Ideas for a Beautiful Winter Garden

Plan your garden so that it maintains visual appeal during the coldest months.

winter garden

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Winter can be a harsh time, when many gardens do not look their best. In cooler temperate areas, however, there are still ways to have a beautiful winter garden. Even when you do not spend as much time outdoors, it is still important to have a garden that delights the eye and calms the mood. It is also worth thinking about how you can help wildlife in your garden all year long, in order to enjoy watching the other creatures with whom you share your space. 

Where I live, here in Scotland, winter is relatively mild. Temperatures rarely drop more than a few degrees below freezing, but winters are damp and dark, with short days and long nights. Despite this, I still try to enjoy at least a little time in my garden each day. Here are some of the things that I think make all the difference for a beautiful winter garden.

Add Evergreens for Year-Round Cover and Interest

Evergreen trees, shrubs, and climbers often fade into the background over the summer months, but really come to the forefront in winter. They not only add much-needed color during the coldest months, but also provide shelter to a range of wildlife. Conifers, ivies and other evergreen climbers, and shrubs such as holly, Berberis, and Mahonia, to name just a few, are hardy troopers in my winter garden.

Select Deciduous Trees and Shrubs for Beautiful Bark and Branches

Many deciduous trees look starkly beautiful over the winter months, but some are especially appealing for either their bark or their colorful, interestingly shaped branches. Birches of various kinds are among my favorites for their bark. Dogwoods and willows also have attractive stems. Trees with weeping forms, and contorted cultivars like Corylus avellana 'Contorta', or corkscrew hazel, add lots of interest to a winter garden. 

Choose Fall and Winter Fruiting Shrubs 

In my garden, I like to include plenty of plants that are both productive and visually appealing. Shrubs that fruit in fall will often retain some of their fruit or berries long into winter. While I do harvest these, some such as haws, rose hips, elderberries, and other berries will persist on the plants well into winter, providing sustenance for wildlife over the coldest months. 

There are plenty of other non-edible berries that can enliven a winter garden, too. Pyracantha and holly berries are just two examples that I find to be lovely.

Leave Attractive Perennial Seed Heads Standing

I find beauty in the standing seed heads and dead foliage of some of the perennial plants I grow. While gardeners choose to cut herbaceous perennials down to the base before winter arrives, I like to wait until spring. This not only adds visual interest, but also provides habitat and shelter for a range of overwintering wildlife in the garden. 

Add Early Flowering Plants

In many areas, you will be able to include some flowering plants whose cheery blooms arrive early, sometimes long before spring begins in earnest. Where I live, snowdrops are one of the earliest flowers to emerge, swiftly followed by other spring flowering bulbs. Mahonias, witch hazel, daphnes, flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), and forsythia are a few of the other plants that service the earliest pollinators of the year.

winter day at the allotment

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Pay Attention to Paths and Bed Edging

In addition to planting, it can be helpful to think about other elements if you want a beautiful winter garden. Attractive pathways and bed edging might not really stand out in summer, but in winter these things come to the fore, so it makes a big difference if they look good. 

Create an Undercover Winter Haven

Though I love my outside garden in winter, I am glad that I have my polytunnel, where I can grow food year-round. Having an undercover winter growing area allows you to create a lush, productive space that can be enjoyed even when the weather is icy or there is snow on the ground. While it is certainly not warm in winter, this area does usually stay frost-free, so I can enjoy the beauty inside it without having to brave the worst of the elements.

There are, of course, other ways to add beauty, interest, and appeal to a winter garden, but these are a good place for anyone to start, and will ensure that you (and the wildlife) can enjoy your garden all year long.