Create a winter garden

Whilst a coating of frost or snow creates a temporary magic to a garden, it’s as this frosting starts to melt that the real beauty of a winter garden with its displays of colour, character and charm can be seen. Don’t let the garden go bare and dormant over the cold winter months.

You can add a wow factor to your winter garden with striking plants that look best right now. Find a great range of seasonal stunners in garden centres this month, whether you’d like to fill your borders with hardy shrubs covered with fragrant flowers or plant up containers with colourful bedding. Plants of course shouldn’t be planted when the ground is frozen, so pick a suitable day for your gardening activities.

Interest in a winter garden may come from flowers, scent, berries, coloured stems, textures and shapes or dramatic evergreen foliage. Winter flowering plants are amongst the most highly scented of all garden plants. Winter fragrant flowers can sometimes appear small and insignificant, but they have evolved in this way to lure the few pollinating insects around in winter with scent. What they lack in size they more than make up for in fragrance.

Most plants with winter interest are shade tolerant and usually adaptable to life in containers so can be moved in and out of the limelight according to the season. The scent and sight of these plants can cheer up a dull time of the year. Position scented plants near walkways or next to doorways so you can enjoy their fragrance at every opportunity.

Golden coloured blooms really shine and add cheer to a gloomy day, so look for dramatic Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) that produce clusters of small fragrant flowers with petals like dainty frilly ribbons, transforming the otherwise naked stems of this hardy shrub. Popular varieties include ‘Arnold Promise’ (bright yellow), ‘Jelena’ (coppery-orange) and ‘Rubin’ (ruby red).

Evergreen Mahonias are equally impressive, with golden sprays of flowers forming at the tip of each shoot. There are several varieties to choose from with different sizes and forms. The flowers on most are followed by the formation of blue/black grape-like berries in spring, giving these shrubs the common name of ‘Oregon Grape’. Choose from a range of robust and reliable Mahonias to provide evergreen foliage and golden seasonal flower. Good varieties include ‘Winter Sun’ (a medium sized shrub with bright yellow fragrant flowers), ‘Charity’ (an upright shrub with small cup-shaped flowers) and ‘Soft Caress’ (a small compact variety ideal for pots).

Viburnum x bodnantense is another beautifully fragranced shrub that offers both flowers and scent in winter. Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is a very hardy, deciduous shrub which produces dense clusters of richly perfumed, deep rose pink flowers which fade to pink and eventually white by late spring. The variety ‘Charles Lamont’ is a vigorous, upright large deciduous shrub with dark purple shoots bearing terminal clusters of scented, pink flowers.

Hellebores are a must have for the winter garden. They also make great cut flowers, – simply snip off flowers heads and float them in a shallow bowl of water. Hellebores provide a great source of colour in the winter months. For a shady spot take a look at the Christmas Rose, (Helleborus niger), a semi-evergreen perennial with leathery, dark green leaves and pure white or pink-flushed white, bowl-shaped flowers up to 8cm across. Helleborus x hybridus (Lenten Rose), is a popular variety whose flowers range in colour from immaculate white to virtually black, with nearly every shade of green, yellow, pink and purple in between.

January is the month the first of the spring flowering bulbs begin to appear. Crocus are one of the earliest and perhaps the most colourful of bulbs, they come in white, yellow, orange and purple. There are few finer sight in early spring than crocus peeping out of the lawn. Iris reticulata with their beautiful tiger-spots to stripy markings range from palest blue-green to deepest purple. Eranthis (Winter Aconite) give a golden glow as they carpet the ground and of course the flower that most symbolises winter, the snowdrop will show its pretty heads. If you didn’t remember to plant spring flowering bulbs in the autumn they are available to buy in garden centres this month as grown plants in pots. This is actually a more successful way of establishing some bulbs such as snowdrops and aconites.

Other favourite plants for creating a striking winter display include:-

Aucuba – very adaptable shrubs grown for their bold, glossy foliage.

Clematis cirrhosa – an evergreen climber with fragrant flowers in late winter.

Daphne – a wonderful, fragrant must have for every garden.

Cornus (Dogwoods) – shrub varieties are grown for their vivid winter stem colour.

Eleagnus – evergreen vrieties have attractive leathery foliage.

Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ – a large evergreen shrub with attractive catkin-like raceme in late winter

Skimmia – ‘Rubella’ is a compact scented variety perfect for growing in containers.

Sacococca (Sweet box) – a compact evergreen shrub with sweet scented flowers followed by berries

Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) – a medium sized deciduous shrub with bright yellow flowers.