Winter Plants

As winter draws closer and the days become colder and shorter, many people decide to forget about the garden until spring. Often, we have the last rush to go out in to the garden to mow the grass and tidy all the shrubs before we decide to hibernate for the winter. This though, does not have to be the case, as there is a wide range of plants that will provide us with colour and interest right the way through to the spring.

Unfortunately there are fewer flowering plants at this time of year, but this certainly does not mean there’s no colour. Evergreen plants provide us with lots of interest provided by their architectural shapes and also the many contrasting foliage colours that they can provide. My favourite by far is the holly tree. These are available in many varieties from green through to the brightly variegated varieties with silver or golden leaves. In the winter sun these plants stand out fantastically well as they reflect the sun around the garden. Also there is the benefit of berries on the plants, providing that you grow both male and female plants in order to get pollination. Ilex ‘Gold King’ is a well known female plant and Ilex ‘Silver Queen’ is the most popular male plant. All varieties are hardy but for the most exposed area of the highlands those with less variegation will be more tolerant of the cold winds.

If this all sounds a little confusing the Cotoneaster plants also provide a fantastic display of berries. One of the toughest varieties is Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ which has masses of bright red berries, but there is also a yellow berried variety called Cotoneaster ‘Rothchildianus’. There are many other plants that are grown for their winter berries but be aware of those such as Pernettya. These plants have an initial fantastic display but the birds take the crop very quickly. If the birds don’t get them, the rain and frost will soon spoil the berries leaving you with a dull unattractive plant.

The best way of providing winter colour is by using contrasting foliage colour. When doing this it’s often best to use the smaller growing evergreen plants, as they are much more tolerant of the cold winds that can cause damage to them, especially in exposed areas. Plants such as Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’, Rhododendron ‘Silver Edge’ and Elaeagnus are all large structural plants that will provide striking golden or silver foliage. There are also smaller plants such as Euonymus fortunei that will provide good foliage colour.

Another great plant for winter colour is a little known plant called Leucothoe. There are several varieties including Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’, which grows to about 45 cm tall, and ‘Rainbow’, which has variegated foliage and grows to approximately 90 cm tall. These plants are of particular interest as their foliage becomes deep red in the winter as the weather gets colder. Dwarf conifers should also not be overlooked as they can provide us with many shades of gold, green and blue.

Finally, don’t be disappointed, there are also some spectacular flowering plants for winter. Skimmia ‘Rubella’ is a well known plant with its clusters of red buds that provide long lasting colour. If you have the space one of the most stunning displays is provided by Hamamelis (Witch Hazel) with its brightly coloured yellow, orange or red flowers that are very fragrant. As with many winter flowering plants, they are great for our climate, as the cold weather preserves the flowers so that they last even longer. If you only have a small garden, or maybe only space for a container by the front door, Saraccoca ‘Confusa’, also known as Christmas box, is a must. This plant has small white flowers with a magnificent fragrance that will cheer you up no matter what the weather. Plants such as Mahonia, Viburnum, Lonicera and Hellebores also provide winter flower colour.

There are many other plants that can provide winter interest, all you need to do is grab a coat and go out to look for them in order to have a more colourful winter. However, most of these plants are available to buy container-grown and subject to the weather can still be planted now.