.
Commonly known as Oregon Grape, Mahonia x media is a superb hardy shrub for tricky shaded spots. The large yellow flower spikes bloom from November through to March, bringing colour and fragrance to your garden during the cold winter months. As the flowers fade, they’re replaced by bunches of purple berries, and the holly shaped, evergreen leaves look great all year round.
Chimonanthus praecox, or wintersweet, is an elegant, fragrant winter flowering shrub. Grow it in borders, or against a house wall, where you can enjoy its exquisite perfume every time you step into the garden. It bursts into life in the dead of winter, its bare woody stems dripping with pendulous, sulphur-yellow blooms. On the darkest of winter days, Chimonanthus flowers can be seen in full bloom while most other plants lie dormant.
There’s nothing like a splash of bright yellow to cheer up a wintry day and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ – the recipient of a well-deserved RHS Award of Garden Merit – delivers. The little flowers burst open on the craggy stems, offering up a sweet scent, as well as vibrant colour. Position it somewhere in full sun or semi-shade, and get it in place in time for autumn so you can enjoy the show as its leaves turn brilliant orange and red before January arrives and the bare stems explode into bloom.
Another RHS Award of Garden Merit winner, Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is an evergreen shrub that adds structure to the garden all year long. But it really comes into its own in late winter, thanks to the blooming of its highly-scented pink flowers. Daphne plants appreciate a little acclimatisation to the outdoors before taking up their final positions; a process that’s made easier by the fact that this plant is perfect for patio containers.
There’s nothing dull about a December day if you have Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ in your garden. Its lemon-yellow flowers can appear throughout the year, but it reaches its peak in the winter months with blooms from December to April. With a bit of shelter and sun, this compact evergreen with small blue-green foliage does well even in harsh coastal conditions. For added winter drama, why not train it as a wall shrub for a bit of vertical interest?
Gardens don’t have to be dull in the dark, winter months. With these flowers and plants, you really can have all year round colour and interest. Get planning and planting now, and you’ll reap the rewards in the changing seasons to come. What are your favourite winter plants? Let us know over on our Facebook page.
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