Garden Design Ideas for Winter Interest

During the English winter most people used to just close the curtains on the damp, soggy mass of vegetation that constituted their garden. These days’ people expect so much more from their outdoor space and gardens really have to work for their money, especially urban gardens where private space comes at such a premium. They want something to look out at and even glean inspiration from on a crisp, cold but sunny winter’s day. Here are some tips on how to create interest in your garden in winter.

The most important element in a garden design is structure but in many gardens this is precisely what is missing. Structure is like the back bone of the garden, providing support for the plants through the year and providing form through winter when the herbaceous plants die back. Without structure, the garden is just a bare space during the winter months. When designing gardens themselves people tend to overlook structure for colourful fillers. Also people associate structure with large, drab evergreen shrubs so ubiquitous in suburban gardens. However there are plenty more interesting ways to add structure. Mahonia ‘Charity’ has interesting spiky evergreen leaves and also has yellow flowers in winter. Blackbirds also love the large black berries. The hardy palm, Trachycarpus fortunei will add a sculptural element to your garden with a tropical flavour. Structure doesn’t need to be evergreen either. I think there is something profoundly beautiful about a garden dying back. It makes spring all the more exciting and it doesn’t mean your garden has to be empty. The bare branches of Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariessii’, with its wedding cake form, look great in winter.

Structure can also come in the form of clipped hedges. These work especially well in geometric gardens, dividing the space with their neat forms. On a grand scale these were used in famous gardens such as Sissinghurst but more recently they have been used to great effect with the crisp lines of contemporary, urban garden rooms. Nowadays many people are turning their gardens into outdoor rooms which tend to be ultra low maintenance. Structure in these gardens is provided by both hard and soft landscaping. Low walls or raised beds and bench seating built with contemporary materials, provide interest in winter as well as summer. Try capping walls with the same stone as used on the ground. Creating links allows features to work together as a unified whole but when choosing materials, always remember the old adage, ‘less in more’.

If you don’t want to completely redesign your garden there are plenty of plants to add winter interest and many of these also provide much needed food for birds in winter. Berries add a splash of colour and range from shades of yellow through orange to red. The native hawthorn and honeysuckle are good for berries, as are many Cotoneaster species. Rosehips also add colour in winter and are loved by birds. Rosa rugosa varieties are easy to grow and provide plenty of hips. Seed heads look great when covered in frost, like the stately grass, Miscanthus sinensis with its delicate, silvery flower heads and the seed heads of Rudbeckia species are a favourite with finches. The globe thistle (Echinops ritro) also has very interesting seed heads that hold their shape in winter. All these plants are easy to buy so why not go ahead and give it a go!