Winter gardens can be places of pure fairytale. Dusted with snow or dense frost, the stems and skeletons of many plants look magical in the ice cold light.
We think of our front gardens as places to hang lights and decorate the house for the festive season, but there are many plants that are jewel-like in their own right and are happy in both front and rear gardens which will add to the winter scene, even when not strewn with fairy lights, says garden designer Kate Gould, three times Chelsea Gold Medal winner.
“Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ looks at its absolute best in the winter after it has shed its leaves,” she notes. “From late November through to the spring, this particular cornus shows off its fiery red stems and is a real show stealer in the winter garden. Combined with an under-planting of Helleborus niger, the white flowered Christmas rose and some snowdrops or Fritillaria meleagris (snakeshead fritillary) and you will have something to look at all winter long.”
Ilex aquifolium ‘Nellie Stevens’ is a particularly good fruiting holly and will berry in the right climatic conditions from November through to the spring, she continues.
“Although this particular holly will produce some berries on its own if you can provide its favoured pollinating partner, Ilex ‘Edward J. Stevens’ you will have a far more prolific crop. Usually left to grow into a medium-sized tree, it can be kept small by regular pruning which means that you will be able to reach and cut some branches to bring inside to decorate your home at Christmas.”
Viburnum opulus and Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ are both festooned with berries, red in the case of the viburnum and metallic mauve for the callicarpa which is possibly one of the most unusual winter plants you will see.
“If you prefer flowers to berries, then another great viburnum (of which there are many), Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, has very pretty pink flowers that have a wonderful sweet scent and will flower, if the temperatures are relatively mild, all through the winter. Although the flowers do not last very long once cut, they do make a pretty if transient winter table decoration.”
All these plants add to your winter scene and contribute to the summer borders as backdrop planting, but for a showier and more temporary glow in the winter garden, there is no better effect than fairy lights draped through planting or on the house as they really do create a sense of the holidays, says Gould.
“Decorating deciduous trees (where possible) also looks good and birch trees in particular look lovely with oversize decorations hung through their branches. Use simple decorations here and perhaps stick to a single colour. Red decorations are not only festive but look wonderful against the bright white birch branches.
“Winter gardens and homes in the truest sense of the pagan traditions of early England were about creating brightness and hope in the darkest of months with evergreen foliage and brightly coloured berries used as a reminder of sunnier times past and a herald of brighter times to come the following year. Fairy lights and decorations are a modern version of this tradition and they do brighten up the shortest and dullest of days.”