Winter Interest in the Garden

Some may say that one of the secrets to a successful garden is to keep interest going all year round. This can often be challenging depending on your gardens aspect and susceptibility to frost and so on, but not impossible. Don't just think flowers for colour, think wider and look at what else can provide interest and colour through those cold dark months. 

Acer griseum

Last January I touched on this subject in this blog (here). There are various aspects of plants that can bring interest to the garden through winter: flowers, interesting bark, evergreen leaves and seedheads left on perennials. As always I have suggested  tough plants that will cope with our Scottish garden conditions and which are available in the nursery.

There are many trees and shrubs that have interesting and colourful bark all year round, these are particularly noticeable in winter once the leaves have dropped and the framework and beauty of the tree is revealed. Prunus serrula and Betula are two of my favourites. The peeling pinky red bark of the Prunus and the white papery bark of the Betulas have a certain tactile appeal: you just have to touch them. Depending on variety some Betulas are much whiter, B. jaquemontii and B. 'Snow Queen' are two of the best. Some Acers are also grown for their bark colour and texture, be it the brown flaky bark of A. griseum or the white lined bark of the snakebark Acers including A. capillipes whose leaves also turns a vibrant red in autumn 

Prunus serrula

Betula jaquemontii peeling in Dawyck Gardens


Other shrubs to consider are ones that flower in winter such as several varieties of Viburnum and Cornus mas. Look our for Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn',.A strong plant with pink scented flowers throughout winter, it can reach eight to 10 feet over time and is well worth the space as a back drop to a border. A Viburnum that ticks two boxes is V. tinus, which is evergreen and flowers in winter with its pink buds opening into white scented flowers. Again this is good as an evergreen screen or back-drop to a border, giving form and interest all year round. Cornus mas produces gloriously yellow flowers in later winter, creating a bright spot in the garden: well worth growing for something different. 

Many Cornus are grown for their red bark, pollarding every few years will keep the young colourful shoots fresh and the shrub a neat shape and size. This is C. alba 'Elegantissima', a variegated variuety

Snake bark acer

Viburnum bodnatense ‘Dawn’

Evergreens are essential to form a frame work in the garden when perennials are dormant and decisuous trees and shrubs are bare of leaves. They add height, shape and colour to what could otherwise be a flat landscape. Conifers are the obvious choice here, hardy, easy to grow and come in many colours and shapes to suit every taste. I prefer evergreen shrubs such as Viburnum davidii with its glossy leaves, Viburnum tinus and its winter flowers, Holly, especially I. ferox and I 'Blue Princess' for something quite different. For a zing of colour try Euonymus 'Emerald Gaiety' or Euonymus 'Emerald n Gold', both are evergreen with bright variegation.

Moving down the scale a bit there are also grasses, ferns and perennials that keep going through winter. Grasses such as Carex, Miscanthus, Chionochloa, Luzula, Stipa and Festuca are evergreen, providing great shape and colour in the winter garden. Don't cut the flower heads off until late winter when you start the garden tidy up and you have great arching and spiky seed heads that will hold the frost on cold days, adding height and interest as they sparkle in the winter sun. You can see what grasses we have in stock on the Grasses page on the website here 

Viburnum tinus

Cornus mas


Autumn and winter interest trees and shrubs at Quercus

Stipa gigantea

Chionochloa rubra

Evergreen perennials are more limited and tend to be smaller, but can be used for good ground cover and front of border interest, As with the grasses you can also leave seed-heads on the plants through winter.  Ajuga, Bergenias, Hellebores, Epimediums, some Geraniums and Geums, Heucheras, Iris foetidissima, Liriopes and Ophiopogon (grass-like but not a grass), all have leaves through winter. Some perennials do keep a certain amount of leaves, depending on the weather conditions and severity of the winter. 

Ophiopogon, Malahide, Dublin

Bergenia Oeshberg

Below is a list of suitable plants recommended by the Quirky Bird Gardener.

Trees and Shrubs

Acer griseum

Acer capillipes

Berberis stenophylla

Betula pendula

Betula 'Snow Queen'

Betula 'Edinburgh'


Cornus alba 'Sibirica'

Cornus mas


Euonymus 'Emerald n Gold'

Euonymus 'Emerald Gaiety'


Ilex ferox

Ilex 'Blue Princess'

Lonicera “Winter Beauty”

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Prunus serrula

Sarrococca confusa


Taxus baccata 'Standishii'

Viburnum davidii

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'

Viburnum tinus


Corus gramineus




Luzula nivea

Luzula sylvatica



Uncina rubra




Cyclamen hederifolium








Iris foetidissima

Iris ungulaicularis






Dryopteris felix-mas



Hedera cultivars


Eranthus hymalis

Iris reticulata



Laurus noblis

Rosmarinus officinalis

Salvia officinalis

Thymus vulgaris

All contents  and photographs ©  Rona Dodds, unauthorised reproduction & use of these images is strictly forbidden