For many gardeners, especially those less experienced, winter can seem like a time when not much grows, and there isn’t a lot to do in the garden. However, this is a myth. Admittedly, you won’t have to mow the lawn during the colder months of the year and may find the choice of flowering plants more limited but there are plenty of jobs to do and things to plant, even in the dead of winter.
There’s no reason why your garden can’t look attractive and cared for throughout winter. You might just need a little imagination to get it right. Read out for some of our favourite winter garden ideas.
Tidying the Garden
The most effective way to make your winter garden look appealing is to ensure it is clean and tidy. Wash down garden furniture, paint the fence, power wash patios and trim edging. Clear away fallen autumn leaves and cut back faded herbaceous perennials so these hardy plants have a better winter.
Getting these jobs done early in the season lets you step back and plan your winter garden ideas. Assess the space and decide how it can best be used to produce a spectacular winter display.
Contrast Plant Shapes and Sizes
Much of a garden’s appeal comes from the selection of plants. This is as true in a winter garden as in a summer garden. Choose a range of plants with contrasting textures that complement each other well. Mix and match smaller garden plants alongside bigger trees and shrubs to create height interest and a layered effect.
Trees and Shrubs
When planning your winter garden design, the first thing to consider is what large plants, such as trees and shrubs, you want to use. As well as providing food and shelter for local wildlife, trees and shrubs form the backbone of the garden throughout the year.
Don’t be tempted only to plant evergreen trees and shrubs in the garden – skeletal trees and shrubs can also offer colour and interest during the cold months, so don’t be afraid to incorporate deciduous varieties into your winter garden design.
Holly is one of the first plants that comes to mind when we think about creating winter interest in the garden, particularly around Christmas time. Glossy, spiny leaves are often variegated and remain in place all year round. The winter foliage is complemented by bright red berries, adding a wonderful splash of colour and providing a valuable food source for birds and small mammals.
Holly grows best in moist, well-draining soil in full sun or partial shade. It’s worth noting that only the female holly plants produce clusters of berries, so if you’re after that colour contrast, choose a female shrub.
This deciduous shrub produces fragrant winter flowers on almost bare branches from November through to February. The flowers are a magnet for early bumblebees and are sometimes followed by dark red berries. When the leaves emerge in spring, they are a vibrant green colour often flushed with purple.
For the best show of flowers, plant winter honeysuckle in moist, fertile soil in a sunny spot, ideally against a wall or other sheltered area.
Birches are deciduous trees with striking bark that makes them attractive trees for the garden, even with bare branches. Ideal for almost any size of winter garden, birch trees boast silvery-white bark that gleams in the sunlight. The bark has a peeling effect with a papery texture that looks great in any outdoor space.
Birch trees tolerate almost any fertile soil type and grow best in a sunny spot sheltered from strong winds. They are fast-growing, hardy trees with a light canopy perfect for under-planting.
Winter blooms are ideal for pots, containers, raised beds, borders, window boxes and even winter hanging baskets. Gathering winter flowering species together produces a vivid display to cheer a dull winter’s day. You might be surprised at the number of flower options available for winter colour.
You know spring is on its way when the snowdrops emerge from the ground. Flowering from January to March, these small white flowers have a graceful drooping habit and are hardy to UK winter temperatures.
Snowdrops love moist but well-drained soil and grow well in the shade, making them ideal for under-planting taller trees and shrubs.
Baskets and pots filled with winter-flowering violas provide colour all winter long. These dainty flowers may look delicate, but they’re hardy winter plants that bloom throughout the season. These flowers are available in a rainbow of colours and patterns and look great planted en masse or alongside evergreen foliage plants.
Ensure pots and containers have ample drainage holes to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged. And deadhead spent blooms to encourage more flowers to grow as the old ones fade.
Also known as daffodils, narcissus flowers are generally associated with spring. However, some varieties can bloom as early as January, adding colour to winter gardens. Early narcissus varieties include Rip van Winkle, Early Sensation and February Gold.
Plant daffodils in a sunny, sheltered spot, where they can soak up as much warmth as possible from the sun, promoting early flowering. Place bulbs in the ground from September, ensuring the pointy end of the bulb faces the surface.
Attractive all year round, topiary comes into its own during the winter months. Sculpted evergreen mounds provide everything you need for a winter garden – height, colour, structure and shape.
Boxwood, yew and bay laurel are excellent choices for training in topiary shapes. Keep things simple with cone or ball shapes, or get out the garden tools and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands to create spirals and more complex shapes. Prune once or twice a year to maintain the plant’s neat size and shape.
Ornamental grasses are a great way to add structure and movement to winter gardens. Reed grass, Japanese sedge and blue fescue are ideal for decorating borders and flower beds, complementing evergreen plants and shimmering in the winter light.
Ensure grasses keep their shape by knocking snow off them promptly. Doing this prevents the slender foliage from getting broken and bent. Don’t worry if you don’t get a chance though, as the grass will return to its usual shape in spring.
Grow Your Own Winter Garden Vegetables
Few gardening tasks are more satisfying than growing your own garden vegetables. Set aside some space for a veg plot to grow produce much fresher than anything you can buy in the supermarket!
Known as a ‘superfood’, kale is bursting with goodness, including vitamins A, B6, C, K, calcium and fibre. It is also light in calories, making it a healthy option for anyone wishing to lose weight. Young leaves can be used in salads, while more mature foliage is ideal for soups and stews. Some varieties are highly ornamental as well as edible and are perfect for brightening up a winter garden.
Plant in moist but well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Sow kale seeds in late winter to early spring, and the crops should be ready to harvest the following winter.
A Christmas dinner staple, Brussels sprouts are easy to grow in moist, fertile soil. They are part of the cabbage family and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Brussels sprouts have a long harvesting season, making them a popular choice with home gardeners. Sow the seeds in spring and harvest fresh veggies from August all the way through to March.
Choose a sheltered spot for Brussels sprouts and use plant supports to help protect them against strong winds.
Parsnips are hearty winter vegetables that are delicious when roasted, or added to soups and casserole dishes. Perfect for beginners, parsnips are easy-to-grow crops that are undemanding. They get sown straight into their growing position and can stay in the ground until you’re ready to eat them.
Parsnips are ready to harvest from September to February, although the tastiest ones have experienced at least one frost, so don’t be tempted to pull them too early.
Man-Made Focal Points
Whether it’s a pergola, a water feature or a beautiful sculpture, a decorative item or two can provide a wonderful focal point in the garden.
Sculptures and Statues
Sculptures and statues bring a sense of culture to even small gardens. Experiment with different colours and textures to create a look that contrasts beautifully with your winter garden design.
A pergola can be used to create a semi-sheltered seating area, and looks charming adorned with climbing plants. If your favourite climbers happen to be summer bloomers, add some solar-powered fairy lights for a cosy glow during the long, dark evenings.
If you’re planning to spend time relaxing or entertaining in the garden during the colder months, a heat source is a must-have. Whether you prefer a fire pit, a chiminea or an electric patio heater, choose one that fits your garden design and doesn’t look out of place.
Sturdy garden furniture will see you through winter as well as summer. Rather than cover or store away your outdoor furniture, buy winter-hardy items to leave out all year round. Tables, benches and comfy chairs create a welcoming ambience, even on the greyest days of the year. Add some throws, cushions and blankets for added warmth as well as an attractive, cosy look. (But be sure to bring them inside before the rain starts!)
Winter is a tough time of year for birds. The ground is hard, and it’s difficult for our feathered friends to find food and shelter to see them through to spring. Including birdhouses and bird feeders into your garden design not only looks cute, but gives local birds a fighting chance to survive the cold, harsh winter. Hang them from branches or fences, or choose a standalone feeder that isn’t vulnerable to predators.
Winter doesn’t have to be a dreary, boring time of year in the garden. Choose winter plants with interesting foliage, vibrant flower colour and various textures to create a winter wonderland for humans and wildlife until the warmer weather brings back the spring blossom.
Planning your outdoor space is the key to pulling off new winter garden ideas, so put your thinking cap on, grab your garden journal and get creative!