The low golden sun shining and sparkling on frosty hedges, branches and foliage is a wonder of the season, and is something to be truly celebrated.
The lyrics to "In the bleak midwinter" don't offer the best encouragement for getting out in the garden. But with a few thoughtful planting choices you can be "Walking in a winter wonderland!"
Although you may not want to be out in the garden that much in the depths of winter, it is still important to provide yourself with enticing views from the house.
Most important are front gardens and pathways to your doors. These are places that - in rain, sleet and snow - you'll be passing through on a daily basis.
And it's where you welcome your visitors. These are places you want to feel proud of, and to get great enjoyment from, in all seasons.
Evergreens, step up
The role of evergreen shrubs at this time of year is crucial. They are the backbone of any garden, and having played a background role for the summer months winter sees them become the stars of the show.
There are myriad choices, but at a time of year when colour can be lacking it's a good idea to choose shrubs with good foliage colour.
One of the finest examples of this must be Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin', with its glossy green foliage turning bright ruby red at its tips. It grows to around 2.5-4.0 meters and will grow pretty much anywhere, although its colour is better in full sun. It makes a handsome specimen to be included in a border, or can be planted as a hedge.
Splashes of variegated colour adorn the spotted
laurel's leaves (and it's not a fussy plant either)
Another great choice for interesting evergreen foliage is the spotted laurel, Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'. Reaching to around 3 meters, its large lustrous green leaves are intriguingly spotted with bold lemon yellow spatters, as if someone has been busy with a paintbrush! It brightens up dark corners, and makes a great hedge.
A winter garden would not be complete without holly. Their glossy spiky leaves are almost unique in form and they provide an attractive texture. Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata' is a beautiful variegated form with stunning silver margins to its leaves. In winter it is covered with red berries, making it perfect for bringing into the house for Christmas decorations and displays.
Topiary forms are fantastic at this time of year, to bring structure, character and wonder to the garden. Box clipped in to forms such as balls, cones or spirals can be planted through a herbaceous border to keep a sense of interest while everything dies back around them.
Larger species such as Yew can be used to provide grand architectural statements, obelisks or cubes.
Barking up the right tree
Deep purple: Cornus alba 'Kesselringii'
Coloured bark is an important aspect to the winter garden, and the dogwoods are probably the best loved shrubs for this purpose. From the scarlet stems of Cornus alba 'Sibirica' to the black purple stem of Cornus alba 'Kesselringii' there are colours and shades to suit all tastes and planting schemes.
Trees with textured bark add yet another layer of interest, and winter is the perfect time of year to appreciate their bare forms. Betula papyrifera is a gorgeous Birch, which will grow to around 25 meters. Its beautiful, ghostly white bark rolls back as it matures, to reveal bright coral undersides.
The paperbark maple Acer griseum also has peeling bark, that shimmers bronze in the sunshine, and at only 8 - 10 meters it's suitable for most gardens.
Trees and shrubs bearing fruit that cling to the plant through winter add colour and interest as well as attracting birds into the garden.
Year-round ornamental delights like Malus 'Red
Sentinel' make great winter garden choices
Crabapples are one of the best examples of ornamental winter fruits. Through autumn well into winter their bare branches are adorned with lovely golden and red fruits, decorating the tree like Christmas baubles. The look fantastic planted in series along a wall or driveway. Pruning can keep them relatively small, meaning they can be grown as quite formal looking standards.
When choosing crabapples for this purpose the smaller varieties are most suitable. At around 6 meters, Malus 'Royalty' is a beautiful small tree, with purple leaves that fall to reveal their deep wine red fruits through winter. And Malus 'Red Sentinel' is a lovely yet robust cultivar with clusters of small blood-red fruits that hang on through winter, making way for scented white blossom in spring.
The Pyracanthas always look fantastic at this time of year, covered with dense clusters of cheery little berries. Pyracantha Orange Glow provides a wonderful display of tangerine-orange berries, whilst Pyracantha Red Column yields an abundance of glowing red berries.
They are amazingly versatile too, as they can be planted as a specimen shrub, as a hedge, or trained into intricate forms against a wall, where they can grow to around 4 meters.
Although maybe not as plentiful as the summer flowering plants there are still many wonderful winter flowering shrubs and trees to add colour and scent to your garden at this time of year.
...and winter flowers
Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis' – also known as
the winter flowering cherry
One might not associate blossom with winter but the winter flowering cherry Prunus x subhirtella Autumnnalis provides that most glorious symbol of spring, bringing cheer to the garden in those months when we most need it. Flowering on bear wood from autumn through to spring, its deep pink buds open to pearly white flowers blushed with rose. It is a wonderful small tree, which is fairly slow growing, and will only grow to around 8 meters making it the perfect choice for a small garden.
Perhaps the Queen of winter flowering shrubs is Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn'. Its clusters of delicate pink and white fragrant flowers appear on its bare stems and last all winter. Its heavenly floral scent makes it a brilliant choice to plant by a doorway or along a path where it can be enjoyed as you pass by.
It can even be planted along a boundary as an informal hedge, where it will grow to around 3 meters. The latticework of stems and flowers creates a beautiful screen that allows you to view the landscape beyond.
Another winter-flowering viburnum is Viburnum tinus Eve Price. Little bunches of carmine pink buds open to into delicate snow-white flowers, which look startling against the deep green evergreen foliage, and it continues to flower throughout winter. These will eventually turn into plump purple berries that are attractive to wildlife.
It will grow to around 3 metres and makes a really pretty hedge. It can also be grown as a specimen in the border, where the canopy can be raised to create a lovely little evergreen tree.
So, never ever let winter get you down, celebrate the seasons in the garden and create your own winter wonderland!