As the cold weather rolls in and much of the gardening process becomes about clearing borders and pruning back shrubs, you may be lulled into a sense that the garden has become an oasis out of bounds for the winter season. However, this is far from true and many plants will not only provide a spectacular backdrop for the beautiful frosts and snow that winter brings, but actively grow too. Designing a winter garden is not hard as long as you pay careful attention to the requirements that such a garden needs. Whilst summer gardening is about filling beds and borders with lush foliage and flowering plants, winter gardening is about the contrast between islands of plants that are dotted around the garden. And if you’re looking to create an inspirational winter garden design, there are a few points that you should consider.
It’s important to pay attention to plants in the winter garden and ensure that you have a variety of specimens that will light up any space through the colder and darker months. Like the rest of the year, shrubs play an important part in providing a structural backbone to any winter garden design, but at this time of year you should try and incorporate evergreen species (see Cambridge University Botanic Gardens use of winter evergreens; right). Species of photinia, aucuba, pieris and even conifers are ideal, allowing you to create a backdrop against which other plants can be placed. Deciduous plants can also be used creatively to some degree, and the sparkling trunks of silver birch or the fiery tones of common dogwood stems do wonders at bringing intense colour into the winter garden.
Once backdrop plants have been established, you can use a range of flowering specimens to bring the garden to life. Cyclamen are ideal for winter garden design, as are pansies and the late winter emerging bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus. Meanwhile, flowering plants such as winter jasmine, forsythia and skimmia all provide the extra height needed to create interest at all levels.
Simply having winter garden plants isn’t enough to draw your design together though, and you need to ensure that your planting makes the most of your plants. Like gardening at other times of the year, you should ensure that your evergreen shrubs and deciduous varieties are planted with contrast in mind, allowing the red stems of dogwood to shine even more brightly against the lime green of aucuba leaves for example. Meanwhile, you should ensure that you plant smaller flowering species in groups rather than dotting them individually throughout flowerbeds (use clumps of snowdrops rather than placing individual bulbs; see picture). Pansies, cyclamen and small bulbs including crocus can easily become lost if planted individually. They will not create the vibrant impact that is needed in a winter garden design, and therefore must be planted in large groups to draw the eye. It is far better to have one or two groups at the approach and ends of your garden, than to have many plants spread throughout but which easily get lost amongst other planting.
If you have a patio leading to your garden, utilise this space by including winter pots filled with skimmia, pansies and cyclamen. This will draw your eye from inside the house to your outside space. Your senses will then be pulled to other islands of colour which have been created in your winter garden, allowing you to enjoy the space without necessarily needing to be in it.
There is no reason why a garden has to be a barren and desolate space during the colder months of the year. Whilst you may not actually be outside much, providing spots of interest with shrubs and flowering plants will allow your oasis to be engaging for all 12. And, on the crisp winter days when the sky is clear, you’ll find that exploring your winter garden is a pure delight.