Winter Garden Inspiration

Published on January 11th 2020
Acer palmatum
In the winter lull, before the spring bulbs begin to emerge en masse, the garden can seem rather lacklustre, and it’s easy to feel that outdoor life has been put on hold.
But many gardens around the UK are perfect for visiting at this time of year.
One of my favourites is Anglesey Abbey’s meandering walk through the winter garden, culminating in the ethereal silver birch grove.

Clever combinations

The innovative plant choices always inspire me. This month, the Cotoneaster lacteus, and Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ hedge has been glorious, dripping with glossy red berries and illuminated by the brightly variegated foliage.
red bushes going along a path
Cotoneaster & Euonymus
The long ghostly stems of the ornamental bramble Rubus cockburnianus stand out against the creamy catkins of Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ and warm yellow-greens of Luzula sylvatica ‘Aurea’ and Carex morrowi ‘Evergold’.
Floating over the grasses, the dogwood stems create a bright red haze, and the willow stems of Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ and ‘Golden Ness’ shine out against the dark evergreen foliage of sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia var. chinensis).
a tree sticking out of some bushes
Salix alba & Sarcococca.
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Beautiful bark

The specimen trees in the winter garden add texture and colour. Many of the acers have attractive bark, such as the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’) which stretches red branches out over a sea of deep green butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus), punctuated by clusters of scarlet berries.
Some Ruscus with green leaves


Ruscus spp.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) looks fantastic contrasted with the silvery variegated foliage of Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and the green and white striped snake bark maple (Acer davidii ‘George Forrest’) adds to the tactile feel of the garden.
A tree with red flakey bark
Acer griseum and Euonymus
The mahogany shine of Prunus serrula works beautifully against the backdrop of Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’, and the corkscrew hazels (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) always make me pause to trace the maze of twisted branches out to their pendant yellow catkins.

Tibetan Cherry

Prunus serrula

Prunus serulla and dogwoods
Prunus serrula & dogwood
The walk concludes in the Himalayan birch grove, where elegant Betula utilis var. jacquemontii is underplanted with Bergenia cordifolia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ with its rich burgundy foliage.
Many of these trees are good choices for small to medium gardens. With other seasonal advantages such as colourful autumn foliage, they are an ideal choice for all-year-round interest.

Delicate Details

Even beneath my feet, striking patterns are running through the ground cover foliage.
Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ has the most intricate variegated leaves, the ivy (Hedera helix ‘Glacier’, Hedera helix ‘Atropurpurea’ and Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’) adds interest throughout the winter.
A close up of a plant, Arum italicum
Arum italicum
Hardy cyclamen have naturalised throughout the garden, with the marbled foliage of Cyclamen hederifolium of particular interest nestled in the leaf litter beneath the deciduous trees. Every level of this winter garden has something magical to catch the eye.
cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium

UK Winter Gardens

If you’d like to visit a winter garden, other inspiring locations include:
A close up of a pond

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden is the most visited garden of its kind in the UK and it’s not just botany students that flock to its extensive collection. Among the visitors are more than 100 species of bird, including a pair of sparrowhawks and the increasingly rare song thrush. Established in 1846, the garden boasts over 8000 species encompassing nine national collections from fetching Fritillaries and elegant Bergenias to unusual shrubs. The much older western side is framed by a canopy of mature trees and home to Systematic Beds, with herbaceous temperate plants laid out to aid teaching. The eastern half of the garden, which was developed in the 1950s opens out onto a drought-tolerant meadow, a scented garden and spectacular planting arrangements. In between, pollinators dance among the bee borders, while those feeling brave should sniff out Titan Arum, aka the Corpse Plant, so-called for its pungent whiff. A visit to Cambridge University Botanic Garden wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to the infamous apple tree, said to be a descendant of the species under which Newton discovered the theory of gravity. Family-friendly activities range from craft workshops to educational talks and tours.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

From its iconic Dry Garden to exciting new features, our Essex garden goes from strength to strength.

A tree in the middle of a lush green field

The Bressingham Gardens

From novice to expert, enjoy the views, the planting combinations and the plants shown in the six distinct gardens totalling over 17 acres (6 hectares) here at Bressingham in Norfolk.

A close up of a flower garden

National Trust's Bodnant Garden

A world-famous garden home to National Collections and Champion Trees. With intimate corners, sweeping lawns, grand terraces and verdant woodland, there are many gardens in one at Bodnant.

And here’s my wish list for the future:
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