The clocks going back is the ultimate incontrovertible proof that winter is on its way. The evenings may be drawing in, but that doesn’t have to mean an end to colour and interest in the garden. Although most plants flower in spring or summer, there are still many choices when it comes to creating a beautiful garden in winter. Shrubs are a good choice, as they’ll bring structure and height to your planting for most of the year, before delivering a bit hit of colour and/or fragrance when you need it most. Here are six of our favourite shrubs for creating a winter garden with the ‘wow’ factor.
Mahonia are a group of really striking shrubs which, depending on cultivar, can be sized for ground cover, or grow right up to a sizeable shrub more like a small tree. They have tough, spiny leaves, but in winter they really come into their own, producing abundant flowers. The blooms are usually yellow, although you can get other colours, and they’re often fragrant. Very easy to care for, mahonia give exceptional bang for your buck in the winter colour stakes.
Cornus (dogwoods) bring a blaze of colour to the garden, even in the depths of winter. Grown for the beauty of their vibrantly coloured stems, these shrubs lose their leaves in autumn, displaying coloured stems ranging from acid yellow-green, through orange and bright red, to a dark purple-black, depending on the cultivar. They look spectacular planted en masse, but even a single shrub adds interest and makes a great contrast with an evergreen, for example.
Witch hazel (above)
Another great choice if you’re looking for fragrance as well as colour in the winter months. Hamamelis (witch hazel) has spidery-looking flowers which always remind us of the shreds in marmalade, and their citrusy aroma strengthens the impression. The flowers appear in clusters on bare stems in the coldest months, looking very striking and providing a bright blaze of colour. Flowering so early in the year, hamamelis is also a useful food source for pollinators.
Also known as sweet box or Christmas box, this evergreen shrub flowers from December to March, releasing its sweet vanilla-like scent from clusters of delicate white stamens. This is another shrub which works well in a container, so it’s perfect for bringing to the pathway or door so you can enjoy its winter spectacle, letting it retreat into the background when it has done its thing – although Sarcococca’s glossy dark green leaves also make a perfect foil for other seasonal planting.
Winter flowering jasmine
This is super-tough plant, great for a reliable jolt of colour as early as January. It’s not fragrant, but its butter-yellow star-shaped blooms are so profuse, and so welcome, we can forgive it that. Although it’s not a true climbing plant, it does tend to use other plants and structures to scramble over and through. It can grow a little straggly, so a trellis or other structure will help it to keep its form. Other than that, it’s incredibly forgiving, and it will bring you winter cheer for years.
Daphnes are grown for their appealing combination of delicate flowers and intense fragrance. Plant them by your door to greet visitors – smaller varieties will do well in a pot. Usually pink or white, the star-shaped flowers really have the wow factor. Daphnes are easy to take care of, too. As long as they’re not either waterlogged or bone dry, they’ll be happy. With varieties flowering in January and February, they’re a great choice to brighten up your garden in winter.
The end of summer doesn't have to mean the end of colour and fragrance in the garden. There's a host of beautiful options to explore!